When your children were little, you were probably happy to leave them with your parents. You trusted your parents' knowledge and experience, and saw them as reliable sources of child-care guidance. You felt pretty sure that, as babysitters, they could handle anything. Now fast forward a generation to today’s young parents, your grown-up kids. They are as much in need of some time away from their new babies as you once were. Yet, they may be surprisingly reluctant to leave their children with you.
What's changed? When I first started in pediatric practice two decades ago, grandparents, especially grandmothers, were still relied-on and trusted. Couples felt stressed if their parents didn't live nearby to help with their newborns. But during the last few years, an explosion of parenting advice, magnified by TV, and multiplied by the internet, has produced what I sometimes call the "what to expect to be anxious and worried about" generation. These parents suffer from information overload, and are stymied by advice that is often both alarming and conflicting. They become so anxious that they will do something wrong, they don't trust their own instincts. So it's only natural for them to be reluctant to entrust their children to others — even to you.
Why They Don't Trust You
Grandmother Sharon Montgomery, a psychologist in New Jersey, theorizes that "it's harder for parents to trust that [grandparents] are up to date on the latest information from the parenting front. We had Dr. Spock; they have 100 Dr. Spocks. They believe that they have different information and are raising their kids in a scientific way, while what we did was primitive."
Even grandparents who are child-care professionals find themselves struggling to persuade their children that they can be responsible caregivers. New grandmother Deborah Block of Morristown, N.J., has been a practicing pediatrician for 40 years. Yet, her son and daughter-in-law told her that they had to wake their baby every two hours during the night to feed, because "the book said so." Block explained that based on her years of experience, she knew this was not necessary, but the new parents told her, "You're the grandmother, not the pediatrician." Eventually, though, the new parents came around, and the family now enjoys a more relaxed schedule.
Carol Kepler, 55, a pediatric nurse from Rockaway, N.J., who often cares for her two grandchildren, ages 5 and 2, faced a similar challenge. When her son and daughter-in-law struggled to feed their baby son, a reluctant eater, Kepler's advice, based on 35 years of nursing experience, didn't matter. Instead, the parents showered Kepler with advice on how to get the baby to eat when she babysat. "I had to bite my tongue a lot, but I had no trouble feeding him, and they were shocked when they realized he would eat well for me," she says. "I've just learned through experience to be more laid-back about feeding."
Of course, most grandparents are not in a position to trump the latest fad-parenting book with their own professional knowledge, so they struggle to prove to their grown children that they're capable of babysitting. Debra Shaughnessy, 38, a real-estate agent in Westport, Conn., is one of the new crop of moms with reservations about the older generation. “Things are so different now," says Shaughnessy, the mother of a four-month-old. "They are just out of practice," She believes that grandparents keep babies too warm, overfeed them, and move too quickly to medicate them. "They may have experience and instincts but they are not up on the latest research."
How You Can Win Them Over
The truth is that babies have not changed all that much over the past several hundred years, and they are more durable than most anxious new parents realize. Still, there is some new and important information out there, and as a grandparent who plans to do some babysitting, you have to become informed in order to take better care of the kids and to reassure the parents that you're up to speed. For example, you should know that researchers now believe that babies need to sleep on their back to help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. (You can find other current thinking about best child-care practices from the American Academy of Pediatrics.)
You should also keep in mind that there is more than one right way to take care of a newborn, and respect your grown children's choices, even if they differ from yours. For example, they may have very different opinions on when and how to introduce formula or solid foods to a baby, and whether and how to limit toddlers' TV time. As a show of good faith, when you come over to babysit, ask the parents where they keep their favorite parenting books and materials and scan them while your grandchild rests. You may have successfully raised your kids one way, but a new approach is not necessarily invalid.
Above all, be patient. As new parents become less anxious and begin to trust themselves more, they will extend that trust to others, including you. Be sensitive to their anxiety. Their world has become a scary place and they need your love and support now more than ever. Soon they will realize that the most important reason to trust you is that you love their baby as much as they do.
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.