Friday, 06 March 2015

Help! I'm a granny

As Mother’s Day approaches, Flic Everett shares her humorous survival guide for mothers… who have now become grandmothers

Written by Flic Everett
There is no such thing as a typical granny. Old-fashioned picture books might suggest that she’s a comfortable old biddy in a flowery pinny, grey hair piled in a bun as she knits baby bonnets – but no grandma has looked like that since the 1920s.

The idea of a dear old woman drifting serenely into her twilight years, smiling benignly as the babies play at her feet is, frankly, nonsense. Grannies come in all shapes and sizes, but all experience similar problems and emotions.

It’s impossible to imagine what it will feel like when the baby arrives. Will you love it the way you loved your own children, or will it be a more gentle, detached kind of love? And what will be expected of you – will you be up to scratch?

The first issue is that most new parents are a terrifying combination of nervous and controlling, like a teenager setting off for her first grown-up party. ‘I have no idea what I’m doing, don’t tell me what to do,’ pretty much sums it up. Add to that their passionate, overwhelming love for the new baby, with all its protective tigress power, and it’s no wonder that grandparents find it difficult to know exactly how to behave.

That’s why it’s vital to give the new family space, unless you’ve specifically been asked to move in to help. The best thing you can do, while they learn to look after their newborn without dropping it in the bath, or putting its nappy on backwards, is to provide silent support. Let them know you’re available to give help and advice if they need it, but this is a time when interference will be enormously unwelcome.

So even if your three-week-old granddaughter turns up wearing an appallingly tasteless Babygro that reads ‘Daddy’s little squirt’, it’s best if you simply assume it was because nothing else was clean. Ditto flammable nylon tutus, stretchy headbands that make her look like Liza Minnelli and ridiculous rapper-style tracksuits and miniature Nike trainers.

Yes, it’s embarrassing to take your beloved grandchild for a spin in the pram when he’s dressed like Jay-Z, but it’s not your choice – although some grandparents do secretly keep a cache of clothes at their house to put on the baby when they look after them, rather than endure the hideous fashion meltdown that furnishes the child’s usual wardrobe.

Raising a child is a powerful biological instinct and most adults don’t make too bad a job of it. If they love their child, they’re 75 per cent of the way there. The other 25 per cent usually comes down to trial and error. But if you insist on correcting their parenting, you will only drive a wedge between you and your family. Of course you know better, you’ve already done it.

But if you make it a rule that nine times out of 10 you’ll wait to be asked, and on the tenth, you may gently suggest an alternative approach, you won’t go far wrong. It also helps enormously if you couch your advice in terms of an anecdote. So ban the words ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ – as in, ‘Shouldn’t she have a blanket over that pram?’ – and say, ‘I remember when you were little and wouldn’t sleep, I’d always put you in the car seat and drive you round the block.’ Your child is a lot more likely to listen and appreciate the suggestion than if you say, ‘She’s never going to go to sleep with that racket from the TV downstairs.’

Yes, it’s hard to draw a distinction between how you behaved as a parent and how you expect your own son or daughter to behave towards their child. The bottom line is, they are not you and if you want to play a significant part in your grandchild’s life, the best thing you can do is ban yourself from making ‘helpful’ suggestions based on what you did 30 years ago. 

Help! I’m A Granny, by Flic Everett, is published by Michael O’Mara Books, priced £9.99.


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