What today’s grandparents need to know!
In the past 25-30 years, the way our children parent our grandchildren has constantly changed with the new knowledge our society has gained and the technological advances that have been made. What’s advised for current parents wasn’t even a blip on the parenting radar when we were parents. To understand what the biggest changes are so that grandparents know what to expect, we talked to some fairly new grandparents.
Major categories that came up were:
Bedding and Sleeping
Kids used to sleep on their sides, with elaborate crib bedding. When I was a young mother (1988) we were just learning about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Babies were still being placed on their sides to sleep and then rotated onto the other side so their heads wouldn’t get flat. We would tuck them up with baby blankets and place their heads on tiny pillows. The “back to sleep” movement of placing babies on their backs when we put them down to sleep began in 1992 when the American Academy of Pediatrics formally recommended placing baby on back or side to prevent SIDS – not on the tummy as had been a custom to prevent baby choking if they spit up. In 1996, the side sleeping option was retracted by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the mantra of “Back to Sleep” began – always place the baby on it’s BACK to SLEEP.
Part of baby’s “layette” included the baby crib sheets, spread and matching bumpers, as well as a mobile to hang over the crib. Today, parents do not use ANY bedding other than a crib sheet (that’s right, no blanket) and instead put their babies in “sleep sacs”. The reason for this is so baby doesn’t accidentally suffocate in the bedding or roll against the bumper and get their face stuck against it. The movement against mobiles is that baby might grab it and then get tangled in it and choke.
So if you put away your baby’s crib bedding like the Peter Rabbit bumpers, quilt and mobile I saved in the attic, just go ahead and toss them. They won’t be allowed!
There has been a big change in how we feed babies. The breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding controversy aside, much is written and there is much variation as to what is best for baby. Gone are the days when we started the hungry baby on a little rice cereal around three months old to “hold them” between feedings. I talked with Dr. Chris Magryta of Salisbury Pediatrics who has a wealth of knowledge for children. Dr. Magryta advises that “rice cereal is just sugar”, and he doesn’t recommend any fast digested foods for baby. He emphasizes feeding real foods to babies – not processed baby food. “Cooking and pureeing peas or sweet potatoes is much healthier than foods with a lot of chemicals and preservatives added,” according to Dr. Magryta. He says you can introduce these foods at 4-6 months, and also encourages pureed cooked oatmeal. His big advice is to LIMIT SUGAR. He says that sugar triggers pathways in humans that can lead to many of the chronic diseases of our society such as obesity, diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease.
So that also means no fruit juices. When we raised our children 30 years ago, we felt deficient is we didn’t offer apple juice, but now the advice is that juices contain sugar and preservatives and that WATER is the best fluid we can provide.
Where once we were discouraged from giving foods that could be allergens – such as peanuts and eggs, now we are encouraged to introduce these foods at 4-6 months to determine if there is going to be an allergy. (small bites, pureed). Cows milk is also once again in favor, as long as it is whole and organic.
Some of the grandparents I spoke with were surprised at how focused their children were on giving tiny bites to avoid choking. Today, giving kids hot dogs and grapes, unless finely chopped, is considered taboo.
This is probably the category where we see the biggest changes.
When most of us raised our children, there was no law for cars to have car seats. In the US, laws requiring car seats were not passed until 1985. So for many of us, we used car seats but they were not age or weight specific and there was no recommendation that baby be in the back seat. So for today’s grandparents, be prepared to understand the different car seats for each stage of infant and toddlerhood, how to install them in the car (they practically bolt in place) and the direction the child must face as well as where in the car they can sit. Don’t get your feelings hurt if your son or daughter won’t let little one ride with you unless you have the correct car seat. And be prepared for major aerobics exercise when installing the car seat and getting the little one properly strapped in. It isn’t for the faint of heart.
Outside play is another area that has changed. When I spoke with Gloria Stewart, the wonderful woman I co-grandparent my three grands with, we reminisced that thirty years ago we were not as aware of the horrors of child abduction and trafficking as we are today, so letting our little ones play outside unsupervised was common, especially if we lived in a “safe” neighborhood. Those days are gone, and children usually have an adult accompany them when playing outside, even if they have a fenced yard. For grandparents, this can be challenging. Yes, you really do have to stay outside in the heat with them, and for heavens sakes, don’t turn your back for a second. Our children are not being over-protective, they are being very cautious! Unfortunately, outside play is harder to achieve given these constraints, but is vitally important for the child’s health. With the advancement of computers and tablets for children, limiting screen time and playing outside instead is essential.
In talking with another friend, Mari Wright, who is grandmother to three year old Mason, the biggest adjustment for her as a grandparent is understanding and appreciating the cautiousness of her grandchild’s parents overall, whether with car seats, travelling, visiting with grandparents or playing outside. Parents constant worry that something awful is going to happen to their child is common, and can create what the literature refers to as “helicopter” parents as the child grows older. Helicopter parents are considered those who constantly hover and oversee every element of their children’s lives such as school work and activities. An example is with birthday parties. In our day, birthday parties were simple backyard events and children as young as 5 were dropped off and picked up hours later. Today, parents tend to stay with their child during a birthday party, which adds another element of complexity. Nursery monitors, both audio and video are commonly used even as the child ages, so technology has added to the helicopter arsenal.
In summary, the biggest takeaways for today’s grandparents:
- Forget the fancy crib bedding (and make sure the crib meets todays safety standards…the one in the attic you have been saving for 25 years will NOT!)
- Place the baby on it’s back to go to sleep
- NO SUGAR and make sure Mom and Dad are ok with anything you give to eat or drink
- Read up on current safety rules for car seats and other child related items and toys.
When I asked my friend Mari for her final thoughts she shared, “Looking back, it seemed to be a simpler world when our kids were little. My mom probably thought the same when comparing her childhood to what life was like when we were kids.”