Becoming a Grandparent: How to Navigate and Embrace the Identity Shift

Becoming a grandparent is one of the most cherished milestones of life. It’s a heartwarming intersection where wisdom meets boundless joy. It’s an enchanting chapter where life’s experiences converge. It offers a chance to relive the wonders of childhood through a different lens. However, in the middle of all this love and excitement, making the transition to grandparenthood can be complicated. Through the highs and lows of this time, new grandparents often struggle to manage the complexities of their new identity. That’s normal! Fortunately, there are strategies and techniques that can help you navigate these new family dynamics with compassion and thoughtfulness.

Grandfather holding his new grandson in the air as they both smile

What Does it Feel Like to be a New Grandparent?

New grandparents will experience lots of different feelings. The expectation might be that your family’s new bundle of joy brings you nothing but happiness and excitement. The truth is that many grandparents feel nervous, overwhelmed, or sad when faced with this transition. And that’s okay!

This complex mix of emotions often stems from expectations that grandparents might have. They may picture taking their granddaughter to the park, or playing catch with a grandson. Or maybe the grandparents always imagined living closer to their grandchildren, but now that’s not the case. There are also cultural expectations related to a grandparent’s role. No matter the specifics, having unfulfilled fantasies can lead to feelings of sadness and grief. As a grandparent, it is important to recognize that these expectations and wishes are normal and nothing to feel guilty about. It can be helpful to acknowledge these to yourself, a trusted friend, or a therapist. 

Strong feelings also come up around access to children and grandchildren. Grandparents have an emotional, and even biological, urge to protect and care for their offspring. That urge will include their grandchildren, too. These bonding instincts can be powerful and intense. As a result, when new parents ask grandparents to keep their distance, this can lead to feelings of disappointment and loss. And while it is healthy for new parents to set boundaries and advocate for their needs, these boundaries have effects on others. The resulting feelings are real and make sense. 

Can Grandparents Experience a PMAD (Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders)?

As grandparents grapple with the range of emotions associated with transitioning into their new role, they may experience thoughts and feelings that are similar to what they felt during their own postpartum journey. A grandmother may reflect on her own fertility difficulties, or be reminded about the lack of social support she encountered during the early months of motherhood. 

When these feelings are unresolved, as, unfortunately, they often are for those in earlier generations when there was less focus on maternal mental health, grandparents can be triggered. What this might look like is a grandparent having a hard time listening to the baby’s cries. Others may feel anxious listening to their daughter’s own birth story or observing their son struggling with a PMAD

Though PMADs are related to the surge of hormones associated with giving birth directly, grandparents can certainly have symptoms like those seen in a PMAD. Alternatively, their own “stored” PMAD symptoms may emerge again. In these cases, labeling and processing feelings is essential, and many grandparents benefit from participating in their own therapy to do so.

How Can Grandparents Help?: Cultivating Open Communication and Observing Healthy Boundaries

As we mentioned previously, grandparents have a pull toward protecting and caring for their grandchildren. For many, this is influenced by a natural biological drive and genetic connection. These instincts, however, must be balanced with the reality that this is someone else’s child.

Another consideration is the relationship between a grandparent and her own child. As a grandparent, you are still a parent to your child, even when that child becomes a parent themselves. You may feel pulled to continue to support and care for your child. In this case, we encourage grandparents to find the balance of support without overaccommodation. For example, try showing them some tips to calm a fussy baby while giving them space to figure it out on their own. Embody and signal a sense of confidence: you can do it, you know just what your baby needs. Try modeling self-care and the importance of taking breaks. Provide them the space to discuss and process their own feelings, while continuing to be a readily available source of support. 

In the intricate web of family dynamics, communication and boundaries play a pivotal role in fostering harmonious relationships, especially as you step into the role of a grandparent. The cornerstone of a thriving grandparent-grandchild-parent dynamic is nurturing open and respectful communication channels while establishing clear boundaries. You can help make that happen by:

Smiling Granddaughter wrapping her arms around her smiling grandmother

Who am I Now? Discovering Your New Role as a Grandparent

Becoming a grandparent marks a significant shift in roles. The transition from parent to grandparent isn’t just a change in titles. It’s a metamorphosis of responsibilities, expectations, and ways of nurturing. It’s about discovering the unique role you play in the lives of your grandchildren and their parents. Here are some things to keep in mind during this transition:

Shifting Perspectives: As a parent, you were at the helm, steering the ship through uncharted waters. Now, as a grandparent, your role is more like that of a guiding lighthouse. You can offer wisdom and support while allowing the new parents to navigate their own course.

Understanding Modern Parenting: The landscape of parenting has transformed since your own days of parenting. Technology, parenting trends, and societal norms have evolved. There are both new challenges and opportunities. When you can embrace these changes, it becomes easier to harmonize the generational gap and foster understanding.

Balancing Guidance and Respect: As a seasoned parent, it’s natural to want to share insights and advice based on experience. But it’s crucial to strike a balance between offering guidance and respecting the autonomy of the new parents.

Celebrating Diversity in Parenting Styles: Every family has its unique approach to parenting. These approaches are shaped by culture, individual beliefs, and experiences. Respecting and embracing these differences fosters a supportive environment and enriches the child’s upbringing by exposing them to diverse viewpoints.

Becoming the Memory Maker: Grandparents often have the unique opportunity to create cherished memories with their grandchildren. From storytelling sessions to sharing hobbies, these moments strengthen the grandparent-grandchild bond and create lasting impressions.

Discovering your role as a grandparent is a journey marked by love, adaptability, and unwavering support. Try your best to embrace this multifaceted role with an open heart. Relish the opportunity to leave a profound, positive impact on the lives of your grandchildren!

How Can I Be a Good Grandparent?: Embracing Precious Moments and Creating Lasting Memories

Most grandparents want to be good grandparents. They want to be invited to play with their grandchildren. They want to be trusted to babysit, and kept in the loop about the child’s accomplishments. The truth is that there is really no one way to define what a “good grandparent” is. This will look different in each family and situation. 

That said, here are some recommendations we make to grandparents who are striving to support their children and grandchildren:

  • Carve out quality time. Engage in activities that foster bonding. Whether it’s storytelling, gardening, cooking, or sharing hobbies. 
  • Explore new adventures. Embrace a sense of wonder alongside your grandchildren. Rediscover the world through their eyes. Indulge in simple pleasures and explore new experiences together. 
  • Foster traditions. Pass down family traditions and rituals to connect generations.
  • Capture moments. Photographs and videos serve as time capsules of cherished moments. Take some time to pause and capture the laughter, the milestones, and the everyday magic. 
  • Teach and learn. Teach your grandchildren new skills or hobbies. Be open to learning from their youthful perspective, also. 
  • Be present in their lives. Your consistent presence in your grandchildren’s lives, whether it’s through phone calls, letters, or visits, leaves an enduring mark.
  • Celebrate milestones. From birthdays to graduations, each milestone in your grandchild’s life is a cause for celebration.
  • Embrace the now. Time passes swiftly. Remember to savor the present moment. These moments, once lived, become cherished memories.

Becoming a grandparent is a profound journey. It’s an odyssey filled with laughter, love, challenges, and joy. As you navigate the complexities and delights of this role, you will uncover a mosaic of experiences that shape not only your life but the lives of your grandchildren and their parents. If you are struggling with intense feelings associated with grandparenthood, or just aren’t quite sure how to navigate this transition, the clinicians at Upshur Bren Psychology Group are here to offer you support and guidance. Click here to schedule a complimentary consultation call to learn more about how we can help you.

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