First-time grandparent: What should I know?
January 22, 2015 3:38 PM   Subscribe

Going to Europe soon for 5 weeks to be with my daughter as she pops out her first child. Am excited for both of us. I want to be truly supportive of her but also practice self-care and set appropriate limits. Naturally, there are complications. See inside for snowflakes.

1. How can I best support my wonderful daughter? When I ask her (she's 19), she says, you know, teach me how to burp the kid and stuff. As if I remember. I'm thinking apart from holding her hand while she squeezes out her son, simple things like cooking and freezing dishes she likes but that her dad never makes is one way to help.

What did you do or wish you had done that was helpful? What did you do right? What did you do wrong?

2. My husband is a high-functioning (yay!), still active (boo) alcoholic. I have favourite Al-Anon meetings that I will be attending in that city but that's not the only stressor. I will be staying in a tiny apartment with my kid, my husband and, shortly after I arrive, a tiny bundle of joy. Luckily, I have friends I can stay with as well if I set it up in advance. I'm eager to spend time with my beloved family who I see, at most, once a year but also don't want to prompt a disaster by staying there full time.

Given that I've never been a grandma before, is spending 3 nights a week elsewhere too much? Too little? You are guessing on my behalf. I get that. Guess away.

3. My daughter has dual diagnoses (bipolar disorder + addiction). She is currently unmedicated (if you don't count the pregnancy hormones), sober and doing very well. Nevertheless, I expect that we will trigger each other during this visit as we did during my last visit. I am seeing my ex-therapist 3 times before I leave to "cope ahead". We're developing resources to help me cope when I come home to a drunken husband and/or if one or both or all three of us get triggered and go apeshit.

The first 6 months after my kid was born was a nightmare. Like all other new parents, we weren't getting enough sleep. I wandered around in a haze of exhausted irritability. Now I am facing a similar situation, with my grandson, plus a cast of characters who are mentally ill (myself and my daughter) and alcoholic (hubby). Just to make things more interesting!

Despite those challenges, I don't want to merely survive this trip. If possible, I'd like to enjoy the opportunity to love on my kid and my new grandson, avoid meltdowns if possible and leave on good terms.

If you've been in a similar kind of familial pressure cooker, what tips do you have for both surviving and thriving? Or is that understandable desire simply unrealistic?
posted by Bella Donna to Human Relations (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Is there any way for your husband NOT to go? I know that sounds really harsh, but the last thing that a new mom needs is for her dad to possibly go off the rails when she's got a newborn. At the very least can he stay somewhere else?

Is your daughter single/unpartnered? That would make a big difference as to the staying somewhere else 3 nights a week.
posted by checkitnice at 3:44 PM on January 22, 2015 [13 favorites]

Did you say that your alcoholic husband will be there with your currently sober but previously not daughter? In that case, I think the #1 most important thing is that your husband not be there. That seems absolutely critical.
posted by brainmouse at 3:46 PM on January 22, 2015 [6 favorites]

Sorry for the confusion. Just to clarify:
1. My husband and I have been separated for years. He lives in Europe.
2. Our daughter has lived with her dad for the past 2 years.
3. She plans to move in with her boyfriend in April, after I have left. (All her doctors are in the big city where she lives with her dad.)
4. My daughter got pregnant really soon after she met her boyfriend. He is stepping up to be a dad, which is great, but she may well end up as a single parent.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:49 PM on January 22, 2015

Were it me, I would stay with your friends until the birth, and stay with your daughter after the baby is born. She is very likely to flip her shit if you try to leave her alone with a useless grandparent. She is young, she is your daughter, and she's asked for your help. The responsibility for keeping another human alive is terrifying.

Please don't take the attitude of "Shrug. As if I remember." That is not going to make her feel supported. "It will be OK and we'll figure it out together" is much better. Making meals isn't going to cut it. Someone needs to do laundry, clean the toilet and tub, help her change nappies and learn to bath a baby without drowning or scalding it, and be available to walk and bounce and pace with the baby. All new mothers deserve that help.

It is an intensive environment. You are allowed to take time each day for yourself. In a similar circumstance, I got mother and baby set up for their morning feed and then went out to get (decaf) coffee for the grownups each morning. Each afternoon I would "shop for dinner." I took one nap a day when the baby napped.

