Over the years, I’ve often reflected on my own experiences as a pediatrician and as a parent of our three now-grown children. Gratefully welcoming our second grandchild to the family this summer, I’ve been thinking about what I’d like my kids to know about having our grandchild. There’s so much I’d like to tell them, so many life lessons my wife and I learned along the way. But seeing how busy our kids are as new parents—and remembering (fondly!) how chaotic life can feel with young kids in the house—these are the four areas I think are most important for young moms and dads to keep in mind.
1. Don't forget self-care. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, as you undoubtedly will, step back, take a few deep breaths, cuddle your baby, and reflect on the miracle you are holding in your arms. This new life is one of promise and hope and wonder and awe. And you have the privilege of witnessing all of it. But sometimes you will be too overwhelmed to appreciate that privilege. Find someone else to hold the baby, and go for a walk or watch TV or find a quiet spot outside your home to read or think. If those short separations don’t make you feel better, ask your doctor for the name of a therapist to talk to. Post-partum depression is real and important to recognize.
Your physical and mental health are very important to your baby. Eat healthy, exercise, and when you need a little time off, take it–it’s worth the babysitting cost to give yourself a break.
2. Listen to advice—but trust your instincts. Lots of people will have advice for you about how to raise and care for your new baby. If we, your baby’s grandparents, offer advice, listen politely and thank us for caring—but do what your parental instincts and your baby’s doctor tell you is right. Of course, don’t ever hesitate to ask us for our opinion—it makes us feel great to be needed and respected. After all, we’ve been through this all before. But trust yourself to make the right decisions even when they are contrary to what we’ve advised. We won’t be insulted.
Also be polite in hearing the advice of other family and well-meaning friends. Remember, though, every family’s experiences are different and what may have worked for your friends’ kids may not be appropriate for your baby. Cross-check their advice with your baby’s doctor.
The internet is full of advice on every parenting issue but, like everything else on the internet, the reliability of the sources can be suspect. So choose carefully and verify the advice with your baby’s doctor. When our first grandchild was born a couple years ago, we gave our kids a multi-year subscription to Parents magazine because we trust their advice and their advisors (full disclosure: I’m one of those advisors).
Also be wary of warnings. One family’s struggles with “the terrible twos” doesn’t mean you’ll have the same challenges. Be optimistic in the face of dire predictions from others.
3. When it comes to growth and development, don't compare. There’s a universal temptation to compare your baby to others in mommy-and-me classes, play group, day care, pre-school, and even in the supermarket. Your baby is perfect. Don’t compare her to others because there are none like her, nor will there ever be. She will roll over when she’s ready, sit when it’s time, and say her first words when she has something important to say. If you’re seriously concerned about your baby’s developmental milestones, speak with her doctor. You’ll most likely be reassured that every baby sets their own pace and yours is right on track.
4. Set boundaries. Sometimes we grandparents forget that we’ve had our turn, and now it’s yours. It’s not that we want to do it over again or try to do it better than we did last time; it’s that we really love you and your baby and want what’s best for you all. But gently alert us when we have crossed a boundary, and gone too far in trying to help you or your kids. We’ll understand. Truth is, we’re enjoying our empty nest and when you’re not around, we retreat into it and have other interests besides you and our grandkids. Yes, we love watching the videos you send (sometimes it feels like we’ll wear them out from overuse), and we look forward to our in-person or phone visits, but we also value our independence. So when you’ve had enough of us, or we’ve overstepped, send us packing until next time.
Finally, thanks for giving us the extraordinary blessing of a grandchild. We are so grateful to be involved in your lives.
Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children's Hospital Colorado. He is a Parents advisor and the author of books for parents and families, including No Regrets Parenting, 940 Saturdays, and Miracles We Have Seen - America's Leading Physicians Share Stories They Can't Forget. Visit his website and blog at harleyrotbart.com and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.