I don’t think there’s any one way to approach how to be a good grandparent. It’s easy to spoil the grandchildren and then hand them off to mom or dad. That’s usually what’s expected of a grandparent.They’re always ready to fatten up their grand-kids with sweets and give in to their every whim. Pampering grandchildren makes it easier for them to love grandpa and grandma completely. Grandparents have already played the bad guy role while raising their own kids. They want the next generation to see them as loving protectors to run to when mom or dad is upset. But it becomes a slippery slope when grandparents overindulge grand-kids without considering how much work it will take the parents to fix things.

When you have five kids you expect that at least one —or three — will give you grandchildren. So far, two of my kids have come through. Two years ago, my two daughters who lived in Las Vegas got pregnant within a month of each other. My youngest daughter, Tiesha, was only 18 and nervous about having her first baby. She asked if I could be there for the birth and help out for a bit. Nothing made me happier. My older daughter, Nicie, had given birth to my grandson the month before. I’d be able to meet both grandchildren and dole out parenting advice at the same time. I had finally achieved the level of all-wise, all-knowing grandmother.

When I met my grandchildren, I finally understood why grandparents are regarded as perpetrators who overindulge their grandchildren. My granddaughter, Heiress, lay in a hospital bassinet next to my daughter. Lifting her up and holding her close I took in her fresh baby smell.She made a face that resembled annoyance, revealing dimples on both cheeks. Atone-day-old she was already like her mother, both beautiful and bratty. I didn’t want to ever have to put her down.

Nicie and her boyfriend arrived at the hospital with my grandson, Gaige, later that day. Gaige was a chunky little guy, already holding his head up and attempting to crawl. I knew instantly he was an athlete and a genius. Grandparents can just sense those things. His father placed him in the arm that wasn’t holding Heiress. I looked down at both of these bundles of joy and couldn’t stop smiling.

I assumed my stay in Las Vegas would be my moment to shine. I was a grandmother. I held all the secrets of the universe.When my daughters had questions, I would have the answers. After 29 years of motherhood I figured I should know just about everything there is to know about parenting. I failed to contemplate how much things have changed since my own kids were little.

Tiesha had been having difficulty breastfeeding Heiress and asked me for advice. I searched my vault of knowledge. I hadn’t breastfed a baby in 24 years and never had the difficulty Tiesha was having with Heiress latching on. In addition, I wasn’t sure if there were new methods now that had not been around when I breastfed. So instead of being the grandmother with all the answers, I was the older woman in the room that suggested she get help from the hospital’s lactation consultant.

Nicie, who had taken to breastfeeding her son like a professional wet nurse, was more helpful. When her own experience failed to help Tiesha, she read up on the subject, analyzing expert opinions and articles about breastfeeding. My secrets of the universe could not compete with Google.

Becoming a grandparent had not made me all-wise and all-knowing. Despite that, there was still a chance I could be helpful.Over the next week I stayed with Tiesha, cleaning her apartment and cooking healthy meals. I gave her advice when she asked, pulling from my own experience. More than once I cross checked my answers with Google. It almost felt like cheating, but after thinking back on some of my parenting methods I realized my way wasn’t always the best way. My parenting experience was acquired through trial and error.  

Too soon, I had to return to Colorado, leaving my grandchildren with no one to pick them up every time they cried. Or shifted uncomfortably. Or simply looked too cute not to pick up. I felt like I was leaving before I’d had a chance to be a real grandma.

When Gaige was one-year-old, Nicie called to tell me she was coming back to Colorado to stay for a while. I insisted they live with me. I had plenty of room in my finished basement. Both my 15-year-old son Tevin and I were prepared to help out with Gaige. What we were not prepared for was Nicie’s elevated expectations for watching her child. We soon learned.

The day Nicie arrived in Colorado she was two months pregnant with her second child. She asked for my help with Gaige until she had the baby. Another chance to be the helpful grandmother had presented itself.

The very first thing Nicie did after starting her new job was to set Gaige up on a schedule that matched her own. She was relentless about this. Tevin and I tried to make this easier by staying quiet when Gaige went down for naps or to bed for the night. We tip-toed around the house only to be told later that we sounded like elephants tromping around upstairs.

Eventually we found a way to work with their schedule.Three times a day Gaige ate healthy meals in his booster chair at the table. On special occasions she allowed him to have sweets. Tevin would randomly share his own cookies and candy with Gaige. Every time, he was met with a ten-minute lecture from Nicie about how bad it was for Gaige, how Gaige wasn’t going to eat his dinner now and what was Tevin thinking anyway. Tevin looked to me for help. I shrugged in reply as if to say, “You’re on your own buddy.”

The hardest part about being a helpful grandma is knowing that eventually I’ll have to discipline my grandchildren. When my grandson threw his food on the floor or decided to pull all of his wipes out of the container I knew he needed to be corrected. I couldn’t do it. When Gaige looked at me with his big eyes and smiled at me with that adorable smile, I melted.

Nicie pointed out that my refusal to discipline my grandson also meant I missed out on teaching opportunities. One evening I watched as Gaige took a cracker he was eating and crumbled it in his hand, spreading them all over the carpet. I was already tired and cranky and scolded him without explanation. Nicie patiently reminded me that I needed to talk to Gaige and tell him why I was upset with him. At that moment I was glad I had raised my children to speak up, even to me, if they disagreed with an opinion or method.  

After Nicie had her second son she moved back to Las Vegas. I am grateful for every minute I got to spend with her and my grandsons. Nicie is a different type of mother than I was, and I respect that.Over the last year, my youngest son taught me that 29 years of being a parent didn’t make me an expert at motherhood. I’m still learning. After nine months of living with my grandchild, I learned that Gaige loves me when I teach him as much as when I spoil him. I don’t have all the secrets of the universe, and I’ve discovered that I can still learn a thing or two from my kids.