My newsletter and blog have been on maternity leave for the past few months. More accurately, it was grandparent leave. My attention and energy consumed by saying hello to the tiny human who shares my ancestry, my love, and my home.
During the first eight weeks of my grandbaby’s life, she and her parents lived in our home. It was incredible and inspiring. The experience was incredible because each day I witnessed the details of child development and new parenting. And it was inspiring because I experienced the amazing village that welcomed our granddaughter. My grandchild allowed me to experience what it means to be born into a community of love, consistency, and kindness.
While away from my computer, I have thought about writing and learning. There were many moments when I thought my experience might be of benefit to other grandparents, parents, and those working to support children and families. I was aware of my knowledge of neurobiological and infant development and watched as neurons connected each day before our eyes.
Grandparents, friends, parent educators, and other supportive adults! Here are the top eight lessons from the first two months.Care for Baby and Parent
Every baby should come home to loving parents. And each new parent should come home to 2 more loving parents! 1 + (2 + 2) = love, rest, and protection. Our grandbaby had two adoring parents and two, refreshed and not sleep deprived grandparents. And, our children allowed us to learn and share in love, respect, and sharing as parents with parents. If two parents or two grandparents are unavailable, other family members, friends and child care provider can provide the same nurturance and protection. Babies do best when surrounded by three loving and committed adults.
Leave the Good Stuff for the Parents
Volunteer for the chores. While my husband and I had limited time with the baby, we cleaned, cooked, shopped and shared in the baby’s accomplishments. Our job was to free her parents to be with their baby and each other. When you run out of chores, do things that you like to do (e.g. take a walk, read a book or go to a movie.) Give the new parents space and time on their own.
Claim the Changing Table
Make the changing table the baby’s favorite activity. While diaper changing may seem like an unsavory chore by a sleep-deprived parent, it is a wonderful opportunity for engagement with the baby! Home visitors, while you may not change the diaper take note: this is the best location to see micro-changes in eye contact, head and arm control, and increasing attention to sounds and sights.
Acknowledge the Lack of Control
Reinforce that a newborn is predictable only in her unpredictability. Having an infant may be a parent’s first experience at not being fully in control. Feeling unsettled is typical. And new parents benefit from a friendly and supportive welcome to what it means to adjust to another person whose needs come first.
Talk for the Baby
Say aloud the baby’s experience. Each time you voice the baby’s point of view it helps new parents learn to read the baby’s cues and signals. Narrate all of the baby’s experiences, even those that the baby doesn’t yet know, like “I love my mom and dad!”
Wait to be asked for advice
There were many times when my daughter and her husband looked for a helpful tip or idea in child rearing, health, or development. My waiting for their inquiry set our boundary. I am their support team! They are the decision makers.
Crying is the newborn’s only way of communicating discomfort. New parents may not yet understand that the baby doesn’t know what is wrong or what she needs. Help parents notice how crying changes. During the first eight weeks of typical development, crying changes from an on-off response to a simmer-on-off. The “simmer” cry is a sign of development. The baby is learning that others respond to her needs. She is beginning to regulate her response. Low-level cries are progressing in the right direction!
Read, Sing, and Talk
Use every interaction on the changing table and while holding the baby to talk, read, and sing to the baby. Hearing others helps parents feel less self-conscious when they sing and talk to the baby. It is going to take many, many months for the baby to respond, so parents can use the encouragement to be silly, conversational, and sing – no matter how great their abilities to carry a tune.
Even though I have talked about the baby’s experiences before, I have a new perspective. It’s like watching theory and development. Let me know how you receive this when I put it on paper through observations—and give you ideas of what to look for—and more importantly, what to do. I would love to hear from you. And, if you liked it, please share with others!