After being a grandparent for 3 years, I’ve forgotten the scepticism and caution I had about becoming one. I’m not great with young children – I like older ones and adults. And I found the gushing gooeyness of grandparents impossible to believe. ‘Oh you’ll love it. It’s the best job in the world,’ they said. ‘We love our grandchildren…’ and then they ran off to show pictures or recount stories of little Zac or Tayla. Yuk, I thought. That’s definitely not me.
Four years and three grandchildren later, I realise new about-to-be grandparents are asking me what it’s like, as if I have some wisdom. Reflecting, I realised I’ve changed my views and become one of them! So here are my ‘rules’ for successful grandparenting.
- Believe what other grandparents say
Yes, you will – probably – love it, even you rational, non-child-loving men like me.
- Say ‘yes’ to their parents at all times
Now you’ve been a parent for many years and you know about raising children. But DON’T SAY ANYTHING CRITICAL OF THE PARENTS’ PARENTING. I guarantee there’s lots you won’t like…but they are the parents now, not you. They believe they have all the knowledge and you are out of touch, old-fashioned or, worse, they think you were a bad parent. If you want to be successful – which means having access to the grandchildren – say ‘yes’ to everything either parent says.
- Supply parents with food
This is odd. Often a parent is at home…but if you bring food when you visit, it is almost always appreciated. Somehow new young parents now seem unable to look after a child and also make a meal for them…and you. Food wins friends…and access.
- Offer frequently to mind the children
To start with, your offers won’t be accepted. The parents are afraid you’ll kill the child by dropping it, feeding it poison (like icecream), letting the dog eat it. But at some point they will get desperate enough to accept your offer, so they can go out. The earlier this happens the better, so the grandchildren get used to you (and used to some other style of parenting) and smile when you arrive, instead of screaming ‘Mum, Mum!’ when you approach.
- Have them at your house, not theirs
This sounds odd. But having them at your house has many advantages. You will be comfortable, you set the rules, you know where everything is. When the child goes to sleep (they all sleep), you can use the time for your own activities – fixing, baking, reading, household chores – that can’t be done at their house.
- Don’t buy ANY toys
You’ll discover immediately a grandchild arrives that materialism begins at birth. Babies – and all young children – are inundated with toys. If you are desperate for your own set of toys for your house, pick up freebies on the kerbside, as children outlive toys rapidly. And guess what? Young children like playing with plastic bowls, scrunching and cutting old paper, playing in the garden, cooking, washing up, vacuuming, playing with water. Get the picture? Everyday chores are fun for children, especially if you involve them! New toys are totally unnecessary.
- Get on the floor to play with them
Get down to their level…which is the floor to start with. That makes you their size. Play their games (pouring water, washing up, cooking, making drinks, dancing), use your imagination to create stories out of your head (yes, you can do this!) and you’ll have friends for life. Leave them to play alone…and you’ll be forgotten as soon as they can get away.
- Talk in a normal, happy voice
You don’t need to revert to ga-ga language. Be enthusiastic about whatever they are doing (but say ‘no’ to set the rules). The more normally you talk, the easier it is for you and the quicker they learn real language and words.
- Treat girls and boys the same
You’ll be amazed at the sexism inherent in your behaviour to start with. Dolls houses, guns, cars, pink/blue, clothes, attitudes to aggression. Offer all choices to both sexes and see what takes their fancy. You’ll then discover their individual differences, not just girl/boy differences (I have a girl who wants to play Aussie rules and a boy who hates to play with balls…).
- DON’T turn on the TV
You’ll be very tempted to turn on the TV, as your creative and physical energy runs out. DON’T! Read a book, turn on music, sit quietly, play a new game. TV dulls their senses (and yours). Once upon a time, there was no TV. Try going back to the past.
- Devote yourself to them for the time and enjoy it!
They are the main attraction for you right now. Plan to enjoy it…and you will…mostly. If you wish you were doing something else, you’ll resent the time and they will pick that up.
In truth, I don’t ‘love’ it like most grandmothers and many grandfathers, but it is special time for them and for me. It only lasts a few years, then they are gone into the school institutionalisation processes. There’s lots of time for adult pleasures in your life. Give yourself another perspective. They say 0-6 years is key for child development. Help a young child to have a good base for their life’s development. You will love it!