I don't know, but I'd think after 10 days you could arrange to have dinners with friends, or to stay out of the house overnight -- were it me, it would depend on how well my daughter was coping.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:56 PM on January 22, 2015 [18 favorites]

Plan to stay with your friends for the entire time. Your Ex and your daughter have their thing all put together a functional dysfunction, let that be, you don't have to deal with it. You can always opt to sleep on the couch, if you so desire or if she needs you, but setting the boundary and the expectation early will settle nerves. Tell your daughter, "These are my plans as of now, but if you need me, I'll be here."

Show up in the morning and prepare breakfast. Help bathe the baby and hang out. If your daughter has been up all night with him, let her sleep while you hold him and bounce him and stuff. You raised her, you remember all of this stuff. It's second nature.

Plan your meetings and let folks know, "Hey, I'm hitting a meeting on Tuesday at 3 and Friday at 11, FYI." That way they know what and when.

Do what needs doing. Grocery shop, clean, launder, tidy, whatever it is. Don't let resentment towards your husband keep you from keeping the environment peaceful and serene (as possible with a newborn.)

If your daughter seems to be suffering Post-Partum, don't dither, get her seen.

posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:01 PM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites]

The first week with my daughter was extremely difficult for me, with my recovery, breastfeeding problems, hormone crashes, etc, and it often felt the most impossible in the evenings/nights. I would not plan to spend nights away during the first week. That's probably when she'll need the most help, even if it's just you assuring her that she's doing just fine.

One thing that was awesome for me when my parents visited right after baby Olinerd was born was having someone just there to be holding her when she was fussy. She had a tendency to refuse to settle after feeding around 4:00 AM, and since my dad was jet lagged and awake then I could just hand her to him and fall back asleep immediately. He cuddled with her for an hour or so until she settled, my husband and I got more sleep, everyone was happy.

One thing I found the hardest was my parents and other well wishers asking me what I wanted them to do, what I wanted them to cook for me, etc. I barely had the mental bandwidth to remember my own name, let alone delegate household chores to a small army. It was so much better when someone just did the dishes, or the laundry, or showed up with sandwiches, or whatever, without making me have to think about it.

Really, though, I just loved seeing my parents with their first granddaughter. And I learned a lot from them not by them telling me what to do, but just by watching how they interacted with her. That kept away any "I know better than you!" kinds of boundary issues. Be careful with advice on formula, bottles, pacifiers, feeding on demand, etc, depending on what your daughter is choosing to do. My only complaint was my mother continually bringing up pacifiers as a solution when all the medical advice these days is to delay using those, and my husband and I were trying to follow it. Medical advice and parenting philosophies have evolved a lot since your daughter's infancy, so while your experience will be very helpful, be sensitive to what other advice your daughter may be trying to follow.
posted by olinerd at 4:09 PM on January 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

Complicated situation but it sounds like you are mentally prepared. It's hard to predict what she will need until baby arrives. Things that I really appreciated were: Extra hands for diaper changes and baths, someone to take the AM shift so I could nap, or shower; someone making a snack plate of foods that I could eat with one hand while nursing. To diffuse tension, bring some fave CDs or your iPod. Bring some little cutie gifts and bring them out one at a time. Like bibs, onesies, super soft blankets etc. It's so helpful if you hold baby when baby is cranky (tip: most babies calm down outdoors). Less so if you hold baby and appear to have this magical connection with it while mom feels like crap. Also please no unsolicited advice. Wait till asked. But you know your daughter better obviously. I may be wrong.
posted by leslievictoria at 4:31 PM on January 22, 2015

Given the fact that baby dad isn't physically there and your ex husband doesn't sound super capable, I'd say plan on staying there and being daughter's strong number 2 while also ensuring that she knows how to do things after you leave. This is also an opportunity to politely tell ex-husband that he is essentially number 2 after you leave and he needs to get his shit together.
Sounds like you daughter needs to understand that she is all this baby can rely on in this particular place.

Congrats. Is it feasible for daughter to come back to the place you live with you so you can be a good number 2 person in baby's life?
posted by k8t at 4:55 PM on January 22, 2015

Not a grandmother, but have two little ones. DarlingBri's advice is very good, and if you're traveling from California you can use the jet lag to your advantage (as Olinerd mentions) and take a shift the first half of the night.

