In the words of comedy icon Bill Cosby: "In spite of the seven thousand books of expert advice, the right way to discipline a child is still a mystery to most fathers and... mothers. Only your grandmother and Ghengis Khan know how to do it."
It's true that parenting is more of an art than a science, and that there are no shortage of "experts" out there waiting for the chance to tell someone else they're doing it wrong. But what happens when parents and grandparents disagree about the best way to care for a baby, teach life skills or even shape a child's behavior? As humorist Sam Levenson once said, "The reason that grandparents and grandchildren get along so well is that they have a common enemy."
Even though babies still work pretty much the same as they always have, a lot has changed since you raised your kids. Did your baby sleep on her back instead of her stomach? Did you have child safety seats in your car until your kids were 8 years old? Did you make your kids wear helmets and knee pads just to play outside? Once upon a time, grandparents were the go-to resource for parenting advice, but today parents balance what the generation before them did with what the myriad books, blogs, websites and classes on the subject recommend. Whether or not you agree with it, your adult children will take it into account, along with all of your excellent advice, when raising their kids.
When your child becomes a parent, you also change roles. Your son or daughter wants your help, but he or she also wants to learn from the experience and become an independent parent. It can be difficult to step out of your parent role and let your child assume it, but the best way to be a good grandparent is to be supportive of your children's decisions as parents. As a grandparent, you can empower new parents, helping them believe they're the best parents for their child, and making them feel comfortable and confident in their new roles. For example, when your daughter asks for advice, it may be best to ask her what she thinks is best, then basing your advice on that. When you and your son disagree on an approach to child-rearing, ask him to explain to you why he feels his way is more appropriate. You may not only learn something new about parenting, but you may also learn something you didn't know about your son and see him in a new light.
Some new grandparents find help in grandparenting classes, offered by some hospitals and other organizations. The classes are typically a one-time seminar that includes all that's changed in child safety and childcare practices in the past 20 years. Classes may include lessons in infant first aid and CPR. These courses also remind excited expectant grandparents to give the new family a little space, to offer advice mainly when asked and to serve as tireless cheerleaders as they watch their own children parent for the first time.
Coming back to Bill Cosby, he wrote in his book Fatherhood: "In spite of the six thousand manuals on child raising in the bookstores, child raising is still a dark continent and no one really knows anything. You just need a lot of love and luck - and, of course, courage." You can help your child find that courage, and you may end up a little more courageous yourself in the process.
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