10 Ways to Help Parents of Babies

The first year of your grandbaby's life can be a roller coaster. But with these tips, you can help smooth the ride.

By Kristen Sturt

Last year, I had a son. The boy is astonishing – a tiny miracle in a dinosaur onesie – and every day, my husband and I thank the heavens for allowing such an incredible blessing to brighten our lives.

Also, he is an unstoppable puke machine.

My child – my adorable, faultless angel – gleefully spit up every meal for the first three months of his existence. (He still can’t choke solids down.) Add in his rampant diaper rash and 47 seconds of daily naptime, and things got dicey there for a while.

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Happily, friends and family stepped in, bearing food, lending support, and watching the rugrat while we gratefully, desperately, went to Walgreens for butt paste. Over time, things got easier, and now, 12 months later, we have the hang of this mommy and daddy thing. Almost.

You probably remember those tired, happy days of new parenthood, and you're probably excited to experience them again, this time from a grandparent's perspective. (We're excited for you!) It's been a few years since your own infants came to be, though, and we figured we'd pass on some gentle reminders. Read 'em, and don't forget to share your own ideas in the comments.

1. Visit! But call first.
You want to snuggle your grandbaby, and we want you to be able to. But, to ensure your daughter isn’t naked (or more likely, napping), dial ahead and discuss details of your trip – especially dates and times. A little planning will guarantee a smoother stopover, whether it’s a quick social call or longer stay. It sets a good precedent for the years to come, as well.

Side note: Whether you’re driving, flying, or riding an ostrich, traveling is likely easier for you – unencumbered, well-rested you – than your exhausted kids. The situation will ease up over the next year, but in the meantime, the onus is on you to get going.

2. Tidy up.
No, you haven’t stepped into the aftermath of a dairy explosion – you’ve entered the home of a new parent! And we won’t mind if you do a load of laundry, put the dishes away, or (please oh please) cook. In fact, it could secure your status as Favorite Grandparent.

3. Brush up on baby safety.
Back is best! No crib bumpers! Car seats should face the trunk! The prevailing wisdom on infant dos and don’ts has changed – in some cases, significantly – since you raised your own kids. BabyCenter’s Safety & Childproofing page is a good place to start reviewing the basics, while Caring for Your Baby and Young Child, by the American Academy of Pediatrics, is the authority.

4. Send thoughtful and useful gifts.
Any token of your affection is seriously appreciated, but – let’s face it – some are more helpful than others. Researching purchases and reading reviews will save everyone money and face. Don’t have time? Here’s a handy guide:

5. Take pictures and video.
Twelve months into his life, there are 86,000 pictures of my son, along with enough video to populate the entire Cannes Film Festival. Somehow, it’s still not enough. That’s where you come in, grandma. Not only can you add to family albums, but you might catch THAT baby photo – you know: the candid image that ends up in a hilarious slideshow at his wedding. Or better yet, with 125 Facebook likes.

6. Support feeding choices.
Whether it comes from medical professionals, friends, family, or society on the whole, there’s an enormous amount of guilt-tripping associated with formula feeding. Please don’t add to it. Everyone is doing the best they can, and whether your daughter is nursing on relying on Enfamil, your grandchild will be just fine.

7. Babysit, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
No matter how much your kids love their tot, there will come a time when they need to A) sleep, B) shop for groceries, or C) interact with people who possess bladder control. Giving them a break will endear you to everyone, and provide you cuddle time in the process.

8. Do not talk about mom's body.
Unless the words, “You look like Elle MacPherson on a good hair day,” are about to escape your mouth, zip your lip. Your daughter gained 40 pounds, lost 15 in a single day, and now must eat like the cast of Cake Boss to keep up her milk supply. She understands that she’d land in the “Bad Beach Body” section of US Weekly. Don’t remind her.

9. Grab a few baby essentials for yourself.
A simple pack and play, a bouncer, and a handful of toys won’t take up much space in your place, and will make visits exponentially easier on the whole brood. Bonus: It establishes your home as a base, where grandkids are always welcome.

10. Forgive.
Your kids are about to have the most mind-melting year of their lives. They won’t remember birthdays. Simple words like “bus” and “kitty” will escape them regularly. They may yell at you for no reason. Please, cut them some slack. Babies – and their delightful resistance to sleep – are known to consume the brains of new parents like teeny, drooling zombies. They don’t mean any harm, but … wait, what was I talking about?

HONORABLE MENTION: "You're a wonderful mother."
They're four little words that go a long way.

Grandparents, what are your favorite ways to pitch in for parents of a baby?



Excellent helpful article!

And very smart to include in almost every tip to NOT criticize and/or give unasked-for advice.

Being there simply for calm support & cheerful company is so valuable!

Phoebe on 2013-07-09 15:49:19

I would add that being a helpful grandparent is walking a very thin line between being helpful and being obtrusive. It takes honesty and respect on both sides to pull this off effectively! I like being a "pitch-in Polly" (referring to another article on Grandparents.com) but don't ever want to be viewed as being judgmental about how clean a house is, or how laundry should be done, etc. Enjoyed the article!

Juicemiller on 2013-07-02 09:34:03

As a grandparent, I think this is a must-read article for new and expectant grandparents! And I think it's great that Ms. Stewart provided links to important resources! However, from everything I've read in the Community area (just click on Community, above, to find it), I would suggest checking with the new parents b4 doing "a load of laundry," etc. Many moms would love that but some would not. And some would rather you do only certain laundry (i.e. baby's laundry, yes; mom's, probably not).

Also, it seems some parents would rather take baby with them everywhere - or have one parent stay home while the other goes to the store, etc. - than leave them with anyone else. So though I agree that the new grandparents would do well to offer to babysit, I can't help but caution them to accept it, graciously, if the parents decline.

As for me, no doubt, one of my "favorite ways to pitch in for" my daughter when she was a new mom was to take care of my new grandbaby so my daughter could nap or whatever. But I understand that, often, the new parents would rather we do other things (like even that laundry) while they spend time with baby. One of my favorite ways to help on that score was to pick up things that were needed, such as more diapers (though, actually, my daughter had quite a supply, at first, many given by friends), baby wipes, etc. Also, sometimes, something special for my daughter - new parents often need to know, I believe, that in all the excitement about the baby, you haven't forgotten them!

rosered135 on 2013-06-24 23:56:47

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