Some things that I appreciated or would have liked postpartum:
  • Not having to make decisions, as Olinerd says, it's wonderful when folks would just look around and see what needs doing and DO IT, rather than asking if they should, how, when, etc. etc. even when this is coming from a place of consideration it's just too much to think about
  • Having someone to make sure I would eat regularly and drink lots of water. This means reminding and delivering water and food.
  • Encourage me to lay in bed with the baby and rest and bask, maybe say "text me if I can bring you anything, or change a diaper, etc." so I have help easily available but can have some alone time
  • Having people adore the baby. It can all feel a little unreal and very work/challenging/etc. having people dote on and adore the baby helped remind me to focus on some of the positive parts as well as the challenges
  • Taking a screaming baby and actively try to calm him/her down, and if it doesn't work, take it as far out of earshot of the mother as possible. Sometimes I needed a break, but listening to the baby scream in someone else's arms was more stressful then her screaming in mine. The worst is someone taking the baby and just kind of trying one thing over and over even though it's clearly NOT working.
  • Know that a baby's screams can completely short circuit a brain, or at least a mother's brain, and make it very hard to think and to not feel really really irritated and annoyed at anyone around you. If you can maybe talk about this before the baby comes and let it be something that can be "joked" about ("Argh! The sound is melting my brain!", I don't know), it might help diffused moments of baby induced tension and frustration. Rather than letting them trigger a big fight. If you see this effect and your daughter snaps at you, try not to take it personally and hold onto your empathy. If you snap at her b/c of the effect, apologize and explain.
  • Do take breaks so you can take care of yourself. And if you find yourself not able to cope, talk to her. Tell her you need to take a break so you can get back to a place where you can take care of her and nurture her (or whatever). The worst is a house guest who is feeling bad and so tries to make everything about THEM and how they are feeling - this is personal experience, NOT saying you'd be like that. Your daughter's feelings/needs trump everyone else's (except the baby of course!) in this situation, so if you feel like you aren't able to be on board with that it's better to get away until you can.
This is more difficult to articulate but try and be a resource person for her without lecturing or telling her how to do things. This might be difficult, but one thing that really stressed me out sometimes was the feeling that I had to make all the baby decisions, I had to decide whether I should swaddle her or not, when to use a pacifier, when she was ready for a nap, when was bed time, etc. It helped me when I was able to talk through a question with my husband or mom. Possible things that may be useful (sorry this is muddled):
  • Maybe try and read few books to prepare (Happiest Baby is frequent recommendation and very helpful), you can take them with you and read them while your there. Don't tell her she needs to read them or anything, just have them be resources to help you brush up since it's been so long. This gives her easy access to them if she wants to read herself, or she can ask you what the book says about x or y, without it feeling like a "should".
  • If she expressed confusion/doubt/worry about how to do something, ask her if she'd like you to do a little research and find out some options (youTube videos on different burping techniques, for example).
  • Don't pressure her if she says no thanks.
  • Wait until she asks, don't volunteer advice
  • Unless she specifically asks for your opinion, present information as options/possibilities. You could do x. Not, You should do x.
  • DON'T tell her what to do, let her decide what she wants to do.
  • Don't be offended if she doesn't take your advice.
And most of all, as much as you can, just focus on love love loving her and the baby.
Best wishes for all of you.
posted by pennypiper at 5:44 PM on January 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

My mom came and visited me (overseas) for the birth of my first baby and her first grandchild.

Are you going before the baby is born? My mom did, and I was - rightly - wary. My mom is not comfortable around that sort of stuff, she's extremely private, we're not particularly close, and she was never in labor - just had 3 C-sections (medically necessary). I was in labor for 36 hrs before I got admitted to the hospital and it was super super awkward. Think carefully and talk to her about this if you're going to be around ahead of time.

Be prepared for and make it ok for her to change her mind. "I don't want you at the birth" could change to "Where's my MOM?!" (or Go Away!) and that needs to be ok (No "you said you didn't want me" comments). She may change her mind about a lot of things (and be moody, to boot).

