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What makes a great grandparent?

When I had my children, both sets of grandparents were a big help to our family, and it seems that is usually the case.

When I had my children, both sets of grandparents were a big help to our family, and it seems that is usually the case.

But many grandparents could use some tips on how to be a ‘good’ grandparent. I hope that I will be one of those, when my turn comes. While every family is unique, there are certain things to consider if the goal is to have a positive relationship with parents and grandchildren.

As a new parent, I recall that the new grandparents always asked questions about what I wanted. This respect for my opinion and of the needs of our new family unit was priceless. I was asked if I wanted my out-of-province parents to come and visit. I was asked when a good time for visits was. I was asked if I wanted help, and then specifically when, with what, and for how long. e.g ‘would you like me to change the baby?’ Can I make you some lunch? ‘Would you like us to babysit? I also appreciated the many gifts I received, but again, grandparents should show restraint and ask what is needed or welcome; parents may want to purchase certain items themselves, and not be overwhelmed with gifts and purchases.

The grandparents showed respect to my husband and I as adult parents; we were not made to feel inexperienced or less than competent. This gave me the freedom to ask for help or advice, to discuss various points of baby care and child rearing, without feeling somehow inadequate. I am sure that at times the grandparents had to use restraint not to tell us what to do; after all, to them we will always be their children.

It can be tempting for grandparents to try to take over, through a misguided wish to be helpful and share experience. This is natural and usually through good intentions, given that grandparents have experience and the new parents do not. Grandparents may make the mistake of giving advice and directions, taking on tasks of baby care without asking how the new parents would like to be supported. Don’t assume the new parents want the grandparents to come into town, and move in for several days (or weeks) to help. The intention of this is good, but the new parents may prefer time on their own, to get to know the baby and work out their own new family situation. Don’t assume anything about what the parents may want; a good question is, ‘How can we help support you?’

Recognize that baby care methods have changed and that there are various beliefs about parenting. A grandparent who was a great parent may not have the same ideas about baby care that the parents do. A new mom or dad shouldn’t have to argue or enforce their beliefs with a well-meaning, but opinionated grandparent. Hopefully, the parent will ask for opinions or advice, but if they don’t, so be it. The grandparent needs to go along with the parents’ beliefs. A disapproving attitude or comment can harm your relationship. Even an innocent observation or memory may be interpreted as a criticism. Remember that both the parents are going through a huge life change, and are likely tired, so be sensitive and easy going.

Don’t base your own life choices solely on the event of the birth of a grandchild. Decisions to move to the city or neighbourhood where your adult child lives, should be made with deliberation and much discussion. And, grandparents need to remember that they are not the only extended family members involved. Usually there are two sets of grandparents, and often more.

All the grandparents, aunts, uncles typically want to be involved in some way with the new baby in the family. I

t is important that grandparents share time and avoid staking out territory by insisting on regular events that take more time than other relatives get, or compete for the baby’s time and affection.

Children with loving grandparents are very fortunate; the more people in the world who care about them, the better. This special relationship, like all relationships takes compromise, kindness and respect from everyone involved.

Positive Parenting appears every week in LIFE. This week’s column was written by Laurie Lafortune, co-ordinator of the Understanding the Early Years project with Family Services of Central Alberta. Lafortune can be reached by calling 403-343-6400 or