Articles written for various community newspapers in the Lower Mainland, B.C. and special interest print and online magazines

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Courses for New Grandmothers

Perhaps you've been patiently waiting for what seems like forever to become a grandparent. Finally, it is happening. The due date is circled on the calendar and you're counting down the days.

Then the trouble starts. Your daughter-in-law thanks you for the disposable diapers but says she will be using cloth diapers. She appreciates your opinion, but won't vaccinate her newborn.

Or perhaps you were finally beginning to enjoy retirement and now you are called on to babysit three nights a week and your exotic plans to travel are dashed.

Raising kids was a handful. But having grandkids is supposed to be fun, isn't it? You thought you would be a natural at the role but things aren't turning out as you'd hoped.

Well, now there are crash courses in modern grandparenting. Enter the word into a search engine and you will find online forums, classes offered by hospitals, organizations that provide counselling and even granny blogs. There is a litany of information from modern car seats and strollers to the current trends in parenting.

Rosalyn Kaplan, director of The Seniors' Centre at Simon Fraser in Vancouver, has asked herself many questions about the issues of grandparenting, both as a seniors' workshop facilitator and as a soon-to-be grandmother.

“For many people, what they felt they were going to do and what the reality is, is totally different. They have no idea what to expect because they looked at it from what they perceived their parents or their grandparents did and their worlds' shift. ” she said.

The reality, as she sees it, is that the role of grandparents is changing. The median age of grandparents in Canada is 55. The majority are still in the workforce and will be staying in the workforce longer as the economy changes and life expectancy gets longer.

“Our expectations of what our roles are and what our children's expectations of our roles may in fact be a little bit different so communicating that is very critical.

Another factor is the huge variety of parenting styles that were taboo 30 years ago.

“Grandparents in today's age are facing so many different choices that their children make – it may be that their children aren't married, it may be same sex couples, interracial couples, so there's a whole variety of today's issues grandparents are facing that past generations had not faced,” said Kaplan.

“It's hard for these grandparents to really respect the space of their children and I think open communication might be very critical. We may not approve of their choices for ourselves but we have to work very hard to allow our children to make these important choices for their family because, in fact, it is their family.”

Rather than provide ongoing advice because you've been a parent yourself and so know better than your children who are doing it for the first time, the primary focus should be to provide assurance and love, and passing on values and family history to the children as they get older, Kaplan said.

Although she is expecting her first grandchild in January, Kaplan hasn't yet taken a grandparenting class. “I don't think I'm going to. I think I'm going to just see how things go, with my eyes wide open, of course.”

She sees the classes mainly as a refresher to reinforce things grandparents already know.

“As grandparents, we just want to be able to love that infant and the toddlers and the teenagers as much as we can and I'm not sure that the classes necessarily will teach us that.”

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