Dear ME When I Am A Grandma,
It's a little surreal that you've crossed into this new territory, isn't it? Just yesterday, you were changing diapers, singing lullabies, packing school lunches, and rocking babies of your own...and now, here you are, cradling the baby of your baby.
Here are some pointers as you embark on the adventure of grandmothering.
After the new baby is born, bring meals and a pretty nursing nightgown. If you don't have the time to whip up some hot dishes in the kitchen, pack a few bags of groceries with staples - milk, a loaf of fresh bread, organic produce, dried fruits (plums are good for post-childbirth!), nuts, and special treats for the new parents.
Buy baby gear to put in your house. A highchair, crib or twin bed, and selection of children's books will do quite nicely. Bonus if you also set up a changing table with wipes, diapers, and extra outfits. A rocking chair or recliner in a quiet corner would be positively heavenly for the new mum.
Childproof your house. When your grandchildren are young, do your best to move breakables and treasures away from baby's reach. Gate your stairs and your pool. Cover the outlets. Clear the clutter. Sweep the floors. Move the dog food bowl. If you can swing it, convert one room of your house to a playroom with toys, small beds, and a miniature table with chairs. If there is nowhere for baby to sleep or if toddlers are constantly having to be distracted from obvious dangers, your house will be exhausting rather than energizing.
Extend grace as your child becomes a parent. For example, let it be if your child insists on regimented naptimes and bedtimes, even if you know that things don't have to be so rigid. They'll learn after subsequent babies...as you did.
Love your grandkids something fierce. Not that you need to be told this. Having grandkids will almost certainly undo you. You'll be head over heels as you stare into the faces of those children-of-your-children, born out of your love. That's a miracle you can't rightly appreciate until you've held that little one in your arms.
Be strategic about gifts. "Experiential gifts" are the best. Examples: (1) a family membership to the zoo, children's museum, aquarium, botanical gardens, or water park, (2) tickets to the ballet, symphony, or children's theater, or (3) art lessons, tennis camp, etc.
If you want to buy more tangible presents (to watch your grandchild's eyes dance with delight), error on the side of timeless gifts like dolls, wooden blocks, a nice globe, an easel, a drawing kit, magnetic alphabet letters, and classic chapter books. Clothing and shoes are always a good idea too - especially for firstborns who don't have access to hand-me-downs. Think quality over quantity every time. Have mercy on the poor parents and try to avoid bubbles, play-doh, glitter, mechanical toys, toys with tiny pieces, and items from the $1 bin at Target.
Remember that your presence is the best present. Invite your children/grandchildren to drop in unexpected. Don't be one of those grandparents who requires you to "call in advance" or to schedule in your visit ahead of time.
Offer to babysit - often. If your children politely decline, understand (and ask again later). One of the very best gifts you can give is the opportunity for the parents to go on a date, to mop the floors, to go grocery shopping without toddlers who run through the aisles, to finish a work project, or to head out for a leisurely lunch with friends.
Offer to ride along on errands. This is an especially huge help for parents with multiple small children. The father/mother can run into the library, grocery store, post office, or drugstore - without having to unbuckle and buckle carseats galore.
When you watch your grandkids, find a way to teach them something every once in awhile. Go over the ABCs. Memorize a poem. Do a science experiment. Teach them how to count to ten in Spanish. Help them with homework. Parents of multiple children, in particular, often have a perpetually nagging feeling that they aren't concentrating enough time on each child's educational progress. Your assistance will be appreciated.
Take a photography class and capture your grandkids in all of their adorable shenanigans. Stay current with the latest technology. No excuses. And get in front of the camera too! Those wrinkles just show that you've always been one to smile.
Let your grandkids see you do what you love. It's okay to be yourself - write books, start businesses, keep adding stamps to your passport. You might not be the traditional granny, but that makes you more fun.
Speaking of writing, let the stories flow - especially true stories about your childhood, your wishes, your dreams, and your mistakes. Give your grandkids something to come back to after you say goodbye to this earthly home.
Create special traditions with your grandchildren. The best ones are born out of your passions. Since you adore reading, perhaps you could get a new book for your grandchild every year on the last day of school. Or take them to see a musical every year. Or challenge each other to run a certain number of miles per week/month - with a special treat at the end.
Above all - don't forget what it was like to be bone-tired, weary from sleepless nights, rock-rock-rocking and shh-shh-shhing.
One of the best ways to love your adult children is to shower their children with love, affection, attention, and education. Another good way is to live a good story - full of love, laughter, and learning. Your joy will be contagious; your courage will be a beacon.
* Note that our children are very fortunate to have two outstanding grandmas - women of integrity, kindness, and unceasing love. I am so grateful for the example of my mother and mother-in-law.