The role of today's grandmother is different than that of all the grandmothers who have come before. As a result, Grammas need a new game plan and set of rules. As a pediatrician, professor and grandmother, here are what I believe are the 6 new rules of Grammahood.
1. Be Focused on What Matters: Your Grandchild
With shifts in how parents acquire childrearing information and how families interact, it is increasingly important to focus on what matters - helping develop your grandchildren's brain.
Grandmothers should be part of the developmental process of their grandchildren. After all, you are part of the most educated, experienced, entertaining, and engaging set of Grammas ever to exist. Talk to your grandchildren, sing and dance with them, cook with them, and pretend with them. If this can only be done by Skype or FaceTime, then do it that way. Be ready to compete with TV, talking toys, and the temptation of the ubiquitous screen - because your interaction is more powerful and more important.
2. Be Prepared
You need to brush up on first aid, infant CPR, optimal nutrition for infants and toddlers, and re-familiarize yourself with child-rearing facts. If you are prepared, you might worry less that something terrible could happen to your grandchildren -- particularly when you are with them. Your preparation is for you to be more capable, informed, and proactive. It is not for you to spout facts or unsolicited advice to your kids and their partners.
In addition, you need to understand how to use all the accoutrement, gadgets, and gizmos that help run your grandchildren's lives. There is a ton of new equipment to feed, clean, transport, and comfort your grandchildren. Be prepared, get trained, upload the user manuals, video your kids using them, and be ready to operate things you have never seen before.
3. Be Part of the Team
When you interact with your grandchildren, you should never do it to brag, compare, or compete with your own children, or with the other grandparents. Being part of your grandchild's life is not a competitive sport, it's a team sport. Find out from your children what they consider to be the team's game plan, and then follow it. Don't be a rogue Gramma or you risk getting thrown off the team.
Use praise -- both with your children and grandchildren. Praising should be your mantra. Remember, there are no bad boys or bad girls, there is only bad behavior. And while you're at it, praise your daughter or son (and daughter-in-law or son-in-law). Tell them how proud you are of them, and what great parents they turned out to be.
If your goal is to interact as much as possible with your precocious little ones, then you should be ready for any chance encounter (which is usually babysitting), or better yet, you should try to get scheduled in with visits, calls, or Skypes. You need to discuss with your children a good cadence of visits with your grandchildren.
4. Give Up Control and Lean Out
As you go down the Gramma path, remember you are no longer in charge. Your kids are in charge. They decide everything --from the baby's name, the color of the crib, when the baby sleeps, and whether there is a tight schedule or none at all. Say to yourself, My kid (and his or her wife or husband or partner or friend), can decide (as they should) how to raise my grandchild without asking for my input, opinion, or permission. Remember you are Gramma, an important supplement in this baby or toddler's life. The childrearing responsibilities are not primarily yours. You raised your son or daughter to become an independent, informed member of this world. Well done, they are now becoming a wonderful parent.
Live by this credo: if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all. Remember, on most issues, there are no right or wrong answers or approaches concerning how to raise your grandchildren. Recall how you felt when your mother or mother-in-law told you what to do, or criticized you. So, do not offer unsolicited advice and stop the cycle of criticism.
5. Stay in Control of Your Life -- Don't get Abused, Used, or Confused
Being a grandmother is the best of all possible worlds because at the end of the day, you can give your grandchild back. So, stay in charge of your life, set limits, and decide --of course in collaboration with your children -- how to be on the Team. The goal is to never get abused, used, or confused. You still do what you want with your life. You fit this in around your work schedule if you have one, and between your (and your spouse, significant other, friends, siblings, and your own parents if you are still sandwiched between them and your children/grandchildren) needs, between exercising, shopping, cooking, cleaning, volunteering, reading, book clubs, gardening, or whatever. You remain in control of your life.
6. Take Care of Yourself
To be that aspirational Gramma, take care of yourself. If you don't, no one else will. Be proactive and informed (this is your opportunity to read books and use the internet) about optimizing nutrition, getting to a healthy weight, exercising regularly, being social, keeping busy (in addition to all you are doing with your grandchildren), seeing your healthcare provider, taking appropriate immunizations and medications, and protecting yourself and reducing risk. In addition, don't have too thin a skin. Getting too sensitive or touchy, particularly when your children say something, will get you nowhere.
Go out and enjoy being a grandmother. Play with your grandchildren, imagine with them, and help develop their brains. Support your kids and their spouses or partners - they are the ones making the rules, you are the one following those rules.
Be concerned with only what really matters. And take care of yourself - how else will you be able to enjoy your grandchildren.