FILED IN: Education - Parenting

Grandparents go back to school to learn new rules for child care

Many hospitals now offer grandparenting classes, which cover everything from modern childbirth trends to current standards in infant care.

The classes generally run about two hours and serve first as an orientation to the hospital (where to park, where to get coffee, etc.), but also teach some of the finer points of grandparenting, like when (not) to offer advice and how to act as a “cheerleader” for a new parent.

Nancy Sanchez, who created the grandparent program at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, in Palo Alto, Calif., equated it to teaching someone to ride a bicycle. “Sometimes, they will be out of balance, and you’ll need to be there to pick up the pieces, if they ask…But you need to let go at some point, and let them steer and balance themselves.”

Most grandparents willingly come to the classes, hoping to learn about changes in baby-raising that have occurred since they were parents. Jodi and Doug Pugsley, of Edmonds, Washington, took a class with their daughter, Christine Barzare. They said they learned some “really good stuff.”

“We learned that whatever we did with our kids, to do the opposite,” Jodi Pugsley joked. The most important update they learned was to put kids on their backs when they sleep to avoid SIDS (a reversal of the common rule 30 years ago, when babies were generally placed face-down to sleep).

Other modern changes have occurred in the delivery process, for instance women can stay home in early labor and now they often stay in one large birthing suite through labor, delivery and recovery.

Janet Bowen, who leads a grandparenting seminar at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, Washington say that some grandmothers will actually be moved to grief from the class. Until the 1970’s, women were heavily medicated and somewhat removed from the birthing process. Bowen said “When they realize that their daughter is going to have memories and participate in the birth, and it’s not something that’s being done to them, that is amazing, and sometimes, a bit overwhelming.” 

Bowen always asks her pupils to think of memories of their own grandparents, and then, at the end of class Bowen asks, “When your grandchildren are in grandparent class, I wonder what they will say about you? You can really mold that role, and think about what kind of grandparent you’ll be…It’s a legacy that will live on, because everyone remembers their grandparents.”