Grandparents give children an incredibly important gift as they learn about themselves and the world: unconditional love and acceptance. Parents must set limits and enforce discipline, but the grandparents are free to love without setting limits.
The best grandparent-grandchild relationships come when the parents act as matchmakers: They set the stage for success, bring the two parties together, and then step back and give them the space they need to get to know each other. Be encouraging. You may need to push your baby's grandparents to take an active role in his life. They may feel concerned that if they try to get involved, they'll be intruding. Some grandparents hold back because they feel uncomfortable handling such a small baby; it may be decades since they held a newborn infant.
Grandfathers in particular may shy away from spending time with your baby; they may have first become fathers in the days when mothers took care of the children and fathers brought home the bacon. The best way to draw grandparents in is to tell them that you value them and then invite them to spend time with your child. Grandparents are so important that if your child doesn't have any, you should adopt some. Older aunts, great-uncles, and retired neighbors can fill in for grandparents.
Recognize that baby-care styles may clash. Of course disagreements are inevitable if your baby's grandparents are heavily involved in her life, particularly if they are caring for her when you return to work. Conflict may arise when the grandparents fail to follow rules that the parents have set for the child or when they push to do things "the old way." Talk with the grandparents about why you set these rules and how important they are. Explain, for example, why you are holding off on solid food until the baby is older or supplementing with formula only when you think it's the right time. In your parents' generation, babies commonly began eating cereal and other solids within the first month of life. Help the grandparent to understand that ideas about kids' healthy eating have changed since they were parents. Sharing a book or magazine article might help.
Talk openly with your child's grandparents about any disagreements. If you all keep your baby's best interests in mind, you should be able to find solutions.
If your baby's grandparents live far away, go out of your way to include them in their grandchild's life by sending photos, videotapes, and descriptions of your baby's developmental steps. Call them when your baby is crying and let them hear how strong her lungs are! Small things can help build a relationship between your baby and her grandparents, even if they're living on the other side of the country.
Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.
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