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Becoming a Grandmother 101

[Family Matters]

The Author with her grandchildren
Caption :The Author with her grandchildren
Credits Qulia Goodman

If you were fortunate enough to have a beloved grandmother or if your own parents were excellent grandparents, you were indeed given a gift.  As the circle of life spins and you step into the role of grandparent yourself, you have an example to follow.  There are some who were not fortunate enough to have grandparents to provide role models for future generations.  There are some who have such bad examples to follow that they tend to shy away from those memories and make it up as they go along.
It is a well-known fact that parenting doesn't come with a user manual.  You spend nine months anticipating the coming of a child only to wake up that first morning after it is born with the complete realization that this is a tiny human and you have no idea what to do with it.  Basics are fairly easy:  feed it, keep it clean, keep it warm, take lots of pictures.  Other than that, most of it will depend on the personality of the baby and the dreams that you have for that child.  Thus begins the long learning process that culminates with the tiny baby you brought into the world handing you the tiny baby that he/she just added to this planet.  Suddenly half of the things that you learned along the way can be ripped out of the handbook of your experience because this sweet bundle belongs to your child.  You are a parent-one-step-removed.  
Lo and behold, that doesn't come with a handbook either!
By Catherine Scott (Matti) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Caption :Child pushing grandmother on plastic tricycle
Credits Catherine Scott / Wikimedia Commons


Personal Experience

I became a grandmother for the first time almost two years ago.  I don't know if every grandparent feels this way, but it felt like that day had suddenly become a grand holiday.  There you are at the hospital holding the baby and kissing it and murmuring sweet little nothings to it just like you did with your own sweet babies.  The next thing you know, it is time to leave.  This is the first lesson in becoming a grandmother:  it's not yours and you have to go home and leave it with your child.  I don't care how responsible or mature your child is, at that moment your child suddenly become six years old again and some part of your brain tells you that they can't possibly be capable of caring for an infant!  Finally you manage, very reluctantly, to leave.  Congratulations!  You are now a bench-warmer and your child is the star of this game.
I didn't grow up with grandparents.  My father was a fantastic grandfather who loved children dearly.  My mother was, unfortunately, the opposite end of the spectrum.  Her advice to me while my own children were small was "you have to conquer kids or they will walk all over you.  You're giving in to them too much and it's wearing you out.  If you don't show them who's boss, you're going to ruin them".  Well, I didn't take that advice to heart and spent a whole lot of time in complete wonder of these amazing little people who were growing up in my care.  I spared the rod and spoiled the heck out of them.  If I didn't take her advice on mothering, I sure wasn't going to use her example as a role model for the type of grandparent I wanted to be.
The conundrum?  I had absolutely NO idea of how to be a grandmother!  So, after about thirty seconds of sincere deliberation, I decided to just "wing it".  I will gladly admit that I haven't perfected the process.  My second grandchild arrived late last fall and I still haven't completely broken myself from blurting out things that I think the parents should do for their little bundles.  Luckily, we are a big, open, honest family and my children have no qualms about telling me to knock it off.  That always brings a guilty grin to my face because I know, deep down, that I would trust these kids with MY life.  They don't always need my advice.


Things I've learned:

  • Never be further than a phone call away.  If the parents trust you to be there for that child any time day or night, the child will learn that you can be called upon if ever they are in need.


  • Offer to be the "bad guy" at those difficult doctor's appointments.  Immunizations are the hardest thing a new parent faces under normal circumstances.  By being the person who helps hold baby during the painful injections, then handing it to the parent for comfort, you are helping to reinforce the idea that mom or dad will always be there to rescue them from every little hurt.  This is a tough one and requires a lot of fortitude on your part to do.


  • Always respect the parents' rules, even if you don't agree with them.


  • Always have some rules that the grandchildren are taught to honor at your house.


  • Never say yes when the parent says no.  This type of conflicting behavior confuses small children and leads to a competition between you and the parents.


  • Never let the child hear you villify its parents.  How will the child learn to respect the parents if you tell it that the parents are wrong for not allowing it to do things?  A young child shouldn't be told that mom/dad were "bad" when they were growing up.  Even if you are teasing, it is sometimes difficult for children to differentiate between a tease and a criticism.


  • A child has the right to love both parents equally.  It is wrong to tell a child that one parent is better than the other.  On the same note, if the child has two sets of grandparents, swallow your sense of competition and don't put the other set of grandparents down to the child.  If you keep your opinions out of it, the child will formulate his/her own opinions as time goes by.  If both sets of grandparents treat the child well, it is a disservice to the child to put it into the middle of the "better grandparent" race.


  • Never tell a grandchild that calling you grandmother makes you feel old!  What a burden that places on the child's conscience!  Grandchildren are not responsible for their grandparents' ages and shouldn't be made to feel guilty about it.


  • Share the things you love with your grandchild.  It's never too early to introduce them to nature or classical music or mathematics.  They may not understand it, but they will learn to appreciate your interest in it and, perhaps, come to love it as well.


  • Take time to play!  How long has it been since you splashed in puddles anyhow?  Or tasted imaginary food?  


  • Let your little one help.  Children have an amazing capacity for learning and will find the most tedious chore fascinating.  Yes, folding the clothes or installing a doorstop takes a little longer if a toddler is "helping" but it's all part of passing down what you know to the next generation.


  • From day one, set the rule that if mom/dad says it is time to go, it is time to go.  There will come a day when you have to carry a very unhappy child to the car, kiss it goodbye, and feel terrible about being so "hard-hearted", but it is terribly important for that child to know that his/her parents have the final say in these matters.  By that same token, there are times when you go to their house and it is all right for them to go home with you.  But, they also have to learn that sometimes you just came to visit and they have to stay home.


  • Always reassure a child that mom or dad are coming back when they leave.  If they are upset, comfort them a little then try to divert their attention.  Share their happiness when mom/dad return!


  • Keep in mind that a grandchild is not meant to replace your beloved child!  It is not your chance to do things over that you would like to change about how you raised your own children.  Those things are in the past.  Build a good rapport with your own child and a grandchild can enrich both your lives.  


  • Always have something special that they only get at your house!  At our house, chocolate milk is the specialty of the house!


  • You can never share too many kisses or hugs with a child!  The greatest gift anyone can give a child is simply to love it, to make it feel special, to make it feel safe, and to always be there to listen whenever it needs a friend.




Grandparenting is not an exact science.  Will a grandmother's style of grandparenting keep the relationship strong between grandmother and grandchild?  Only time will tell.  For myself, it is rather a comfort to graciously allow my grandchildren's parents take over the responsibilities of child-rearing.  If they need me, I will be there for them.  In the meantime, I am content with sharing their happiness.

I think Alex Haley said it best: Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children. In my opinion, that goes both ways. :)
Feb 14, 2013
I agree! I firmly believe grandchildren are the gift of getting older; our bodies may slow down but the younger generation keeps us alive!
Feb 12, 2013
I know exactly what you mean! :)
Feb 3, 2013
Yep, neither children nor grandchildren come with a handbook! Grandparenting is the most amazing experience--someone once said it was God's way of making up for making us grow old! I think that person was so right because it is the BEST part of getting older. I love your tips! Sometimes it's hard to not want to tell your child he or she should do things YOUR way when it comes to parenting, but grandparenting means stepping back and making dad or mom be the decision-maker--even when they are totally wrong, LOL! I'm lucky my son is such a good father and he is clearly in charge when it comes to his girls! And yes, that day that my first grandchild was born was great cause for celebration and we've been celebrating the little ones ever since!
Feb 2, 2013