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Grandparenting. What's the Real Job?

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

Grandparenting is not just filling them with sugar and sending them home! Not if you have more than a couple of hours with them.

During the Covid pandemic a lot of roles changed. Kids stayed home from school and daycare. Some grandparents stepped in to care for and supervise them. With this much time spent with your grandkids you become more of a teacher than an adoring fan.

I am both with my little granddaughter. I joined the grandparent club in 2018 and all the hype is true!

There’s joy, worry, cuteness galore and Love. Maybe the biggest Love there is. You love your children and it’s wonderful to see them grown and making their way in the world. Then they tell you you’re going to have a grandchild and your love and pride quadruples!

You get to anticipate how precious this new life will be and your new role in it. How involved will you be? How much time will they let you spend? When can you take them to Disney World?

My daughter is a schoolteacher and when she went back to work, I split the in-home daycare week with the 2 other grandparents. I got to take care of an infant two days a week - for 8 to 9 hours at a time.

What glorious days those were! I gladly drove over to their house by 7 am and immersed myself in the baby’s schedule. She slept a lot then and my job was to entertain her when she was awake. Of course, there were bottles and diapers too.

We went outside because she really liked to look at the sky and trees. Mostly we were inside: on the couch, her in the swing, or on the floor – singing, playing, and laughing. Her absolute favorite was hearing “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider”! She would stop crying or whatever she was doing to listen intently. It’s as if she recognized the song and loved it! We adored each other.

I know that babies are like little sponges, so I tried to teach her along the way. Using my sweetest voice; always talking, explaining what I was doing, naming things and singing. There was lots of singing and laughing. She didn’t care if I knew the words or was in tune. Some of those nursery rhymes could use their words changed!

Of course, my job as grandparent was to adore her but I also wanted to have a role in raising her to be a good person.

When they’re infants it’s easy – just lots of keeping them alive stuff. Then they start trying out behaviors to get your reaction – if I grunt at a toy will she hand it to me? If I whine for the bottle, will I get it? What happens when I cry and throw things? Does Grandma say “OK, OK, whatever you want.”?

This is when you must decide if you are going to be their servant or teacher, the court jester or the wizard, their follower or their leader. It’s a balancing act. Sometimes you just give them what they want.

I tried to teach that a calm request would work better than screaming for what she wanted. “I can’t understand you when you’re crying like that.” In my opinion it’s worth the time to wait just a minute for them to stop fussing and nod – or sign – that “OK, is it the bottle that you’re crying for or something else?” My grandbaby knew the basics of sign language – “More, Please, Milk” – at this point.

I saw my job as grandparent similar to parenting – teaching and guiding – but only part time. My goal wasn’t to have her like me so much that I would spoil her rotten. How could I not help her with managing her feelings and learning that other people had needs too? Sometimes she needed to stay in her walker so I could go pee or make myself a sandwich.

I’ve seen what happens when kids are allowed to “run the show.” Overly permissive parents don’t produce secure, happy kids. Kids need loving guidance, rules and routine to feel like someone capable is in charge. You can kindly set them straight and correct their behavior.

It’s also important to teach kids when they can say “No” to you. My sweet granddaughter made it her favorite word at around 2 years old. It was a little shocking at first! Lots of things are negotiable and she could have a say in what she wanted. I taught her that sometimes her answer could be “not right now” or “in a minute.” She learned that sometimes that would be my answer too.

For me, time to change that poopy diaper is not up for discussion. Eating and sleeping times are only strict when all the signs of hunger and tiredness are there. These are times that I had to be the leader and make things happen whether she liked it or not. I tried to explain in a matter of fact manner, "It's time to change that diaper - and then we can play some more." Sometimes I enlisted her favorite stuffed friend to help, "Zebra says they're sleepy and wants to take a nap now." (Yes, her stuffed toys are mostly gender neutral.)

It’s better being the grandparent because you can take more time and be patient in getting things done. You can learn to relax and not worry about how much time anything takes with a baby. Just be present in the current moment.

When parents are trying to get their kids out the door on time, with shoes on, and everyone’s stuff – it can become a hurried, angry mess! There isn't time to fix the socks in junior’s shoes so they feel right to him. You may not feel patient to let sissy climb her way slowly into her car seat, stopping to get the toy under the front seat. "Arggh!" Trying to push kids to meet your own agenda can lead parents to your very last nerve.

As a grand – there’s no rush, you can wait and smile. You don’t get mad and can gently say “Sweetie, would you like grandma to put you in your car seat or climb in yourself now?” You’re only trying to get to the playground. You realize that this time is fleeting and precious. You can still mildly try to prod her along without losing your cool, “OK dear, take your time. But the sooner you get buckled in the sooner we can get to the playground.”

No matter how much time you spend with your grandkids, your job is to enjoy them and let them know they’re special. Tell them that you like them and why. Let them know that you love their company while you do things together. Don’t hold back! This will build their confidence. You also have a chance to share your wisdom and teach them how to be good humans.

Because you’re wiser, calmer, not in a rush, have more sleep and aren’t pressured by work (hopefully) – you have the luxury of really tuning into your grands and enjoying just being with them.

It’s your chance to do a little better than you did with your own kids.

This is my daughter with her great grandmother who was a fierce role model of aging with grace and energy.

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