The arrival of a new baby certainly brings a megadose of joy and wonder—but it can also complicate the dynamics of family relationships. If you have a grandchild on the way, here’s how to set yourself up for a smooth start to grandparenthood.
The grandparent-grandchild relationship is one of life’s most treasured connections, but navigating it especially when raw, sleep-deprived new parents are involved—requires a certain kind of balance.
1. Don’t Spoil to Win Affection
As your grandchild transforms into a toddler with their own delightful personality, it can be tempting to offer lots of sweet treats to win them over. But remember that wooing your grandchild’s parents is just as important—if visits with Grandma and Grandpa become associated with too much sugar and lack of boundaries, they may happen less often.
2. Don’t Dole Out Unsolicited Advice
It’s highly likely that the new parents are going to do things differently than you would have, whether it’s choosing an unusual name, putting a young baby in daycare or skipping purées in favor of finger foods.
Unless your counsel is specifically sought out, “zip the lip” should be your mantra. Keep your opinions to yourself, with one exception—you always, always, always love the baby’s name. Even if you don’t initially, that will change with time.
3. Communicate Early and Often
As a new grandparent, you can prevent misunderstandings—which can quickly morph into feelings of resentment—by encouraging open, honest conversation.
For example, if the family is coming to your house to spend the night, try asking a few questions in advance. What time should dinner happen so they can pull off the bedtime routine without a hitch? Would they prefer to sleep in the family room off the kitchen or the quieter guest room?
If the baby has started eating solid food, what would be helpful to have on hand? Were the parents hoping for a date night, or would they rather everyone spend time together? Savvy grandparents know to anticipate the need before it even pops up—this is their secret weapon.
4. Give Them Space—But Be Helpful Too
Maybe you used to spend the night when visiting your child before they became a parent—but here’s a fact that can’t be overstated: Babies. Change. Everything.
Some new parents may feel uncomfortable having houseguests as they’re getting the hang of the whole baby thing (this can be especially true if the mother is learning to breastfeed, which can require patience, practice and a quiet space).
They might also be embarrassed that the dust bunnies and dishes are piling up. Others may welcome grandparents on the premises, especially if they have enough room for everyone to be comfortable. Ask about their preferences when making plans to visit, and don’t take offense to whatever their answer might be.
When you do come over, don’t expect to be entertained: Bring food for the parents (offer to heat it up and do the dishes after, if you’re able to) and let them know you’re happy to keep an eye on the baby while they rest or shower. You might even suggest they take a walk alone, which can feel like emerging from a dark cave after being cooped up with a newborn.
5. Skip the Comparisons
New parents are probably already feeling a lot of self-induced pressure to get things right. They don’t want to hear how your friends’ grandkids are sleeping longer stretches, gaining weight faster or meeting milestones earlier.
It can feel like you’re judging them, even if you’re just trying to help. Or if you’re remembering how your daughter—the baby’s mom—was sleeping beautifully through the night at 12 weeks old and you can’t figure out why the baby isn’t taking after her, just keep that to yourself. Of course, focusing on the positive stuff—like how curious and engaged the baby is! —is all good.
6. School Yourself
Truth: The times and trends have changed since you had kids.
Whether the new parents are considering exclusively breastfeeding, choosing organic formula, practicing baby-led weaning, teaching baby sign language, babywearing or swaddling, your job is to embrace it all.
Safety recommendations have changed as well—for example, babies now get put to sleep on their backs in an empty crib, and kids often remain backward-facing in car seats well past the age of 2. Pick up a current, trusted book about child development and you’ll impress everyone with your newfound knowledge.
7. Keep Shopping Urges in Check
We know, we know. It’s fun to shop for a new baby. And no one is going to fault you for giving some adorable outfits (especially when tiny socks and hats are involved) or a coveted registry item like a stroller.
But as a grandparent, it can be tempting to go overboard with the shiny new loot—after all, you’re not the one who has to find a place to store that massive baby activity center or ride-on toddler Maserati.
Instead of caving to your own whims, try to listen closely and work out what they might appreciate. If they’re tight on space, maybe they’re eyeing a doorway jumper or a folding high chair. And some families would rather skip the presents altogether and instead have money earmarked for things like parent and baby swim lessons or a college fund (it’s never too early!).
8. Respect Health Concerns
Since there isn’t yet a COVID-19 vaccine for babies and children, new parents may have lots of feelings about introducing their weeks-old little one to others, especially indoors.
If you’re vaccinated and they still want you to wear a mask, go with the flow. If they’d like you to remove shoes before coming in because the baby spends a lot of time on the floor, plan to smile and wear nice socks. And of course, washing your hands before holding a baby is always the smart thing to do, pandemic times or not.