Congrats! You’re a grandmother! Now, how can you be a special part of your grandbaby’s life? We spoke with Children’s of Alabama’s Dr. Jamie Odrezin — a pediatrician at Greenvale Pediatrics-Brook Highland, a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and an overjoyed grandmother herself — for some expert advice on making the most of your new role. From bonding time with the new baby to supporting your child in their new parenting role, she shares how to squeeze all the goodness out of grandparenting while also being an irreplaceable benefit to your growing family.
How have you balanced being a pediatrician with being a grandmother?
I became a grandmother about eight months ago when my son and his wife had their first child. They asked me to help guide them in their choice of a pediatrician — someone very competent and convenient to them. I would not want to be my own grandchild’s pediatrician, but I was able to recommend to them that I thought using a Children’s of Alabama practice was always a good choice. However, as a grandparent, I would recommend [accepting] whomever the parents choose, as long as they are happy with the fit! Even though as a pediatrician I advise parents all day, I have to be mindful this is the next generation of my family. Things are different than when we were parents, and we have to be careful not to give unsolicited advice. Of course, they can call me anytime if they have concerns, but I am a grandmother first, and they, along with their pediatrician, have the final say in any decisions, not me!
How would you explain to a grandmother she is in an irreplaceable role?
When your child has a child, it’s an overwhelmingly exhilarating affirmation … it is totally amazing. Any opportunity I have to be with my grandson is of first and foremost importance to me — I will drop anything! I would say to any grandparent, be there as much as you can. Be as available as you can be while respecting boundaries. But any given opportunity to help your grown child or to bond with your grandchild, take it! Everyone benefits from it.
When you become a parent, you could never have imagined the love you feel for your newborn child. No one can describe it to you until it happens. But along with the love the parent feels, comes the responsibility of making sure your child grows into a happy, healthy and safe adult. As a grandparent, you experience the same exhilarating joy (as well as the love you feel for your own child becoming a parent), and all without the pressures, the schedules, the worries, and responsibilities. You just get to love them!
When I am with my grandchild, I am there to be with him and not worry about the many tasks involved in raising a child. Whether you live nearby or far away, we have more access than ever to develop a relationship with our grandchildren. The more we can be present, the better. For those of us over age 65, studies have shown that being grandparents and being around children make us happier and healthier and [live] longer.
What are some things that have changed since grandmothers were mothering?
One of the biggest changes in parenting (and thus grandparenting) is technology (monitors, gear, toys, etc.). Embrace it to the best of your ability. Medical advice also swings like a pendulum. Practicing for 35 years, I have watched advice and recommendations from experts change and then change back. Try to learn the new rules and ways of your child’s parenting generation. One rule that never changes is car safety. If you’re ever helping out by driving your grandchild, you must use a properly installed, age-appropriate, up-to-date car seat.
What is the grandmother’s role now with her grandchild’s parents?
Always affirm. Know your child and their spouse/partner are doing what they think is best for their child. In the end, the order of introducing baby food, the treatment of boo-boos, how to put [their child] to sleep, or whatever they may feel differently about, is okay. We need to suppress our opinions in this role. Anything (other than car seats) really needs to be about what the parents’ instincts are, and the main thing you want to do is give a parent confidence that he/she knows what’s best for his/her child (even if you are offended or disagree). Our role is to help our kids as much as we can, and giving parents confidence and support is what enables them to be the best parents.
Are there any no-nos for new grandmothers?
Breaking the parents’ rules is the first and foremost no-no. Don’t cross lines you know about. If they don’t want the child to have sugar, you really cannot give them sugar. Don’t be offended; embrace it and enjoy it! And spoil them any other way you can!
Be available, be present. Don’t build up a wall because of personal feelings. In the end, your relationship with your grandchild is the most important. Don’t do things that alienate your son-in-law or daughter-in-law or your grown child. Make sure they know your love is unconditional.
Be wary of stealing any “firsts” away from the parents. You cannot be offended by parents wanting to experience the joys of parenting.
What are some ways a grandmother can help when a new baby arrives?
Your “I’m-here-for-you” attitude is the best thing you can give parents. Be on the lookout for unasked for, needed support. Meals, financial assistance when possible, babysitting, and running errands for them are things that help them feel supported. They want to do this on their own, but having someone who unconditionally loves their child, supports them, and lets them relax are some of the best ways a grandparent can help.
To give advice or to not give advice … that is the question! Thoughts?
Only give advice when they’re asking. And even when they do ask, which is sometimes wise and appropriate, preface it with, “In my experience,” or “When you were little …” Never let yourself go to, “I raised four kids, I think I know!” It is just inappropriate and harmful. Repress attitudes like, “Well, the way we did it …” Respect your child is in the parenting role now and focus on building lasting bonds. Trust the parents are doing what they think is best, and believe they never want to cause harm.
What are some good ways for grandmothers to spend time with their grandchild?
Books, balls and blocks — and they just grow with each age. Rolling rubber balls on the floor turns into kicking soccer balls in the backyard; stacking foam blocks turns into building Lego creations; reading together at every age is so important — these all help in building relationships and enhancing development. When your grandchild is at your home, try to respect the parent’s wishes for food, sleeping, toys and time schedules. Always be flexible and understanding as your grandchild and his/her family grows and changes.
This article is sponsored by Children’s of Alabama.