Lessons for Grandmothers-to-Be

My daughter will give birth to my first grandson in a couple of months. This is an exciting time in any family's life, a time when we begin to see our children become parents. In the next few years I'm going to see the result of all the parenting lessons my daughter learned from me as she was growing up, and my son-in-law learned from his parents. They will put those lessons into practice in raising their child. (That idea in itself is enough to send me to the corner of the room for a long session of thumb-sucking. My prayers these days always come around to, “Dear Lord, please undo all the terrible mistakes I made with my children before they get passed on to my grandchildren.”)

As the time draws near for my grandson’s appearance, the happy parents-to-be are putting together the nursery. Now, I’m sure I told my daughter when I gave her Marriage 101 lessons that decorating is one of those unseen landmines that can be triggered with a seemingly innocent step and end up blowing your foot off. That fatal step can be something as harmless as, “Honey, here's a picture of my great-grandmother standing beside a dead moose she shot. I think it will look great over the crib so the baby can see it every day.” Or even, “I’m not crazy about that clock your father made for the baby’s room. Can we put it in the garage?” A simple suggestion like either of those can quickly turn a happy time of nest-feathering into an all-out brawl that sends someone crying to their mother.

Now here’s where the mother’s job comes in. Our job, I have learned, is to nod and smile and make sympathetic sounds like, “I understand how hurtful that must have been.” Or, “I’m sure he didn’t mean that the way it sounded.” We must remember that powerful hormones and mothering instincts are in play here. (I’m talking about MY hormones, and MY instincts!) We’re supposed to help our children smooth the way for eventual reconciliation. Now is when prayerful wisdom is supposed to come into play. We’re not supposed to voice our initial reactions, especially if they’re things like:

“He is an idiot. Pack your bags. You’re moving home.”

“He wants to paint the nursery purple? Obviously the only taste the man has ever displayed in his entire life was when he chose you for his wife.”

“Don’t worry, sweetie. I’ll go talk to him and explain how things are going to be.”

“I told you not to marry him. Let’s just pray the baby takes after our side of the family.”

Let me assure you, comments like these – no matter how kindly you might mean them at the time – are not helpful. We can’t say the same things to our married pregnant daughters that we said to our dating daughters. Because the fact of the matter is this: eventually the couple will reconcile, and when they do, all our words of wisdom will come back to haunt us. Even though our protective mothering instincts flare into full force and we want to rush in and ‘fix’ everything for our weeping child, we must demonstrate restraint. We must keep the eventual goal in mind – a happy grandchild, and two happy parents who will allow us to spend quality grandparent time with the child without fear that we will try to convince him that one side of the family is better than the other side. (Even if we know it is.)

These are hard lessons to learn. Even after I’ve spent time figuring these lessons out, I still find myself praying the same prayer: “Dear Lord, please undo all the terrible mistakes I made with my children before they get passed on to my grandchildren.” And now I add, “And please stop me from making any more idiotic mistakes, because only You can do that. I’m incapable of rational thought. After all, I'm going to be a grandmother soon, and we all know grandmothers are even more irrational about their grandchildren than mothers are about their daughters. Amen.”

(For the record – I tend to exaggerate. My son-in-law is a wonderful young man who is going to be a wonderful father, and he has never tried to hang a clock –homemade or otherwise—in the baby’s room, and he did not suggest that the nursery be painted purple, and my grandmother never shot a moose. So I hope if he reads this post he realizes his mother-in-law loves him dearly, and frequently takes poetic license in her writing.)