Grandparenting and Nannying Today

“Don’t you know what I do?” was my first response to her question, thinking that surely over 25 years in the child care industry would be qualification enough.   However she continued to press and I eventually agreed to go. 

It turns out I was wrong.   In fact within about five seconds of the class starting, I realised that I knew almost nothing about being a grandparent in the 21st century. 

It seems the most important ‘job’ of modern grandparents is keeping our mouths shut.   Today’s parents do their own research and they will ask for help if they need it.   Until that point, the best thing I can do is provide them with meals. 

How times have changed.   After my first child neither my parents nor my in-laws offered much advice at all – they claimed to have forgotten all the important stuff.   I was left largely to navigate on my own but without, of course, the guidance of Google.   When I had my second child eight years later, the grandparents’ memories had magically been revived.  

I remember my father – a country bank manager – offering advice on breastfeeding.   I should ignore, he said, the rigid feeding regimen of Truby King and the Plunket Society, whose advice my mother had followed with me.   Salient advice from un unlikely quarter.    

My mother-in-law, a successful businesswoman and orchestral violinist, chimed in with her views, while my mother’s ‘practical’ assistance included cutting the feet out of my baby’s grow suits. 

(She was worried that they would lead to disfigured feet akin to ancient Chinese foot binding.)

The gist of today’s advice seems to be that grandparents should no longer need to tread on eggshells around their offspring and their offspring.   We should be able to relax into our new role, confident that if our help is needed it will be asked for.   Time will tell whether it works out that way in practice. 

I think it will depend a lot on the parents, and here I can see parallels with nannies.   Some of our clients look to their nannies as teachers – as people who can share their expertise about child care – while other clients hold their own strong opinions and prefer a nanny to essentially be ‘seen but not heard’.   There is no ‘one size fits all’ here. 

When my father wasn’t giving breastfeeding advice he was fond of a saying often attributed to Mark Twain, along the lines of: “When I was seventeen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.   But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he’d learned.  ” Perhaps if I manage to keep my opinions to myself, my daughter and her husband might eventually realise that I’ve learned a bit along the way too!


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