Grandparents get refresher course in bringing up grandbaby

By Aimee Tjader

Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (MCT)

Published: Thursday, March 8 2012 6:23 p.m. MST

Steven Wahlquist takes care of his 8-month-old granddaughter, Arianna, at his home in Stillwater, Minnesota, on January 26, 2012.

Jerry Holt, Mct

Enlarge photo»

MINNEAPOLIS — Sure, it takes a village to raise a child, but even the most experienced villagers need a little refresher now and then.

Steven Wahlquist has raised three children of his own, and when given the opportunity to look after his first grandchild, he enthusiastically agreed. But not without first learning how to be a grandparent.

"I didn't remember everything about babies, and so much has changed anyway," the Stillwater, Minn., man said while feeding 8-month-old Arianna Dahl a bottle.

So Wahlquist, 57, and his wife signed up for the New Grandparents class at Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater to learn the ropes of grandparenting. Despite the fact that babies are pretty much the same as they've always been, grandparents like the Wahlquists are enrolling in classes to discover changes in labor and delivery, and how to care for a newborn.

"Now they say babies should sleep on their backs, not stomachs," he said. "And they say no screen time until the child turns 3 — all new things to me."

Prenatal classes for grandparents are designed to give expecting grandparents skills that combine their wealth of knowledge and experience with modern ideas and practices. Much has changed in the 30 years since many of today's grandparents raised their own children. For one thing, grandparents are more involved.

Among grandparents in their 60s and 70s, 51 percent say they have helped their adult children with child care in the past year, according to a 2009 Pew Research survey. And according to Grandparents.com, 72 percent of grandparents care for their grandchildren on a regular basis.

"Now entire families embrace the new baby," said Maureen Tumulty, a longtime labor and delivery nurse, and coordinator of the childbirth education program at Lakeview Hospital. "It's more family-oriented now, with the whole family waiting at the hospital for the arrival of the baby and some families even in the delivery room. It's a family event and celebration from the first day of pregnancy."

It's a whole new world when it comes to having and raising a baby. Aromatherapy for pain management, parking spots for expectant mothers, prenatal yoga classes, underwater births, the whole family in the delivery room, new safety measures for cribs and car seats.

About a dozen grandparents gathered at United Hospital in St. Paul, Minn., recently to brush up on their skills at the Expectant Grandparents class. Some signed up because they will be helping to care for the baby and want to do so with updated information. Others came because their children asked them to.

"I'm here to learn how to be a good grandmother," said Susan Bilek of Eagan, Minn., who attended the class with her son.

Penny Damlo of Burnsville, Minn., is expecting her first grandchild in March and signed up along with her husband because her daughter is a neonatal nurse.

"She knows an awful lot more about babies than I do," Damlo said. "I've got to get my facts right real quick and she shouldn't have to teach me."

Sue LaVigne introduced herself as a "nanny granny." The 56-year-old East Bethel, Minn., resident was in the delivery room when her granddaughter was born nine years ago and was the first to hold her. She's expecting her second grandchild any day now and is looking forward to "seeing the world through fresh eyes again."

"How many of you have heard of the back-to-sleep campaign?" asked Annette Klein, a registered nurse and parent educator at United. "How about car seats? If I put a car seat in for my grandchildren the way my kids' car seats were put in, I probably wouldn't be allowed to drive with my grandchildren."

Klein went on to discuss changes in pain management for mothers in labor, different laboring positions and new safety standards for baby gear. The two-hour class also covered tips to nurture relationships with grandchildren and be supportive of adult children at a challenging and life-changing time.

But is having a baby really all that different? In a word, "Yes," said Kathy Scheunemann, who's expecting her first granddaughter in March.

"With all these choices and all these changes I feel like I lived in the Stone Age. I feel like Fred Flintstone," the Arden Hills, Minn., woman said. "But what I really want to learn is when to keep my mouth shut."

Ahh, perhaps the golden rule of grandparenting and the hardest one to follow: knowing when to butt out.

That, and when to stop spoiling, a particularly challenging feat for a doting granddad. But Steven Wahlquist is doing his best to follow his daughter's four-page instructional guide on caring for his granddaughter. He learned the importance of respecting his daughter's wishes at his grandparenting class and wants to do things right.

"I really enjoy spending time with her," Wahlquist said, his voice softening. "I just want to be the best grandpa that I can be."

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