Andrew and I are taking a Second Time Mom's class at Isis Parenting, and during a conversation about grandparents, someone made the comment that they hoped they would remember all this when their kids have children.
This made me think about me becoming a grandparent. I am sure that I will love my grandchildren, knit them amazing toys and sweaters (hopefully in their favorite colors and not itchy yarns) and spend as much time with them as I can. I'm a little more worried about my ability to remember what it was like to be a new parent, and to be a good mother and mother-in-law.
I am lucky because I have AMAZING in-laws, and wonderful parents, who have done an incredible job at navigating between offering advice and support while simultaneously letting us make our own parenting decisions. I am truly blessed to have them, and they are, quite seriously, perfect.
Since my own slightly type A personality makes it likely that I will NOT be so perfect, I was inspired to write a letter to my future self with some things I hope to remember. I am going to print two copies, and tuck them into my sons' baby books, which will inevitably be pulled off the shelves when they're expecting their own children, so I'll be sure to find them and read them at the appropriate time.
Here's my letter.
To My Future Self
For When I’m Expecting Grandchildren
April 28th, 2012
Congratulations, Grandma! You look great. The streaks of grey become you, don’t dye your hair. Spend the time and money elsewhere, on lattes and croissants and knitting. You’re going to be a grandmother, and grandmothers have grey hair. Remember how Mom embraced becoming Mimi, and the happiness it brought her, and do the same.
I wish you were here, and I know you do, too. I promise that when I’m done writing this, I will hug William and Andrew close, and while I hold them, I will think about how someday I will be you, wishing like anything that I could be back here with them snuggled in my arms the size they are now. Promise me that when each of your grandchildren is born, you will hold them close in your arms, and think of how excited I am to become you, and in those quiet moments of holding someone precious in our arms, we can be connected.
I am writing now because I want you to remember after your grandchildren are born, just how crazy and amazing and challenging it is to be a new parent, and mostly, because I want you to remember that you are NOT a new parent, you are a new GRAND parent. You were lucky to have parents and in-laws who made this transition amazingly. If you can be half as helpful and understanding as Barb and Bill when you are the mother-in-law, you’ll do well. I really wish this for you, but I also know how much you love knowing things and learning things and teaching things, and so I worry an eensy, tiny bit about your ability to remember to let new parents make their own mistakes, and to recognize that “mistakes” are not defined as “any parenting choice differing from how you raised your own children”. I’m serious.
There are some things you need to remember. Remember reading parenting book after parenting book before Will was even born, and taking notes, and coming up with your convictions about the type of parent you would be. Remember how luxuriously freeing it was to finally throw some of those convictions out the window. Remember how much conflicting advice there is out there about parenting. Remember watching your friends parent differently than you and still raise wonderful, happy, securely attached toddlers. Remember all the advice that could have saved you a great deal of hassle if you’d listened to it, but that you didn’t, and couldn’t, because you didn’t know which advice you should have listened to until you’d been through things and found out for yourself.
It may be hard for you to accept that your children and their partners will raise their kids differently than you did, especially since you followed so closely in your own mother’s footsteps as a cloth diapering, breast-feeding stay-at-home mom. But nursing your children was your gift to give them, and staying at home was your choice to make, and neither was always easy even though they were right for you. Remember the long days when it seemed like one or the other was always crying, and if it wasn’t them it was the cat, and how in those moments you wished you, too, could go to work because you would come home missing them so much and feeling so excited to see them, rather than having a nagging guilt because at that moment you’d love nothing more than to get away from them?
You are now the supporting actor and not the star. Ask yourself how you can best support your grandchild’s parents in becoming the parents they want to be. Becoming a parent is the scariest, most important thing that has ever happened to you, and they probably feel the same anxiety and desire to do it right. Respect that, and offer them validation and support. Ask them what they need, and how you can help, suggest ways that you’re willing to help. Child care? House cleaning? Frozen lasagnas or soups? Taking an early morning feeding so the new parents can sleep? Caring for an older child for a weekend? Remember what it felt like to have your newborn handed back to you only when it was hungry, crying, or needed a diaper. You’re probably capable of changing a diaper and shushing a baby that isn’t hungry. Do it.
Ask them how they would like you to care for their child. Don’t hesitate to say that you’re comfortable improvising, but appreciate that consistency is good for children and you’re happy to learn how they do things if there’s anything specific they want to show you.
I know you will love your grandchildren, and I know that sometimes you’ll wish you could be the mother all over again, especially since you’ll have this nagging feeling that you could do it so much better now that you know everything you learned from parenting the first time around. But that’s not your role, and things have probably changed in the world of parenting anyway. Now your job is to be the best grandparent you can be, which is a two part job. You get to have a relationship with your grandchildren, and you get to support the new parents.
Take a deep breath, remember to listen, dispense advice when it’s asked for, dispense love always, and enjoy every minute.