While parents of premmies may be shocked, overwhelmed and confused, their parents, the baby’s grandparents often feel exactly the same. They have looked forward to the birth of their grandchild with joy and expectation, and their dreams of the happy birth are shattered as well. The shattered expectations of grandparents are as much for their child as for the newborn baby.
Parents are in the “front line” – at the hospital, with friends and family. It is their precious child who must be left behind in the hospital. It is the mother’s body that craves the presence of this baby, and the father who is probably floundering to find his role in this cascade of events.
Yet it is the grandparents’ own children who are suffering so acutely, and they will still have the instinct to care and protect them, even though they are now all grown-up and in a family of their own. Grandparents are in the “back line”, yet their feelings are likely to be acute, just like their children. The love and protective feelings of the grandparents do not diminish just because their child is now a parent. If anything, these attachment feelings become stronger when their child is an adult, and the older generation have less influence and impact on helping their adult child when they are in trouble and suffering. While the mother and father of the premmie may not be mindful of the well-being of their parents, they (the grandparents) will be totally mindful of the well-being of everyone, including the baby.
What can grandparents do?
- Only do what your child feels happy with. There are all kinds of tensions and constraints, pushing and pulling your child after the birth of a premmie. Your child is unlikely to be thinking about your feelings (and neither they should be at this time). Think of yourself as the useful hands supporting your child while they are trying to be the useful hands looking after their baby.
- Offer to drive the mother to and from the hospital, to sit with her, to supply lunch, to mind their other children, to generally be the dogsbody helper during this stressful time. Don’t be offended if your child wants none of your help at first. They may be struggling to keep everything together and think it all falls on to their shoulders.
- Do not make critical or “pointed” comments about the ways your grandchild is being cared for in the hospital. The staff are the experts (and unless you have had a premmie – you are not). Premmies need to be handled and parented in specific, and sometimes different ways than full-term babies. Let your child learn about this from the staff freely, without having to “manage” your opinions.
- Offer to visit, cuddle and even kangaroo care your premmie grandchild when the parents cannot be there. If parents have other responsibilities that weigh on them and keep them away, they may be grateful that you take over the nurturing of the baby in their absence. However, they may not!ten rather than tell
- Be patient and supportive
- Take a back seat role
- Understand what an important role you have. You can literally be “the wind beneath your child’s wings, that leaves him or her free to fly.
- Be mindful of the fragile state your child may be in
- Build your child up, tell them what a good job they are doing, how you admire their strength and their dedication and their (developing) premmie-parenting skills. Never undermine their efforts, even if you think they need “helpful” suggestions.
- Understand that no matter how altered your child may seem, they will come through this, back to their old selves again. This process will be much easier with your support.
- Find positive, hopeful things to comment on –how peaceful the baby is, how they seem to know when their parent comes near and speaks. The negatives of this journey will stick like Velcro so try to make your role one of emphasizing the positives.
- Do not expect praise, thanks or even that your child will necessarily notice all your efforts. Hopefully, this will come to you over time, yet in the beginning, your child is likely to be in shock.
- If you are in shock and anxious, find support for yourself somewhere else. Your child will not have the emotional space to look after you. This is the time for you to be strong for your child.
Just be there for your child as best you can, be lead by them, listen to what they have to say, it may not always be what you want to hear, make sense or how you would do things but this is their journey and you will be the best grandparent to your little treasure.
Go back to Grandparent support page HERE