8 Times Grandparents Don't Get to Choose

Learning to observe limits begins before a grandchild is born

Learning the limits of a grandparent's role is a process that should begin before a grandchild is born. As the parents prepare for the birth, grandparents should be sharing the happy news and practicing observing boundaries. These eight areas can be especially tricky to navigate. 

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Pregnancy Practices

Pregnant woman
Modern women take pride in their pregnant bellies. Photo © Jorn Georg Tomter

Maternity clothes used to be designed to hide the bulge, but today's mothers-to-be proudly display their baby bumps. That's just one way that pregnancy and childbirth practices have changed. Today many mothers work up until the day of delivery, and they often maintain an exercise regime. On the other hand, some of today's mothers-to-be take precautions that we were never informed about, such as avoiding undercooked meats and unpasteurized products. Grandparents have to trust that their children are getting good professional advice and using their own sound judgment.

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The Naming Process

Grandparents don't get to choose Baby Names
Grandparents may not care for names picked out by the parents, but they are sure to love their grandchild. Tamara Murray / Getty Images

Choosing baby names is one of the treasured and yet stressful rites on the way to parenthood. Grandparents should not make it more stressful by putting in their two cents without being asked. They should not suggest names or ask that a baby is named after someone in the family. If asked to comment on specific names, they may carefully modulate their approval, expressing more approval for some names than for others, but they should never admit to hating a particular name. If you do, one of two things will happen. Either the parents will cross the name off the list and resent you for making their job harder, or they will choose it anyway and always remember that you didn't like it.

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The Birthing Process

Becoming a grandparent is a life-changing event. Photo © Andy Sacks | Getty

Today many expectant parents have a birth plan or at least very specific ideas about how they want their labor and delivery to proceed. They will probably be happy to tell you about it. They may not be happy to hear your opinion of it. Nod a lot. And although many grandparents long to be in the delivery room, birthing is strictly an invitation-only affair. The expectant parents may opt for assistance from a doula, or the couple may want the birth to be private, shared only with the birthing team. Sometimes one grandmother is invited to the birth, and the other one is not. Often the mother-to-be's mother is invited and the mother-in-law is excluded. That's not unreasonable. Mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships are often complicated, and emotional complications are not needed during this already intense time.

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Feeding Time

Grandfather spoon feeding granddaughter
Grandparents should follow the feeding guidelines established by the parents. Cultura/Chad Springer / Getty Images

Once your grandchild is born, you don't want that precious bundle to be hungry, but you can bet that the parents already have a feeding plan in place. They have already decided whether to go with bottle or breast. If breastfeeding, they have already decided to pump or not to pump. All you need to do is be supportive and follow their directions exactly if you are tasked with feeding the baby. As your grandchild grows, continue to follow their dietary directives. Emphasize healthy foods, including fruits and vegetables, and be respectful of allergy issues. Do not introduce a child to sweets if the parents want their child to grow up treat-free.

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Dressing the Grandchild

Grandparents don't get to control how their grandchildren dress.
Grandparents may approve or disapprove of the grandkids' clothing. Cultura/Liam Norris / Getty Images

Some grandparents, especially grandmothers, get very excited about buying clothes for their grandchildren. Unless they are observant and perceptive, however, many of the clothes they buy may end up in the back of a drawer or in a donation bin. Grandparents should ask the parents what kinds of clothes they would like for the baby and observe what type of clothes the parents are buying. Some parents want super comfortable clothes for ​a baby. Some choose organic. Some want frilly for girls and masculine for boys, and some want clothing that is not gender-specific. As your grandchildren grow, they will also develop their own tastes, but the rules remain the same: Observe how your grandchild is dressed and ask about preferences. And always include a gift receipt.

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Haircuts and Hair Styles

Grandparents may not approve of the hairstyles their grandchildren choose.
baobao ou / Getty Images

Like clothing, hair has a long history of engendering conflict between parents and children. Although some parents learn to let go of hair issues when their children become adults, the birth of a grandchild allows the issue to resurface. Of course, newborns usually don't have enough hair to style, but the birth of a granddaughter may bring up the issue of baby headbands and hairbows. As grandchildren grow, their hairstyles, whether chosen by their parents or by the grandchildren themselves, may make the grandparents cringe. The best course of action is to keep the mouth firmly shut and keep repeating, "It's only hair. It's only hair. . . ."

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Grandparent Discipline
Even grandparents need to say no occasionally. Photo © Sam Edwards | OJO Images | Getty

Of all tricky issues, discipline is perhaps the trickiest. Although we hear a lot about grandparents who spoil their grandchildren, sometimes instead the grandparents believe that their grandchildren suffer from a lack of discipline. No matter which way the issue runs in your family, the rules are the same. The parents' approach to discipline is the one that matters, and grandparents should follow the parents' guidelines as closely as possible, even when the parents aren't on the premises, as long as the discipline is something they feel comfortable with. Although a few families may have serious differences about discipline, in most cases open and tactful communication will resolve any conflicts.

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grandchildren and education
Grandparents don't get to make decisions about their grandkids' schools, but they can support their education. Blend Images - KidStock / Getty Images

Parents have many options today when it comes to schooling their children. They may choose public, private or homeschooling, and each of those options includes other options. If the parents opt for public school, for example, they may choose from a neighborhood school, a magnet school or a charter school. Grandparents who are asked to contribute in some significant way have the right to express an opinion. If, for example, the grandparents are asked to contribute to the cost of a private school or to provide transportation to a particular school, they are entitled to have an opinion and to accept or decline the responsibility. Otherwise, their job is to show up for school programs, although homework help may be appreciated from time to time.