Don't make "helpful suggestions"... my mom was full of "You should weed the lawn (we rent)! You should buy a stand mixer! Are you sure your washing machine is washing well enough?" Egads. Do stuff that's practical to her - laundry, dishes, food, hold baby when she asks. Do not go grocery shopping and come home with no food and 6 packets of biscuits she doesn't like. Do not weed the landlords lawn so thoroughly the cats think it's a sandbox...(we got evicted a few weeks later). You get the idea. If she's up to it, ask and then do what she tells you. Give her options and let her choose: Do you want me to do dishes, run X errand, or hold baby? Then do it.

Only give advice when asked. The two - maybe three - best things people said in that early period were:
1 OMG that is the most beautiful baby EVER, he's perfect!
2 You're doing SUCH a good job, he's so lucky to have you.
3 If it's working then you're doing it all exactly right.

If you're buying baby things, wait and see what she has and ask what she wants. My mom went overkill on specific things so our selection of baby stuff is....weird.

Regular intervals of being there and being away is good. She needs support, but also needs to learn to be a mom. You both will need breaks from each other.

If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. Telling me how "awful daycare is" knowing he'd be in daycare, talking about how awful cloth diapers are knowing we were going to cloth diaper... not helpful. On preview, what olinerd says. Ask her to show you whatever pamphlets she's been given, ASK what the midwives/doctors said about X, read and reference whatever she's been reading.

One of the single most helpful things was my husband calling and talking to the lactation consultant for me on several occasions. I was too tired/in pain/freaking out/crying hungry baby etc... to make a productive phone call.

I can't remember anymore what exactly happened, but I do remember my mother stomping off muttering angrily "I don't understand what my role is here" (grumble grumble) and thinking "I AM THE MOM. You have no are here to help me and do what I tell you." Brace yourself for that - You're not the mom this time. She is. Talk regularly and openly about what your role will be, both your role during that visit, and at some point your role as a grandmother. Give her the space to figure how to mother this particular baby.

Don't take anything personally.
Remember that none of this is about you. It's all about your daughter.

(On preview: Oh god, everything pennypiper says about screaming babies!!! At one point he was crying because he was hungry and everyone just kept trying to wind the baby and I had trouble getting him back! If he starts crying, give him back - or at least offer him back! And yeah - they eat ALL the time. ALL the time... more than you remember. Both grandmothers made comments alluding to that I was breastfeeding him too much!)

My mom hilariously mentioned several times how her own mother and MIL drove her nuts when visiting me as a newborn.... because as much as she helped she drove me crazy. Assume it will happen. Keep in touch with your friends, and have one you can ring at 3am and stay with for a day or two ;)
posted by jrobin276 at 5:57 PM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

In my experience as the person having the baby, the help I had from relatives who stayed with me and helped make me food and do chores and hold the baby occasionally was critical. I remember after they were gone living on apple slices with peanut butter for days while being so light headed I had to rest on the wall in the hall, I went down to the lowest weight I've been since puberty. So:
#1 Your help is so valuable.

My grandma was so great, she just nodded and said, Whatever you want darling! It made me feel so much better. My mom was crazier that my post-partum self saying endlessly that something was wrong with the baby (seriously! and it wasn't.) and that I shouldn't be in such discomfort (c-section) since our other relative was driving the next day (not true). She was always questioning what I was doing and making my crazy PPD-self crazier. So:
#2 Maybe try to be the least crazy person (don't all post-partum women get to be the craziest in the room for at least a few days?), practice saying things like, Whatever you want darling! Sounds good! And possibly a plan for if things get bad "Do you want to have a lie-down while I hold the baby?" or "Do you want me to run out to the store for your favorite snack?"
posted by RoadScholar at 6:09 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

What are the rules for alcoholic grandpa and the newborn?
posted by jbenben at 7:30 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

What city or country does she live in? One thing you can do is research what will be available to her in terms of medical and social support, and what's usually expected in terms of her medical interaction with the newborn, whether breastfeeding is usually supported well, etc.
posted by bq at 10:30 PM on January 22, 2015

I agree with suggestions to have another place to stay, but be willing to stay with her if she needs the help or company. From my own experience as a new mother, and a complicated family, can I suggest that you bring snacks for her, newborn sized disposable nappies for that baby (whatever she decides to do long term with nappying, a bag of disposables makes that first loony week just a smidge easier), be prepared to cook a few easy meals, but most of all, try to put her first a bit if you can. Hold the baby so she can have a shower. I hope you don't think I'm saying you wouldn't, but I just remember when I had my first, and the performance my mother threw about how she didn't feel appreciated. It still makes me grind my teeth, nearly 20 years later. So yeah, that. And don't forget she'll probably cry a lot around day 4 - 5 as her hormones change.

