Article by Dr Lynda Shaw
The role and demands on grandparents are changing because of new socio-economic pressures, so whilst you’re immersed in the anticipation and excitement of the new arrival, unexpected friction and conflict can often occur if you’re not prepared, according to cognitive psychologist Dr Lynda Shaw.
“The role of the grandparents is ever changing. Baby boomer grandparents may take on a huge chunk of the childcare responsibilities whilst mums return to work, whether it’s doing the school run, helping when the children are ill or stepping in to lend a hand during the school holidays. This is not new in society. But now and in the near future the sandwich generation will find themselves still working well into their sixties, both because they can and financially they have to, as well as looking after elderly parents. Therefore, like never before they can’t or will struggle to take on the caregiver grandparent role too.”
A second chance to create a positive impact
Although today’s society plays huge part in the role of the grandparent, psychology theory of grand-parenting is important too. German-born American psychologist, Erik Erikson developed the Generativity versus Stagnation theory, which is typically associated with people who have reached midlife but who instinctively long to create a nurturing environment to support the development and growth of the next generation. For grandparents, they may view this time as a second chance to create a positive impact, a living legacy in the lives of their grandchildren through love and guidance with a hope that they can make a difference. Stagnation refers to those who find it difficult to contribute positively and who perhaps lack the ability to be involved and connect with others.
There are different sorts of grand-parenting personalities. Leading gerontologist Bernice Neugarten identified the core five patterns of grand-parenting as:-
- Formal grandparent: follows what are believed to be the appropriate guidelines for the grand-parenting role including occasional services and maintaining an interest, but not being overly involved.
- Fun seeker: primarily provides entertainment for the grandchild.
- Surrogate parent: takes over the caretaking role for the child.
- Reservoir of family wisdom: the head of the family who dispenses advice but also controls the parent generation.
- Distant figure: has infrequent contact with the grandchildren, perhaps appearing on special occasions.
Ultimately having a baby is not just one of the greatest milestones for the parents themselves, but it is of huge significance for grandparents. Shaw says: “Having had many years raising their own children, adjusting to ‘grandparent’ status can take a little while and unfortunately, it’s not always a bed of roses. Having already raised children of their own, grandparents are keen to pass on their knowledge and wisdom, but persistent advice and opinion are not always well received. New parents ultimately want the time and space to figure things out for themselves and to be the key decision makers and not be told how it should or shouldn’t be done.
“By contrast, less confident parents can also become too dependent with help at hand and rely entirely on the grandparents for support, leaving them feeling unappreciated and taken for granted. Situations such as these can become awkward for both parties and if the ground rules are not set from the word go, this can lead to a fractured and unhappy relationship in the long run. A huge number of factors are involved in successful grand-parenting.”
5 Top Tips for Expecting Grandparents:
1. Spoiling Them The job of a grandparent is all about the really good bits – shower them with as much love as possible, fun and enduring memories instead of mountains of gifts.
2. Two Hands Are Better Than One Looking after a new baby is all consuming and needs round the clock care and attention. Make yourself useful by offering to cook, do some household chores or run some errands. Your contribution is guaranteed to bring much relief and will be appreciate.
3. Give Them Space As exciting as it is that you want to be a hands-on grandparent, it’s really important to be led by the parents and not to assume that they are always going to want your help. More often than not, new parents like to work things out for themselves and will ask for help when needed.
4. Don’t Be Judgmental It’s easy to voice your opinion especially when it’s something you disagree with such as an obscure name you dislike or sleeping arrangements with their baby. Whatever the circumstance may be, he or she is after all their child and not yours. Go with the flow and best to keep your feelings to yourself.
5. The Perfect Bond We’ve all heard funny stories of babies crying uncontrollably when being held by certain people. If you’re a grandparent and this happens to you, do not fret! Persevere with it – it takes time for babies to get used to people other than mum and dad.