Make Way for (Grand) Baby!
Navigate the Shifting Trends of Grandparenthood with the 3 Bs
No other family tie endures so long as the sibling relationship, and since about 80 percent of Americans grow up with a sibling, about 80 percent of us must decide what to make of that enduring tie. Brothers and sisters
When Joanne and Brad Cahill’s first grandchild was born five months ago, so was their second. The twin girls have very different personalities, which rules out a one-size-fits-both approach to caring for them. Punch-drunk on love, the Cahills watch the girls several times a week, sometimes overnight when their mother’s job starts early. It’s been nearly three decades since they had a baby, so they’re learning the new world of sleep sacks, video monitors, and BPA-free bottles, but the Cahills have never been happier. At nearly 70, they’ve also never been more frayed.
The Cahills are a good Exhibit A for the shifting trends in grandparenthood. Just a generation or two ago, people were generally in their 50s when they became grandparents. These days, late 60s is more like it. That can mean lower energy reserves and an extra decade or more since last caring for little ones. Being closer to the end of life than the middle of it can make a new grandbaby more exciting, more tiring, more emotional, more meaningful, more MORE than ever. That’s why it’s so important for grandparents to take a step back from time to time and make sure they mind the 3 Bs.
Helping your adult child get sufficient rest so she or he can be a better parent is admirable, but don’t exhaust yourself in the process. Just as a sleep-deprived mom or dad is less able to cope with the pressures of caregiving, so also is a tired grandparent. And since so many first-time grandparents are caring both up and down the generational ladder—for young grandkids and aging parents—the risk of caregiver burnout is high here. Boundaries are your best defense. If you’re petering out, be open with your grandkid’s parents about it so you can work together to find a solution that helps everyone. Feel free to point to science: in a study of 120 grandmothers, Australian researchers found those who helped care for their grandchildren one day per week had improved scores on memory and other mental tests, but the scores by those who spent five or more days a week taking care of grandchildren took a serious nosedive. You really can have too much of a good thing.
A new grandchild brings opportunities to strengthen and strain family bonds. If after the first few honeymoon-like months of grandparenthood you’re still constantly talking about baby, shopping for baby, planning when you’ll next be with baby, or spending lots of time apart from your spouse so you can watch the baby, it’s probably time to bring things back into balance. Make sure you’re making time for your other adult kids, who may be feeling like chopped liver in your new grandbaby-centric world. Make time for your friends, including time that doesn’t involve you talking about baby. And be sure you’re showing up for your spouse, too. Marriages need nurturing no matter how long they’ve endured, and that means carving out time for dates and dinners, pillow talk and hand-holding, and just being adults together.
Enough about dialing it down with your grandbabies. This B dials it back up. All that holding and attention babies require isn’t just good for their health. It’s also good for yours. Human touch has been shown to decrease inflammatory cells and increase white blood cells, which fight disease and infection. A recent study of hand-holding showed that it reduces pain and lowers blood pressure. Hugs have been scientifically shown to increase oxytocin—that’s your body’s happy chemical—and decrease stress. Relieving stress has been shown to delay a degenerative cellular process associated with aging. Not only is all the snuggling good for you and your grandbaby, so are other bonding activities you’ll do, like reading and playing with toys. Researchers have found that seniors who play with children’s puzzles and games can fend off memory loss better than those who don’t. What’s more, bonding with grandbabies gives grandparents a reminder that they’re still needed. That grandparent-grandchild bond counteracts the loneliness and social isolation that tend to set in as people grow older.
Becoming a grandparent is not just a life-changing event. It’s a life-scrambling one. Keep in mind these 3 Bs of grandparenting, and no matter what your age or stage, the adventure will be a happier and more beneficial one for all!
Founded in 1995, Beaver Dam Women’s Health (BDWH) is a women’s health clinic dedicated to providing the Dodge County community with personalized and accessible women’s health care that caters to their specific medical needs. Call 920-885-6090 for more information.