WASHINGTON — What to Expect When You’re Expecting Your Children to Expect.
On a rainy weekday afternoon, a dozen students settle around a horseshoe-shaped configuration of tables in a classroom at Inova Alexandria Hospital near Washington. They then discuss the impending joy-bundles that have caused them to enroll in this afternoon’s seminar.
“Now, the babies are supposed to sleep on their backs,” says one student, who looks to be in her 60s.
“And if their heads start to flatten, they have a special device.”
“Yes! They do!”
“My daughter isn’t even using a crib,” another student offers.
“She read it in a book. A Montessori book.”
This is a prenatal class. For grandparents. The prospective grandparents in this class have enrolled in order to freshen up their child-rearing skills and to become helpful, productive members of the baby industrial complex. It is also, by necessity, a parenting class, focusing on the delicate matter of how to nurture one’s adult progeny at a momentous time in their lives.
Babies today work remarkably similarly to how babies worked 100 years ago (10 fingers, 10 toes, two eyeballs). The baby industry, however, is becoming ever more enlightened. Blankies, binkies, babas, Snuglis, Huggies, sleep sacks, activity mats, BabyLegs, goo-goo ga-ga cootchie-coo. An expectant mother is well armed with books and blog markers and prenatal preparations. There is stuff, so much stuff — stuff that never used to exist until someone invented it and no one could live without it. Who among you could give birth without a Lullabelly and prenatal yoga class? Who among you?
Here, the grandparents will learn advanced crib purchasing, including the evils of the drop-side crib. Here, they will learn remedial bathing — how the latest literature suggests saving the hair for last, to prevent chills.
“I have a question about swaddlers,” asks one grandpa-to-be, who is attending the class along with his wife and their co-grandparenting in-laws. “We have read that babies under seven months could work their arms out of a swaddler.”
“And prams — ” asks someone who is stopped by instructor Linda Paroskie’s use of the term, which clearly does not equate “pram” with “baby carriage.” “Are you saying that a pram is not a transportation device?”
No, Paroskie says, in this new baby world “a pram is what they are calling this sleeping sack.”
Paroskie, 61, is a cheerful button of a woman, a registered nurse and educator, who last year was asked to add a grandparenting class to her curriculum. She rotates among three hospitals, one class a month, often enrolled to maximum capacity. Similar classes have emerged around the country in recent years, as grandparents want to be more hands-on, and as parents want those hands to be trained.
“The young people of today can be challenging,” Paroskie says brightly, pointing out that grandparenting classes can be excellent for dissolving friction. “They’re all very educated, and they’ve read it all online. The best way to be a good grandparent is to be supportive of your children’s decisions as parents.”
What, she asks her apt pupils, is the most important rule of negotiating this transition into grandparenthood?
A voice near the back: “Butt out!”
“My first thought was, I raised kids and did a pretty good job,” says Peter Chapin, a class attendee, on how he felt when he first learned about the course. But Chapin and his wife wanted to be as supportive as possible once their grandchildren — twins! — arrive. “I’ve thought a lot about how I’m going to deal with any situations that arise.”
“If the daughter-in-law says the baby sleeps upside down on his head, then the baby sleeps upside down on his head,” Jenny Squire says firmly. She is looking forward to offering her son and daughter-in-law the close-proximity support that her own parents — who lived overseas — weren’t able to. Rule of thumb: “With weddings and with grandchildren, you wear beige and you keep your mouth shut.”
Completing this class earns grandparents a brownie point. It is a preemptive salve for the tension that can arise between a new parent and her parents. Set a good example, Paroskie encourages. Be the bigger person. Do not be the irritating mee-maw.
Case in point, Paroskie says: New parents are now encouraged to hold their infants if they are crying. But do you remember, she asks, how picking up a wailing baby used to be seen as coddling or spoiling? And how well-meaning interlopers used to instruct new moms to let their children cry it out?
“Your mother,” one woman whispers to her husband — and there is the teeniest bit of satisfaction in this aside — “used to do that to me.”