And oh yeah - you hold the baby as if it was standing in your lap, with his head on your shoulder (that you've already put a burp cloth on), support his weight under his bum with one arm, and rub and gently pat his back with the other until he burps. Not too vigorously, some babies throw up if they are too energetically burped.
posted by mythical anthropomorphic amphibian at 11:51 PM on January 22, 2015

Don't make "helpful suggestions"... my mom was full of "You should weed the lawn (we rent)! You should buy a stand mixer! Are you sure your washing machine is washing well enough?" Egads. Do stuff that's practical to her - laundry, dishes, food, hold baby when she asks.

This. This is not the time to catch up on chores not directly related to taking care of the baby. My mom decided to organize my linen closet. Worse, she kept asking me "where does this go?" I didn't CARE about where stuff was in the linen closet, I wanted to get my baby nursing and gaining weight! If she hasn't been doing a particular chore, and the lack of this chore being done isn't creating an actual health or safety hazard, it's a safe bet that she considers that chore to be a low priority. Her household priorities might be different from yours, and that doesn't mean hers are wrong.

Have a way to entertain yourself that doesn't require her to do anything. She can't play host or tour guide, she's got a newborn. The last thing she needs is to feel like she has to take care of another person. (I usually feel like I have to take care of and direct my parents when they visit, so their visits are a bit stressful) Have plans to get meals at least for yourself without her having to plan them. Getting meals for her without her having to plan for it would be helpful, too, but she especially does not need to be worrying about what and when you will eat.

Don't criticize her parenting choices, unless they are directly endangering the baby. (It's OK to speak up if she's letting the baby sleep on a couch, but not about whether she's breastfeeding or formula feeding, for example) No unsolicited advice, about either parenting or her relationship with her boyfriend.

Some advice on babies may have changed since she was a baby. Be sure you're up on current recommendations.
posted by Anne Neville at 5:05 AM on January 23, 2015

What country are they living in? There could well be stuff you could help organise that will work as a support for her and their family when you have returned home.
posted by Iteki at 6:51 AM on January 23, 2015

Others have said this, but I will echo:
DO NOT FORCE HER TO THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU SHOULD DO. Phrase your questions so she has the option of giving input but it isn't required. Thoughtful helpful suggestions are usually welcome, but since she'll be in the emotional haze of just having given birth, it's good to indicate explicitly that you're considering her possible standpoints as well.

Bad question: "What do you want for dinner?"
Good question: "I was thinking of making chili for dinner, but is there something else you'd prefer?"

Bad question:"Where does this go? And this? And this?"
Good question: "Do you care how the baby clothes go in the drawer, or shall I just wing it?" (You've already spontaneously washed, dried, and folded the baby clothes in this scenario.)

Bad question:"Shouldn't you be exercising more?"
Good question:"Would you like me to take the baby for a bit so you can go for a walk? It might make you feel better. Or are you guys happy there on the couch?"

Bad comment (in response to sobbing about breastfeeding pain):"It's too hard to keep it up anyway. Just give her some formula. There's no difference" [yes my mom said this.]
Good comment:"Yeah, nobody tells you how painful breastfeeding can be sometimes. Is this something you're really set on? I'll support you either way."

