Becoming a Grandparent

Grandparents are gold in the life of a child. They come with experience, their hearts full of love for their family, and no real responsibility to the child, other than keeping them alive 🙂 This means they can be playful, break the rules, spoil them and give them back at the end of a day of fun! There is also another important role that grandparents play that they may not be aware of – and that is eldership. We, as a culture, have forgotten the importance of the wise elder in our community. Grandparents can themselves forget that their role has changed when a new baby is born – and make mistakes with the fresh new parents, by forgetting what it is like to be a new parent. Read on to get a sense of how things need to change, and the beautiful role elders play in that transition.

I have listened to the stories of thousands of women making the transition into new motherhood through our groups. There is such a vulnerability, and a desire to ‘get it right’ when you have a new baby. This leaves them exposed to the well-meaning advice and opinions of those around them, which can get in the way of the new mother and father building confidence. The comments that are the most potent are those that come from the mother or mother-in-law.

When a baby arrives, it is not just the birth of a baby – but the birth of parents.

A peak moment, the bringing in of the next generation. Watching this scene unfold is one of the richest of human experiences. Watching your son or daughter become a parent is a moment where you will begin to see the fruits of your labour. This experience brings out a whole new aspect of the child you raised, getting to know them all over again. The most important learning that comes when the new baby arrives is learning to read the baby’s cues and responding to meet the baby’s primal needs which are food, sleep, bonding, and comfort. This involves a lot of trial and error, and of course, adapting to the rapid changes that come when a baby grows and develops so quickly in that first year. In other words – what worked yesterday may not work today. The more noise and advice around the new parent, the harder it is for them to learn and feel confident to trust themselves. This includes health professionals, google, random strangers, and especially grandparents and other family members.

Culturally, we do not recognise the true transition that is taking place for that man or woman as they become parents. Many of the age-old traditions that have recognised this time as a rite of passage have either been diluted or discarded – leaving behind a lack of understanding and eldership to hold the space for these transformations in the new parents to be made in a way that creates confidence and trust in themselves.

Culturally we do not support the growth and development of elders either. The new grandparent wants to help and is extremely excited about this new phase. They typically want to be involved and have not been guided in their new role by traditions that have been based on wisdom and understanding. They just want to be in amongst it.

I have two close friends, both grandparents. Let’s call them wise grandma and still learning grandma. The one I admire most has a wonderful relationship with her daughter. They talk often on the phone, and her daughter comes willingly to her for advice. The grandma, however, rarely gives it – rather she keeps promoting the idea that you will work it out, we always do, and every child is different. She might share her own experiences but that is where she leaves it.

My other dear friend who is a grandmother, complains often about her daughter-in-law. She has very firm opinions about what should happen and is quick to criticize. You will then hear her complain about the fact that she feels shut out of their lives. If only they knew how smart she was and how she could help them.


Wise Grandma

Still learning Grandma

“Your baby is beautiful.” “Mmm looks like Uncle Tom when he was a baby.”
“Every baby is different; you’ll work it out.” “I think your baby is tired.”
They hold the baby close to the mother. They take the baby away from the mother.
They bring them healthy, wholesome meals. They come and sit on the couch and eat all their food.
They make them a cup of tea. They ask for a cup of tea.
They do jobs around the house. They sit on the couch for hours.
They reaffirm their ability to work out their baby. They offer opinions about what the baby needs.
They don’t offer advice, but if asked, they share their own experiences highlighting that it was a different time and a different baby. They reaffirm their own superior knowledge that comes from a different time, and make it known that they have the answers, if only they would listen.
They make the new parents front and centre. They make themselves front and centre.
They are sensitive to the vulnerability and needs of the new mother. They are focusing more on the baby and ignoring the new mother.
They leave her to focus while she is breastfeeding. They distract her while she is breastfeeding.
They encourage the parents to get some sleep, while they keep an eye on the new baby. They want to be entertained by the new parents.
They deal with other enthusiastic family members by keeping them up to date but encouraging them to wait until the new family is ready to share and celebrate. They invite the whole family around so they can show off their new grandchild.
The look on in awe, with a deep sense of contentment as they quietly watch this scene unfold and glimpsing new parts of their son or daughter. They look on with judgement about what the son or daughter should be doing and see themselves as the answer.

So, what do we need to understand about the new parent?

They can often only focus on the birth during pregnancy. This is a huge intense experience they need to get through to receive their baby. Birth is a catalyst for growth, and so how they prepare and then birth will have a huge impact on what happens afterward. They will have their own ideas on how they want to approach birth, and this must be respected and encouraged. Everyone is different when it comes to deciding what is important, and what decisions need to be made.

Once they get the baby, the next big important challenge is to establish breastfeeding, and this requires focus without distractions. The birthing mothers’ body is adapting to a pre-pregnant state, and her hormones are readjusting to the lactating mother cocktail. This can bring many intense feelings and a sense of vulnerability. She is working things out as she goes. Her success in breastfeeding with little pain and having a good milk supply will depend on the professional support she gets, and the loving undisturbed environment in which she is adjusting in. Spending time just lying with her new baby, staring at the baby are the conditions in which she learns about her baby’s cues.

Getting enough sleep.

Babies have a small stomach and metabolise breastmilk very quickly, so they need constant feeding. This is important for them, and so sleep becomes disrupted – particularly in the early days. The pressure to establish routines early will cause the mother to lose connection with what her baby is communicating, and is very unrealistic when the baby is changing so quickly. What worked yesterday may not work today. The best she can hope for is a rhythm, but even this will constantly change in the first year of a baby’s life.

It’s a very intense and yet beautiful time. The less input she has from others, the better. It interferes with her learning.

Eldership, a word rarely used in our culture, is one that holds the wisdom of experience and can read the circumstances. It is a beautiful period when one no longer has to prove their value or worth and is comfortable in their own skin. The elder doesn’t react but holds space to process what is going on for themselves and others. He/ she is where the younger generations go to be understood, nourished, and can rest their weary head. The elder is where we ask for the wisdom that comes from a life lived well. Long live grandparents, they are truly precious and a treasure for the next generation as they learn to become parents. I can’t wait!

Live long and with love,


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