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How to Be a Better Grandparent

A class can help get you up to speed on the latest practices and research

spinner image woman pointing to chalkboard drawing of a baby in diapers and teaching a class of grandparents
Tomi Um

The first time I held my granddaughter, I was awash in love. Then my mind drifted in a less wholesome direction — could I spirit her away under my coat? In my backpack? In my carry-on luggage? I’m kidding. Sort of.

Soon enough, though, tiny Annie got hungry and began rooting around my chest, becoming increasingly frantic. “Oh, honey, that restaurant has been closed for decades,” I told her, feeling forlorn. My daughter scooped up the baby and began to nurse her. Annie may have felt like my baby. I may have wanted her to be my baby. But nature had bluntly reminded me that those days were over. I was a grandma now and — baby lust aside — I was so glad I had invested in some attitude adjustment.

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As in, a grandparenting class. Literally. I am a proud graduate of a two-hour virtual grandparenting class given through the Perinatal Education Program at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford in California. Classes for new grandparents are popping up around the country, many of them virtual in the wake of the pandemic. These hospital-based classes seem to share the same origin: New parents in baby groups begged instructors to educate grandparents. “We were hearing from the young mothers,” says Stanford’s Nancy Sanchez. “We realized that getting everyone on the same page would definitely help that transition.”

The reality is that standards of baby care have changed since you raised children, and you need to learn to navigate a new relationship with the parents. Highlights:

1. Child safety is paramount. When I had babies in the ’80s, we put them in cribs on their stomach, advised that this would prevent infants from choking on their own spit-up. Later research reversed that thinking: Babies who sleep on their tummies are at a higher risk for sudden infant death syndrome. Speaking of the crib, no more bumpers, blankets or toys (also smothering risks) allowed in there, just a bottom sheet.

If you want to up your lifesaving skills, take an infant CPR course, and learn how to install new car seats.

2. Respect your kids. Try to remember: It’s not your child. Repeat, it’s not your child. Unless you believe your grandchild is in real danger, keep your mouth shut.

3. Live and learn as you go. A few days after my “graduation,” my husband and I were on our way across the country to meet our new granddaughter. The three weeks of helping my daughter and son-in-law with the baby went remarkably smoothly, in no small part due to what I had learned in class. Despite my instincts to steal that baby, I focused on taking care of the parents. I did a lot of cooking. My husband did many loads of laundry. It seemed like we were at the grocery store every day. The bleary-eyed new parents were incredibly grateful.

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I slipped up twice: once when my son-in-law took the baby outside on a chilly day without wrapping her up. I think I get a pass for chasing after him with a blanket. Less so when I chided my daughter for waking up Annie to feed her. Of course I was wrong: New research says feeding every one to three hours is the best practice, no matter what.

But those tiny hiccups were swamped by the joy of snuggling my granddaughter almost to my heart’s content. And thanks to a little formal preparation, I’m welcome back for more. ​

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