Good luck! It sounds like you're headed into a tough situation, but it also sounds like you've put a lot of thought into it and I bet you'll be a great grandma. The final thing to keep in mind is that after giving birth your daughter may quite literally take leave of her senses - the hormones are wild, as is the sleep deprivation, and her body may be quite drained if she has a long labor. Tired and frustrated people are more likely to lash out. So take anything she says or any attitude she gives you with a big grain of salt, try not to take anything personally, and be the sane person in the room.
posted by telepanda at 7:46 AM on January 23, 2015 [7 favorites]

I am so, so, so very much not a doctor, but my limited understanding is that sometimes sleep deprivation can be particularly dangerous for folks with bipolar disorder in terms of exacerbating symptoms. Do you know if that's the case for your daughter? If so, I think it could be helpful for you to talk with her about how you can help make sure she gets X hours of uninterrupted sleep every night to help keep her symptoms under control. It might also be helpful for you to know who her mental health care providers are, how to contact them, and what sorts of signs would trigger you to do so. Ideally this is a conversation you could have with your daughter (it's a conversation I had with my husband before I gave birth; I don't have bipolar disorder but I was at higher risk for postpartum depression and we wanted to make sure we had a plan in place beforehand).

I imagine (though your daughter might have other ideas) that having you physically in the house at night might be an essential part of helping her get uninterrupted sleep or whatever else self-care she needs to keep herself stable. More broadly, I think one very valuable role you could play is to help your daughter think aloud about what self-care she needs in place in order to manage her illness in a way that allows her to care for her baby, and to ask her how you can help her meet those needs, either by taking care of her or taking the baby for short periods. It's a tough thing for most new moms to figure out, but it is likely to be particularly important for her to do, and you can make it clear through your words and actions that taking care of herself is taking care of the baby.
posted by iminurmefi at 9:00 AM on January 23, 2015

If she has executive function problems, as some people with bipolar disorder do, organizing a project and directing other people to work on it can be almost as difficult as doing the project herself. Executive functioning is also negatively impacted by lack of sleep. This is why asking her how to organize the baby's room, or asking her to plan meals, even if you're the one moving the stuff or cooking the food, isn't so helpful. I would have preferred that my parents sat and watched TV rather than trying to rope me into organizing the linen closet. New parents can survive not having clean laundry put away, and taking clean clothes out of a laundry basket. An unmade bed never killed anybody. (Trust me, I know this.) You might end up sitting around while, to you, it looks like stuff is screaming to be done. Either do the best you can without her input, or suck it up and deal, rather than stress her.

The baby needs to eat, sleep, be diapered, have a car seat if there's a car, and have clean clothes. The new mom and the other people in the house need to eat, sleep, shower, and have clean clothes. Everything else is optional. Most cosmetic and organizing type jobs are firmly in the "don't need to be done right now" category. If she wants to do them, you can help, but do not bring up those jobs if she doesn't.

If there are hot-button issues in your relationship, don't go there unless you absolutely need to (ie, someone is in immediate danger of serious physical harm).

If she has a C section, there might be some limits on what she can lift. They told me 10 pounds, not sure what they say where she is. Baby + carseat was over that limit. You might need to do stuff like grocery shopping. You also shouldn't drive when you're on the kind of pain meds you get after a C section. You find out all the things you use your abdominal muscles for when they're hurting after a C section.

No matter how she gives birth, she's likely to have bleeding. Make sure there are heavy duty pads on hand (or whatever they use where she is). Make sure there are diapers for the baby. Not every brand of diapers works for every baby- don't buy a Costco-sized package of diapers until you know that these diapers will work for her baby. Same goes for things like baby wipes and diaper cream. The weight ranges on diapers aren't gospel, either- sometimes you need to go up a size before the baby's weight would seem to indicate that. Same goes for sizes on baby clothes. They're not consistent across brands, either.

If you've heard of the ring theory (AKA comfort in, dump out), know that she's in from you. She might need to vent to you. You do not vent to her, you comfort her. This is about her, not you.
posted by Anne Neville at 10:00 AM on January 23, 2015

Thanks for the great responses. As it happens, my kid is adopted and my mom was in the hospital when my daughter was born. It was just me and my husband when we brought her home from the hospital. So I have literally no experience of having received help from relatives after her birth. Also, I have zero agenda except to be kind, loving and supportive toward my kid and new grandson. I used to live in the country, I have friends and other family there, I speak the language, I do not need any kind of support from my lovely child. It is all about her and the baby and I get that. Also, she does have an illness so props to the bipolar-specific advice as well. Thanks, folks!
posted by Bella Donna at 1:59 PM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

« Older Where to live next?   |   What to wear on first, blind date? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.