Should grandparents have a to-do list?

Research has shown the way kids were brought up 40 years ago differs from what people now know is best.
Research has shown the way kids were brought up 40 years ago differs from what people now know is best.PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

ATLANTA • You would leave detailed instructions for a babysitter. Should you do the same for grandparents?

Ms Kate Rope opted not to take any chances. When she handed her newborn to her parents to look after for the first time, she also gave them a list.

"I gave them a three-page document that was, as I look back on it now, embarrassingly detailed and patronising," she said.

"I even told them to wash their hands before preparing her food. I basically treated them like people who could not take care of themselves, let alone a baby. Thank goodness, they love me."

Despite knowing that parents and in-laws have years of experience looking after their own families, so much has changed over the last few decades that it is not surprising some parents feel as if they need to provide instructions.

But dealing with relatives is different from hiring a sitter because parents want to avoid offending grandparents or making them feel judged.

This is particularly true when it comes to health and safety. Research has shown the way things were done 40 years ago differs from what people now know is best.

So, how can parents approach this topic without creating a rift?

Ms Shona Gore, associate editor of the International Journal Of Birth And Parent Education, said: "I have friends who ring up to say 'I'm really worried about this... What's the current thinking about things like sleeping bags or how a baby should sleep?'

"My advice is to have an open discussion about the way you are trying to bring up your children with your parents and in-laws, even talking about things like not smacking your child.

"It's better to have that conversation now rather than when it's too late."

"But I would also advise you to pick your battles and insist only on those things that really matter," she added.

Part of a grandparent's role is to spoil their grandchildren and, of course, the occasional indulgence is not going to harm anyone.

But first-time parents can be hypersensitive and their judgment can be clouded by the newness of it all.

This sometimes leads to advice or restrictions that may seem over the top.

Ms Rope instructed her parents to be careful of anything that might fall on the floor and not to eat nuts in the house.

The suggestions seemed sensible, but what did her parents think?

"My first reaction to Kate's rigorous instruction was amusement," Mrs Priscilla Rope, her mum said.

But she wanted to make her granddaughter feel comfortable and happy and agreed that having a similar approach to food and sleep was a good way to do this.

"Kate had written very detailed thoughts and requirements, but all were written in a calm and respectful way," she added.

"That said, Kate's instructions were a bit too detailed, but better than vague 'suggestions'. I was by no means insulted."

She did, for the most part, follow the guidelines.

"I remember thinking that the entire down-to-sleep process was a bit too complicated and time-consuming," Mrs Rope said.

"I didn't believe I needed to sing so long or rock so long. Kate's instructions were precise, but I didn't feel I had to follow them precisely."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 24, 2018, with the headline 'Should grandparents have a to-do list?'. Print Edition | Subscribe