Dear future Grandma self,
Congratulations, you’re a Grandma! Your rascal sons have grown into men and are now becoming fathers. What a strange thought. As you write this you can barely imagine those smooth baby cheeks sprouting stubble.
Future Grandma self, here’s some important information from 35 year old Claire. Ignore it at your peril.
Do not ask questions about sleep. EVER. But especially do not ask if the baby is sleeping through the night when they are 6 weeks old, or even 6 months old. With the passage of time you’ll forget this, but your three year old middle son does not currently sleep through the night. Neither does the one year old. Even if your query about sleep is well-meaning, it is loaded and will heap guilt onto your son and his partner. They will feel as though they are somehow failing as parents if their child is not sleeping through the night. Don’t go there.
Engage with your grandchild
Make sure you get down on the same level with the kids and play, don’t just spectate. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, play hide and seek, read to them, push them on a swing, offer to take them to a park. Sure, it’s tiring but the time you have with them is relatively short. You think you’re tired after a few hours? Spare a thought for the parents who are exhausted because for them it NEVER STOPS!
If you commit, commit
If you agree to watch swimming, or soccer or dancing or any other kid activity, do it. If you don’t, you let down the child (a person who deserves to have commitments honoured) and you leave the parent consoling a disappointed child. If you go to the arranged kid related activity, watch it and encourage them. Get off your 2045 version of the Iphone. Get off your seat if you need to and get involved from the sideline.
Make your own way
Don’t expect your son to ferry you around the place. If you go and visit, make your own way to them, and then home again. Your son may have a car, but he shouldn’t have to move car seats in and out to accommodate you. Having him drive you around disrupts your grandchildren’s routine and will not put you in his partners good books. Yes, you shuffled your sons across the city when they were kids, but it’s not time for payback.
Don’t expect to have an adult conversation from start to finish with the grandkids present. Children interrupt and need things. It is not the time to discuss the 2045 equivalent of the war in Syria or the government’s appalling refuge policy while there are small children under feet. It’s entirely possible your son wants to have an intelligence conversation about current events but accept that it cannot happen until the kids are in bed.
Do not say you remember
As you write this, your sons are 5, 3 and 1. I can assure you, future Grandma self that at this point in time you do not truly remember what it is like to have a newborn child, and it was only 12 months ago. With the passage of time you will forget how tough it is to parent three little boys. Your memories of your son’s childhood will be through very rose coloured glasses. You’ll have forgotten the truly relentless nature of small children. Even as you write this, when you guzzle your first glass of wine of an evening, you remember the charming, funny, sweet things the boys did or said. You forget the hard stuff, the whining, noise and the fighting. Don’t patronize your son and his partner by suggesting you remember how hard and tiring it is being a parent to small kids, because you wont.
Offer to help, in any way that you can. If you live far away and can’t help, pay for a cleaner for a few weeks. When you visit, fill the freezer with meals and then tidy the kitchen. If you have to travel to visit, do not burden your son and his family by staying with them. Insist on babysitting each time you visit. Of course you want to see your son and his partner. What they want is some time together without the kids pestering them. Babysitting at night is great, but that’s the easy gig. The kids are likely to be in bed for the bulk of your shift. If you really want to impress your son and his partner, tell them to go out for a long lazy brunch, or boozy lunch.
Trust yourself future Grandma Claire that you raised your sons to be caring and kind people with reasoned, logical and enquiring minds. Respect the decisions they make about how to raise their child. Parenting changes, it doesn’t matter what you did as a parent. Let them make their own way as parents, without your judgment.
Most of all, future Grandma self, be kind. Always be kind.
35 year old Claire
PS while you’re reading letters, pass this one on to your middle lad.
What piece of sage advice would you give to your future grandparent self?