WHEN a friend of mine became a first-time grandparent recently, the first question everyone asked her was when would she be going to see her grandchild. Would she be at the birth? Would she stay with the new parents to “help out” as soon as the baby was home? But in among all the excitement and enthusiasm she also received some sage advice. Give the parents some space to get used to the idea of their new family and let them invite you when they are ready.
S, while she was welcome to visit when she wanted, the parents said, she kept a respectful distance and then went to stay a few weeks after the birth. In this case there was a practical decision as well, she couldn’t just pop over for the day, or drop into the hospital, as the family lived interstate. Nevertheless her response would have received a tick of approval from The Grandparenting Code, a helpful guide that parenting expert and psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg has come up with to help grandparents, and first-timers in particular, navigate and strengthen their relationships with their children and grandchildren.
The code is the centrepiece of Carr-Gregg’s new book Grandparents: A practical guide to navigating grandparenting today (Allen & Unwin) and the author interviewed many grandparents in the course of writing it. Most first-time grandparents admitted that they felt unprepared for the role, he said.
“They are unsure how to approach it, and some are anxious about stepping on the toes of their kids – the new parents. I get the feeling that many Australian grandparents just white-knuckle their way through, learning as they go along.
“But as with all major life transitions, becoming a grandparent is an invitation to grow, and the secret to success lies in the preparation.
“It’s a relationship based on love, appreciation, fun, and pure joy. Becoming a grandparent is one of the key transitions of a person’s life and inside every transition is an invitation to grow and devote yourself to the role.”
According to Carr-Gregg, Australia’s life expectancy means it is now more common for a child to grow up with grandparents and, in addition, socio-economic changes mean more mothers in paid work, greater labour market instability, and higher rates of divorce and relationship breakdown – bringing an increasing role for grandparents.
Indeed, latest figures from the ABS show the number of grandparents providing primary care for their grandchildren had doubled from 2018 to 2021.