What to Expect When Your Child Is Expecting
The ins and outs for a grandparent helping the new mom
Being invited to help your children when they become new parents is a once-in-a-lifetime gift. But be prepared: if you have settled into the easy life of an empty nester, this may be an intense change of pace, especially if you are going to move in with them for a couple of weeks. You will need physical endurance and strength – as well as an easy-going and forgiving attitude – to make the visit a truly joyful experience for everyone. Here are some things you can do to prepare yourself, both physically and emotionally. Let’s get started!
IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU
Acknowledge right from the start that this visit is completely about the baby and the new mom; it’s not about you at all. You will be holding, rocking, singing to, comforting, changing, and bathing the new baby. You will be preparing meals and snacks that are on the “approved” new mom diet, serving food in shifts and at odd hours, and cleaning up after all of it. There will be laundry for baby, new parents, and yourself … lots of laundry. You will be running errands and grocery shopping. And you may be helping new mom get baby and his gear ready for an outing; then keeping your mouth shut when she decides not to go.
Get a 10lb bag of rice and start carrying it around. Practice the over-the-shoulder and rock-a-bye-baby positions. Try out different chairs to see if you need to prop your arms with a pillow. Work up to being able to hold, rock, or carry the rice-bag for about an hour without feeling lower back or shoulder pain. It will pay off later. (Note: If people start to make fun of you and your rice bag, dress it up like a baby. That will really give them something to laugh about.)
Your children might have car seats, strollers, slings, swings, carriers, bathtubs, and all manner of baby gadgets. Ask them to show you how they work before the baby arrives. It is impossible to figure out all of the adjustments when you’re holding a screaming baby. Read the manual for that amazing car seat/baby carrier thingy; the one that snaps into that amazing stroller, so you know the difference between the wheel lock and the lever that folds the whole thing up. It’s an important difference. You can also put that bag of rice in it and see if you can carry it up the front steps. Keep training!
Have bags of your favorite munchies on hand. These do not have to match the new mother’s diet. In fact, it’s better if they don’t. Include snacks that make you happy and you can grab quickly.
Be prepared to go without if necessary. However, just like the new mother should nap when baby is sleeping, you should bathe when baby is sleeping. Forget the makeup and the hairspray. Nobody involved notices or cares anyway.
You should have several sets of comfortable pants and t-shirts that can be easily (and quickly) changed and washed; nothing sharp or grabby (buttons, sequins, zippers, buckles). A ball cap is good to have on hand for those days you don’t have time to bathe (yes, it will happen).
Do not take anything your children say personally. They are both hormone-filled, sleep-deprived wrecks. Don’t expect them to remember anything you say. Example: “May I use your yoga mat?” “Sure, I’ll go get it.” No yoga mat ever appears. Let it go.
Your children will have done lots of reading about breastfeeding, tummy time, sleep schedules, etc. Just smile and nod as they tell you what the latest research shows. Do not mention that babies were able to survive for millions of years before the arrival of the internet.
You may hear lots of things like “Our baby will never…” and “We will never…” Just nod and smile. The proclamation about no pacifiers will be replaced by praise for pacifiers. The explanation that lights and sound don’t bother babies will be followed by dimmed lights and hushed voices. Don’t say anything. Just smile inwardly.
Hopefully your children will be on board with a limited-visitor policy. If friends do drop by, take control of the situation as needed. Let them chat and coo over the baby, but when baby gets fussy or the new mom begins to fade, say something like, “I know you understand that new parents need all the rest they can get and it looks like these two are due for a nap.” Stand up and extend your hand, and as you shake it, guide them toward the door. When the visitors leave, keep your mouth shut. You may receive a “thank you!” or you may receive a glare. It’s all okay.
NEW MOM’S CONFIDENCE
This is a tricky one. Whatever you do, don’t undermine the new mother’s confidence with your own child-rearing wisdom. Remember that she’s tired, overwhelmed, her clothes don’t fit, and she can’t seem to accomplish the simplest thing. Praise her smallest accomplishments. It’s an adjustment to go from the grown-up work world, where you dress up and put on makeup everyday, to baby land, where everything has bits of spit up on it and you don’t get out of your pajamas until 3 p.m.
WHAT IT’S REALLY ALL ABOUT
Do your best to do all of this without any hint of annoyance, derision, or resentment; your help is less of an act of love if you offer up these sentiments along with it. Once you see the little babe, this shouldn’t really be a problem. When everyone is asleep and you have that little bundle completely relaxed and breathing softly in your arms, you’ll forget all the difficulties that come with the first few weeks of baby’s life.
It’s all worth it, and there’s nothing else in the world like it.