Always remember that your grandchildren are your children’s children—not yours—and be careful to respect that. It’s your children who set the house rules, and if you flout those or disagree, you’re asking for trouble. As a grandparent, you are a team member, not a team leader.

Changing attitudes

If you believe that you know best about bringing up your grandchildren, think again. It’s 20 or 30 years, maybe more, since you had your own children, and things have moved on a great deal. Your children are following modern childcare guidelines on such matters as feeding and sleep patterns, and your old rules of thumb no longer apply.

Certainly there is an aspect of fashion about child-care methods some things go in and out of fashion—but other changes, such as the safest way to put babies down to sleep in their cribs to reduce the risk of crib death (SIDS), are based on good, solid research.

Never assume that the old ways are best—they’re not always, and you will only aggravate your children if you try to insist on following outdated methods. Be open to the latest ideas and you may be surprised at how good they are. There’s new advice for preparing bottles of formula, which is very sensible; diapers, strollers, and lots more have changed. It’s a different world, so be ready to learn from your children and adapt willingly to their methods.

Never assume that the old ways are best—they’re not always and you will only aggravate your children if you try to insist on following outdated methods

Your supporting role

Older generations of women have always felt they had the right to interfere in child care, but not any more. I’m sure there were times when you resented your parents’ interference while you were bringing up your children. I know I did. I imagine you wished they’d mind their own business, especially if your views were dramatically opposed.

happy grandparents

So forget the idea that you are older and wiser, and therefore can impose your will on a younger, less experienced generation. It could be that you’re way out of date. Better to bone up on the latest theories so that you can trade ideas as equals. You’ll be a better grandparent for it. Of course, there are times when I think my children might do the occasional thing differently, but I’ve learned to hold my tongue. And time and time again, I’ve realized that their new ways are better than mine. Granny doesn’t always know best.

I believe it’s asking for trouble if you flout your children’s wishes when they’re not present, thinking that you do know best and hoping they won’t find out. But you will be found out and you may find yourself on the wrong end of an argument with your children, from which you can’t escape. Concentrate on the positives and ignore the negatives. It’s neither useful nor productive to do otherwise. It’s the same with your children’s parenting skills. Your only role is to support.

Defer to the parents

I’ve found a good habit to cultivate is to defer to your children about anything when you’re in doubt, or just as a courtesy. When your grandchild asks your permission for something—another cookie, or to get out the paints, paper, and smock and do some painting—it’s so easy to say, “If Mommy (or Daddy) thinks it’s OK, that’s fine.” It’s also reassuring for your children and gratifying for your grandchildren to hear you say, “Wasn’t that smart of Daddy,” or “Good job, Mommy.” It’s a real bonding mannerism to cultivate and helps build trust between you and your children all the time.

If something happens that has the potential to be really divisive and possibly ruin your relationship forever, instead of taking up the moral high ground you can decide to support your child through thick and thin. That way, if things ever get really bad, they will turn to you. You’re there to pick up the pieces; you aren’t there to smash china. If you’re big enough to do that, your children will be grateful and loving for as long as you live.

Different ways of bringing up children

There are fashions and fads in how parents tackle their role and they come and go. My mother was brought up according to the discipline of “spare the rod and spoil the child.” I myself was brought up to believe that my parents’ word was law and not to be questioned, and you may have been too. Today’s parenting style is quite different, and in my belief, it’s better than mine was. Today’s parents are child-oriented in a way previous generations of parents never were.

skilled parenting

Modern parents are careful not to raise their voices, not to frown in disapproval, not to make a fuss over small things, and to make light of mistakes and accidents. They don’t sweat the small stuff and carefully choose which battles to fight. They enjoy their role as teacher, whether it’s getting down on the carpet to do a jigsaw puzzle, pointing out why trees lose their leaves in the fall, or making space for a three-year-old to help with the cooking.

Talking to your grandchild

Victorian nannies had the right idea—they started to talk when their charges woke up and never stopped until they fell asleep. Today’s adults should do the same, even when a baby is small, when the baby can’t say a word, and we think the baby doesn’t understand anything we’re saying. A baby may not comprehend individual words, but he does gradually grasp the sense. And he learns the rhythm of conversation, and gets the hang of question-and-answer and the rise and fall of speech.

reading old couple

Babies who are spoken and sung to a lot, and who listen to nursery rhymes and clapping games, speak early. If you’re the person doing the speaking and the singing, you start a dialogue with your grandchild that continues as long as you live. Of course there are a few tricks. Making eye contact helps your grandchild learn and respond. Swinging around to face him when he asks a question gives him confidence.

When your grandchild is very young, saying anything is more important than what you say, and an early conversation with your baby grandchild in a singsong voice will slowly graduate to quite grown-up exchanges. From the age of three, when your grandchild begins to express fairly complex concepts, I believe in using adult words to enlarge his vocabulary while, for example, describing how something works. You can add a simple explanation in parenthesis. And once they reach five, I often say, “Here’s a great new word for you,” and I explain its use.