BY JACKIE RANDALL

After being a mother for twenty-six years, with three children, I became a grandmother a couple of months ago to a beautiful little boy, Darcy. It’s been an amazing experience taking me through a whole range of emotions that I hadn’t expected. I was very on edge the day Darcy was born. Some of this was imagining all the things my daughter-in-law might be going through, as well as my son.  Before he was born, I thought I’d cry when I finally saw him, but when I actually did meet him, I felt very calm.  I didn’t immediately bond with him as a parent would, but that seems to be the right way to feel.  I’m getting closer to him each time I see him.  I’m a Gran in love with her grandson.

So how is parenting different in this decade compared to ‘my day’ in the 1980s?  Actually, some things are identical.  Babies continue to be conceived and born in the same old way; milk still comes out of breasts; and babies still cry and exhaust their parents. Also, babies all have their own unique personalities, meaning no two of them are the same and none of the parenting books give the same advice.  In some ways, not much has changed.

But some things are different. Although I wasn’t raising babies in the dark ages, we only had cloth nappies.  Disposables were around, but they were leaky, expensive and reserved for holidays or the first week or so after bringing home a new baby. We lived in the country, with tank water for drinking and bore water for everything else, meaning all our white laundry was a grey-yellow.  Cloth nappies meant a good half-hour each morning over the laundry sink cleaning off yesterday’s poo (into the toilet, then scrubbing the rest off with a scrubbing brush under running water). It was just part of the routine and I did it because that’s what we did then.  Before you reel back in horror remember that your mother probably did the same for you.

Living in the country also meant that we had to light a fire every day in our Metters No.2 kitchen stove so we could have hot water – every day, summer or winter. This meant that many hours were spent by all of us in the bush collecting firewood, then chopping it and carting it to the house. This was also our cooking method in the kitchen. I’m so glad I experienced all this, even though it was hard work.

So now I’m a Gran, I love it. There’s a little boy who only lives a short distance from me who I hope to grow a relationship with.  But I know I need to be careful.  As I’ve spent time with other new mums over the past few years, and now with my daughter-in-law, I’ve learnt that things are done differently these days.  Mums, Dads and babies see obstetricians and pediatricians, whereas I only had a GP.  I still remember him coming in to the hospital from his farm to deliver my babies.  Babies are wrapped differently, and don’t wear nighties, and we have to sterilise everything that goes within coo-ee of them.

But if I, as a very new Gran, could offer any advice to other grandparents out there it’s just to respect these new ways. If you want to stay on the ‘in’ with your kids and their kids, accept that our old ways were new ways once too, and that just because things are done differently, it doesn’t mean we need to say anything. The last thing that new parents need is to feel judged by their family.

Take care with how much you get involved. You may want to be helpful, but you should try hard not to drive your kids nuts. I’ve done things like just texted to say, “Can I come over and bath Darcy?” “Can I drop a meal in?” or “Can we meet at a café for coffee?”  But I’ve also made mistakes already – just minor ones, I hope. The key is not to be overwhelming, but to be there if you’re needed. And when you do go to bath the baby, ask how they would like it done, don’t just do it the way you used to do it.  They want to trust you, but if they think you’ll do things your way the moment their backs are turned, you’re not building that trust.

I’m still working this out and I imagine it will morph from week to week, month to month.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that my son parents by Google. “Not sure? Look it up?” would be his philosophy.  An interesting approach and very helpful at times, but my only warning to him is not to believe everything he finds on Google but to stick to a couple of reputable sites.

Even though I’m a beginner, I hope my experiences have given you a different perspective on what it is to be a grandparent.

How is being a grandparent different to being a parent?  How much has changed since you, or your Mum, were having kids?

To view Jackie’s painting blog, click here.

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