Bonding With a New Grandchild

Always Respect the Wishes of the Parents

grandparent bonding with new grandbaby
Even if you have to wait to bond, it will be worth it when it happens. Photo © Marc Debnam | Getty Images

One of the new trends in parenting is what some call a "babymoon," a time of intense bonding between parents and newborn. Often grandparents aren't welcome during the babymoon, which can be excruciating for those grandparents who are also eager to bond with their grandchild. But loving grandparents will find a way to bond with baby, in spite of obstacles. Patience, of course, is the prime prerequisite.

Visiting a New Grandchild at the Hospital

If you have been barred from visiting in the hospital, accept it with good grace. If you are allowed a hospital visit, follow these guidelines:

  • Choose a good time. Ask the parents to suggest a good time for a visit. Don't overstay your welcome, and be sure your visit falls within visiting hours.
  • Wait for an invitation to hold the baby. Never swoop in and take the baby out of a parent's arms. It's possible that you have been invited to look but not to touch.
  • Wash your hands. If you are allowed to hold the baby, wash your hands thoroughly first. Put on a mask and/or hospital gown if you are asked to.
  • Be a good guest. Don't talk loudly, bring in food or touch the television set.
  • Don't bring extra guests. Maybe Aunt Betty is dying to see the baby, too, but can she be trusted to respect boundaries? Don't take the chance unless you get approval from the parents first.
  • Keep it positive. Don't make any negative comments about the baby's size or appearance. Don't offer suggestions about breastfeeding, changing diapers or any other parental function unless asked for your opinion.
  • Ask permission before taking pictures. Grandparents can be great newborn photographers, but don't take that assignment for granted. Ask first, and be especially careful to ask before photographing the mother, who may be sensitive about her appearance after childbirth.

    Visiting a Newborn Grandchild at Home

    Hospitals are tricky, but home visits can be even trickier. You'll want to help out, but you don't want to take charge. Most parents prefer that the grandparents help with chores and let them care for the baby, but it doesn't hurt to ask. If they are sleep-deprived or if the baby has been fussy, they may welcome some help in the baby department as well.

    If you are a long-distance grandparent waiting for the arrival of a grandchild, timing is critical. For an unscheduled delivery, don't plan to arrive on or before the due date unless you have been expressly asked to do so. The parents-to-be who are anxiously waiting for a baby's debut don't need a grandparent around who is equally anxious. Of course, there are exceptions to all rules. If you are going to care for other children in the family, the parents may feel more secure if you are on the premises. If you are trying to time your arrival to coincide with the baby's arrival and you'll be traveling by air, buy a ticket ahead of time but make it a flexible ticket that can be changed. It may cost a little more, but it will be worth it.

    Long-distance grandparents who visit in the home always have to be careful to be considerate house guests.

    That goes double when there's a baby in the house.

    When You Finally Get to Bond

    It may seem as if it will never happen, but it will. There will come that moment when it's just you and your grandchild. Look in the baby's eyes and speak or sing in a soft voice. Snuggle or rock gently. You're on your way to a grand relationship.

    What if the baby doesn't seem to like a grandparent? It's true that babies frequently display positive reactions to some individuals and negative reactions to others. If your grandbaby tenses up and cries when you hold him or her, it may be a reaction to your own anxiety. Be sure that you are in a relaxed mood, speaking with a soft voice and approaching gradually. Babies sometimes don't like abrupt movements and loud voices. Some babies seem to react to facial hair, glasses, or strong smells, such as tobacco or perfume.

    Occasionally it's impossible to determine what is triggering the baby's reaction, and the grandparent may not be able to establish a strong bond with the baby for weeks or even months. In such a case, the grandparent should try talking to the baby while he or she is being held by the parent. Buying an engaging toy and showing it to the baby each time you visit also may work. The baby learns to associate you with the toy. This isn't the same thing as bringing a new toy each time you visit. That probably won't help with the baby and certainly won't make fans of the parents!

    Mostly this situation calls for patience, as most babies grow out of these strong reactions