Some expectant parents say that they aren't taking hospital visitors. Others say that the grandparents won't be allowed to visit their newborn grandchild for the first few weeks or even months. Many grandparents are confused and hurt by these decisions. Why would parents do this to grandparents?
Grandparents must understand that these decisions aren't something that parents are doing "to" the grandparents.
It's something that they are doing "for" the newborn and for themselves. They are creating a protected period for forming a family unit. This time period is sometimes referred to as a babymoon. Grandparents may not understand such decisions, but they should at least grant that the parents are acting out of the best of motives. In addition, if the grandparents avoid over-reacting, the new parents may change their minds, especially when they experience the realities of newborn care.
Why Grandparents May Be Banned From the Hospital
As for why parents might ban grandparents from visiting, generally it is to allow the new family to bond without any complicating factors. Here are some other reasons why grandparents may be barred from visiting in the hospital:
- The mother may be recovering from the birth and may need lots of rest.
- The mother may not want visitors when she is not looking at her best, as may be the case after childbirth.
- The mother may desire privacy as she tries to establish breastfeeding.
- The parents may not want an audience as they get used to handling and changing their newborn.
- Visitors may bring germs.
It's important to remember that new mothers are usually sent home after 48 hours. As recently as the 1970's, postpartum hospital stays averaged four days.
In the 1950's, stays of one week to 10 days were standard. Modern mothers may need the entire hospital stay — of one or two days — for rest and recuperation.
Why Grandparents May Be Banned From Home Visits
Some parents may continue to bar visitors during their first days or even weeks at home. Along with continuing concern about exposure to germs, these factors may also enter into their decision:
- The parents may be concerned that their housekeeping is not up to their usual standards.
- The parents don't want the burden of having to offer food and drinks or otherwise entertain their guests.
- Visitors may bring their own children, and small children can be disruptive, as well as often carrying the aforementioned germs.
Most grandparents grew up in a time period when it was accepted that grandmothers would be on the premises to help new mothers. Sometimes new mothers would go to stay with a mother or mother-in-law. Sometimes a grandmother would go to stay for a period of days or even weeks to help out.
It's important to remember that today's mothers live in a somewhat different world. For one thing, fathers are more likely to help out. Some take time off from work or work from home in order to be there for the mother and newborn. The lucky ones even get paid paternity leave.
Another factor is that most mothers have jobs and thus a limited amount of time to stay home with their newborn. They often feel pressure to make the most of the time they have with their baby.
Often new parents will think that they want to be alone with their baby, but change their minds when faced with the reality of caring for a newborn. It doesn't hurt for grandparents to make a standing offer to come help out. Sometimes parents who restricted visitors with a first child are completely fine with visitors for subsequent births, especially since there is an older sibling to be cared for.
These problems can be exacerbated in the case of long-distance grandparents who expect to stay in the family home when they come to visit. Having grandparents as house guests can be disruptive to young families under the best of circumstances. When the new parents are sleep-deprived and otherwise not at their best, the stage may be set for conflict. The grandparents might offer to stay in a motel. At the least they should let the parents make the decisions about the length and timing of the visit.
Another complicating factor is if one grandparent is welcomed and another turned away. The most common scenario is that maternal grandparents have more access than paternal grandparents, but it can be just the opposite. In any case, the grandparent without access is certain to be jealous of the other grandparent, adding yet another kind of hurt to the mix.
Grandparents who do not agree with the decisions made by the new parents should remember that one of the main jobs of grandparents is respecting boundaries. As eager as grandparents may be to get acquainted with their newborn grandchild, they should understand that it is equally important to get off on the right foot with the new parents. Those who respect the new parents' decisions are likely to find their access to grandchildren expanded, while those who do not may find their access continues to be limited.
If You Get to Visit
If you are lucky enough to have the chance to bond with your newborn grandchild, try not to overlook the needs of the parents. Bringing the mother a drink or snack is always appreciated. Good nourishment and hydration are important after the birth. Doing fetching and carrying duties for the new mother will also be much appreciated.
Helping out with housework is important, but it can be tricky. If you ask an overwhelmed parent what you should do to help out, you're simply giving the parent another thing to think about. It's best to do the things that you see that need doing, but be sure to use good judgment. I've known grandparents who unloaded the dishwasher but simply stacked everything on the counter, because they didn't know where things go. That's not really helping!
Of course, most grandparents will be dying to help with the baby, but, again, defer to the parents' wishes. Some parents will be more than happy to hand off the baby for a while. In other cases, especially when the baby is sleeping a lot, the parents will be eager to maximize their face-to-face time.
Above all else, be patient with the new parents. Don't be quick to take offense. They are going through a lot of changes. What most new parents need most is reassurance that they are doing the right thing, and that is something that grandparents can provide. It doesn't cost a penny, but the payoffs can be enormous.