A modern day guide to being a grandparent
Written in collaboration with my mum, Val, this blog post is about how she became a grandparent for the first time 18 months ago. I can honestly say that she has been brilliant! She was present at the birth and even stood down the goods entrance for most of it, giving me a running commentary on how much hair Flynn had (over the course of five hours!) while I pushed out his melon-sized head. Mum has seen me through mental health struggles and is open about what she got right and wrong as a parent, meaning she is fully focused on helping and supporting me through my many personal battles, as well as my husband Andrew.
Mum is young at heart – as I think many grandparents are – and is very hands-on. She has had her moments when she's uttered the words, “Well, I did it this way and it worked out OK” a few times while she has seen me trying to implement a routine or refuse to feed Flynn Farleys Rusks (god they are nice but full of sugar). However, she then caveats things with, “But it’s all changed now and so there are probably better ways to do it.” And this is what I want to tap into with this post.
Most grandparents have earned their badge of honour when it comes to child rearing and I do think they had it much harder than us. Children weren’t different then, but society was. It perhaps wasn’t so PC as it is today and there was much more of a community-type approach to parenting (which has its positives), but their eyes were closed to alternative ways of working, thinking and behaving. Instead, they turned to their own mother, siblings or the neighbours for guidance. In today’s society, if we don't know something we Google it, ask for advice on social media, or speak to an expert.
It can also be difficult if grandparents weren't the best parents. They may have struggled to communicate, talk about emotions, or present their best selves to you as you grew into an adult. BUT, I’m a firm believer in giving people a chance to step up to the plate and be a different grandparent to your child.
Often, grandparents are the best people to spot the signs of a parent in distress or act as our voice of reason in difficult situations. Although every parent wants to do it for themselves when it comes to raising a child, there's no harm in having an ally in your own parents, who can support you and be part of your own parenting community. BUT and it’s a big but, we have to give them a chance to understand how to support us, how to communicate emotions – especially if they’re from the school of ‘shove it under the carpet and it will go away’ – and talk them through the modern viewpoints on feeding, weaning, sleep, development and discipline; areas that tend to have vastly different opinions on what’s best.
So here is my mum’s worldly wisdom on what she has learned from being a grandmother during the past 18 months:
Being a grandparent will remind you of good and bad memories of yourself as a parent
It will bring back feelings of sheer joy, but also regret, guilt and shame, and this may be the same with your partner. You cannot change the past, but I highly recommend reading books that enable you to explore your experiences, as opposed to pushing them to one side. Maybe even talk to your child about how you parented and the mistakes you feel you made. Remember, when you were a parent, you may have been juggling a job, family dramas, illness and pressure from your own parents. You can’t be perfect, but at the time you tried your best.
Hearing the news that you’re going to be a grandparent will instantly make you feel old
This is true, irrespective of how old you are. It’s natural to feel like this, and once your grandchild reaches toddler age, quite the opposite will happen. You will mentally become a lot younger and, physically, find stamina you didn’t think you had in you.
It’s not a competition with the other set/s of grandparents.
It’s not intentional, but once you form a close bond with your grandchild, you get a bit territorial. This is normal, but do not plague your son or daughter with requests to see your grandchild more than the other set of grandparents. Saying things like, “Peter and Deirdre have seen little Freddie twice this month and I’ve not seen him at all,” will just cause tension. It’s not necessary and won’t improve the situation.
Mental health is something to be talked about nowadays and not to be shoved under the carpet.
Our children are exposed to so much more than we were and, as a result, find themselves under huge amounts of pressure, anxiety and stress, and simply need a release at times. It isn’t shameful and needs to be reframed in your own mind, as you may hold the key to supporting them postnatally when the reality of being a parent hits home.
Breastfeeding is something positive but, equally, recognise the signs when your child is in distress.
I didn’t breastfeed and followed the trend at the time to formula feed Lauren and my other daughter Lucy. I wasn’t really exposed to anyone who did breastfeed and, if truth be told, I found the idea of Lauren getting her bits and bobs out in public a little embarrassing. I had to get used to the concept of breastfeeding and normalise it (strangely, my husband was much more relaxed about it). However, I wasn’t aware of how much pressure breastfeeding can place on a mother and so, witnessed my daughter go through a really tough time trying to crack it. I admit, at times I encouraged her to simply give it up and offer Flynn a bottle of formula milk. This probably didn’t help, as it was the complete opposite to what Lauren wanted to do. If I was in that situation again, I would’ve accompanied Lauren to the breastfeeding clinics or called in private help.
Women can have it all and return to work when they want to
Lauren runs her own company as well as The Parenting Chapter, and I remember her running an event when Flynn was only seven weeks old. It was a shock to me to see her in this position. I felt she was pushing herself and should’ve been at home with Flynn. The worst thing I said was, “Enjoy this time as it doesn’t last very long.” I think we all know that, Lauren included, but what I failed to acknowledge was that Lauren wanted to do the event. She didn’t feel forced and came home with a spring in her step. Women of today have so many more opportunities to carve a career they want and love and, as a result, it becomes part of their identity. As I recall, becoming a parent meant that I gave up all of my plans to focus on my girls. Looking back, I’m not sure that was the best thing to do, as now that they are grown up, I'm left with a hole in my life. I, therefore, support the idea of women going back to work whenever they feel is right and being able to juggle motherhood and work. However, I am always close by to cover off babysitting and remind Lauren to not take on too much!
Men can be as hands on as women and not feel embarrassed about it
My husband Paul was very much a hands-off father. He was the one who went to work, while I cared for the girls at home. However, I am very liberal in mindset and wanted Lauren to marry somebody who would be more hands-on as a dad. There is no reason why men and women cannot be equal in terms of how much they take on when parenting. My son-in-law is a superb dad and takes on whatever he wants to take on. I feel that dads of today need encouragement to take more time off when their child is born and to be as hands-on as they like, without society pointing it out.