Written by Joannie DeBrito from Focus on the Family
At the recent Legacy Coalition Grandbaby Shower (which was so much fun, by the way!) I had the opportunity to speak about the importance of talking with your child and his or her spouse about expectations for you as a grandmother.
One of the attendees asked me to provide a more detailed explanation of how to go about that. So, here we go.
I like to use the acronym: ASK ‘N DO
A – Ask your children to share their expecations
Ask your children to share their expectations for your relationship with them and your grandchildren in regard to what role you will play and how much time you will spend with them.
It is best to do this before your first grandchild is born, but you can do it at any time. Schedule a time when you and your child and his or her spouse are likely to be relaxed and able to talk openly.
Inquire about what they expect of you in regard to your role in their child’s life, frequency of visits, anticipated need for child care, ways that they would like you to interact with their child, and how they see you contributing to their child’s life.
If you already have another grandchild or more grandchildren, ask them how they’d like you to manage the two kids or group of kids when they are together. Some parents like the idea of bonding with their babies with minimal involvement from grandparents while the grandparents spend more time with other grandchildren.
In this case, it’s a great time to build your relationship with another child or children, knowing that you will have plenty of time in the future to get to know your new grandchild better.
Also, don’t be surprised if brand new parents have a fairly rigid list of expectations. That’s okay. If you have more than one child, you can probably remember back to having very high expectations with your first baby that relaxed with each subsequent child.
I remember my mom and dad getting a kick out of the long list of instructions my brother and his wife gave them when they watched their new baby boy for the first time. They kept the list, and years later my brother, his wife, and the rest of us laughed.
S – Share your expectations
Share your expectations and be sure to state them in regard to what you are hoping for, not what you think you deserve.
I suggest that you talk about your expectations just in regard to the first 6 months to a year of the baby’s life.
Parents, especially brand new parents, get overwhelmed when grandparents roll out a list of expectations that includes everything from taking care of an infant to helping a teenage grandson learn to drive.
Start by talking about how you hope to help the parents. Remember that you need to first attend to them and then to the baby. So, talk about how you would like to help and be available to them and what kind of support you hope to provide.
Then talk about your hopes for the amount of time you would like to spend with your grandbaby, where you hope to spend that time, and what you would like to be able to do for him or her.
Also, talk about how you’d like to be helpful to another grandchild or grandchildren as the family transitions to having a new family member.
K – Keep talking until you all agree on expectations
Keep talking until you come up with a well-defined list of expectations that you both agree on, understanding that your child and his or her spouse have the deciding vote.
Often, this is not a one-time conversation, and your son or daughter and his or her spouse will probably need some time to think about what you have to say and come back at a later time.
At that time, if there is a disagreement, agree to begin with their plan, knowing that if you show respect for their wishes, they are more likely to be willing to negotiate in the future.
‘N write them down
Be sure to write down the expectations. Make a copy for the parents so if there are any conflicts in the future, you can refer back to the original list.
By the way, it’s pretty common to have some conflicts, and having that list can easily resolve disagreements or make it clear that you need to talk further.
When this has happened for me with my daughter and son-in-law, I have always started the conversation with, “I think I might have misunderstood. Here is what I thought we agreed to. Am I mistaken?”
That communicates a very different message than, “This is what we agreed to. Why aren’t YOU following it?”
D – Develop trust as you follow the expectations
Develop trust as you follow those expectations. As you follow the expectations, mention to the parents that you’re intentionally doing so.
If, for instance, they want you to watch the baby overnight and they originally stated an expectation for you to have no more than an hour or two alone with the baby, say something like, “Oh that would be great. I remember that you originally wanted to keep the limit at 2 hours. So, I just want to make sure that you’ve decided to extend that time.”
This communicates that you really care about the expectations they’ve laid out and have a strong desire to comply with them.
O – Over time, continue to talk
Over time, continue to talk if expectations need to change. Hey, babies grow up and things change, so this requires a change in expectations.
As they grow, initiate new conversations about expectations. What things no longer apply? What’s new, given a new state of development? What has worked well and what hasn’t worked?
This ongoing dialogue will serve to strengthen your relationship with your children and grandchild(ren) and build the trust that’s needed to be an integral part of your growing family’s life.