They mean well, of course—but consider that a lot has changed since grandparents raised their own kids, and these study results make a lot of sense.

By Melissa Willets
May 08, 2017
mimagephotography/Shutterstock

I recall my mother-in-law offering up this tip when my first daughter was a teething baby: "Just rub some whiskey on her gums!" Of course, I knew this advice was outdated, and opted to skip it. But a new trio of studies shows grandparents who are practicing outdated health practices could actually be putting their grandkids in harm's way.

"When grandparents step up to the plate, it can be wonderful for grandchildren but can also pose challenges in terms of lifestyle, finances, and mental and physical health to a somewhat older or elderly cohort," said senior investigator Andrew Adesman, M.D., in a press release. Dr. Adesman will present his findings at the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in San Francisco this week. "In their questionnaires, a fairly large sample size of grandparents felt they were doing a good job but acknowledged they didn't have the support they often needed and that their role could be alienating in terms of their own peer group."

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, an astounding 7 million kids in the U.S. were being raised only by 2.7 million grandparents in 2012. And many more grandparents help out with childcare.

Of course, much has changed since grandparents raised their own kids. Who knows; maybe rubbing whiskey on teething babies' gums wasn't so misguided in 1950!

One of the most frightening examples of grandparents not being aware of the latest health and safety information for kids is that they aren't always aware babies should be put to sleep on their backs, not their bellies. Consider, too, that Dr. Adesman found in his study that 44 percent of 636 grandparents surveyed believe "ice baths are a good way to bring down a very high fever." The reality is that ice baths can cause hypothermia. A lukewarm or cool bath is far safer.

Given the findings, it's advisable for grandparents to take care-giving courses before taking on the responsibility of caring for kids even part-time. Pediatricians can also help out by providing grandparents with the most up-to-date methods. This is especially crucial given that, according to Dr. Adesman, modern grandparents often don't have a support system, and their social lives are often limited by their grandkids, possibly preventing them from talking about the latest parenting trends, and putting a strain on their well-being.

"One major takeaway from this study is that for grandparents who are raising grandchildren, their parenting can often take a toll in terms of their own physical and emotional health, and support groups can make a difference," Dr. Adesman said. "I think pediatricians need to also evaluate not just the health and well-being of the child, but really ask about the physical and social health of the grandparent that has assumed responsibility for raising that child as well. Because although the grandparents often elected to take on this role, it's not something they planned for and it can represent a challenge in many domains. Many grandparents are up to the challenge, but it may come with certain costs."

The takeaway for parents: If a grandparent is helping to care for your child, it's a good idea to not take anything for granted in terms of what they may know or understand. It's not that they mean any harm of course; it's just that many things have changed since they were parents.

So although sometimes I feel like I'm nagging my parents with the multitude of instructions I offer up before I leave them in charge of my kids, this research serves as a good reminder that you can never be too detailed! Just be sure to use a gentle tone instead of lecturing them. After all, they are trying to help!

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and soon-to-be mom of 4. Find her on Facebook where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of yoga.

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Comments (3)

Anonymous
June 12, 2019
First of all parents who are raising children in the 50s would probably be in their 90s or even 100 years old by now so I don’t think these are really the people we are talking about that are currently caring for grandchildren. Second the babies on the back of babies on the stomach babies on the back babies on the stomach these are guidelines that have changed at the whim of some decision by pediatricians that this or that is good or bad for a baby. Babies find their own ways to sleep and choose to be comfortable on either of their stomachs are their back‘s and trying to change that isn’t probably going to be Effective once they have anything to say about it. And is the difference between Jack Daniels in Anbesol really just in the labeling
lauren.montoya23
April 25, 2019
I used whiskey on my kids gums. It's not like it put it in their bottle. Some old beliefs are okay too.
ashleyunderlee
April 28, 2019
And this ignorant, stubborn response is why so many parents in my generation do not trust their parents to care for grandchildren. You learn that something you did was potentially very dangerous - and instead of being relieved your kids were okay and happy to learn something new and SAFER for your grandchildren, you cling to your outdated way of life. Hope your child and his/her spouse are aware of your beliefs.