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Grandparenting classes teach new rules to older generation

What do you mean, crying isn't good for their lungs? And what's with all these car seat straps? Grandparents don't always understand the newfangled parenting methods used by their grown children. But some are willing to learn. Doting Nanas and Papas around the country are going back to school for 'Grandparenting Classes.'
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Congratulations! You’re going to be a parent. And, congratulations again! The grandparents-to-be are equally overjoyed – which bodes well for future babysitting. Except that it’s been years since your mom took care of a newborn. And your mother-in-law is promising to move in a week before your due date, so she can “help you out,” and your dear old dad just doesn’t get this whole car seat business. Back in his day, they held their little angels on their laps, dang it, and you kids turned out OK.Maybe it’s time to send grandma and grandpa back to school. Many hospitals now offer grandparenting classes, which cover everything from current trends in childbirth to updated standards on infant care.The “classes” are typically a one-time, two-hour seminar, and they usually offer a tour of the hospital’s birth center and tips on where to park and get coffee. These courses also remind excited expectant grandparents to give the new family a little space, to offer advice only when asked, and to serve as tireless cheerleaders as they watch their own children parent for the first time.

Related: Threepeat! Mom, dad and baby share birthdayIt’s an experience not unlike teaching your children how to ride a bicycle, explained Nancy Sanchez, who created the grandparent program at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, in Palo Alto, Calif. “Sometimes, they will be out of balance, and you’ll need to be there to pick up the pieces, if they ask,” she said. “But you need to let go at some point, and let them steer and balance themselves.”Most grandparents attend these classes willingly, eager to learn what’s changed in baby-raising since they were in the trenches. Jean Lyssy, 60, surprised her son and daughter-in-law with the news that she’d attended a Grandparenting 101 course with her husband at the Medical Center of Plano, Texas. “We were boasting, like, ‘We went to school, we passed Grandparenting 101,’” said Lyssy.

Related: Are second baby showers great or greedy?Jodi and Doug Pugsley, of Edmonds Wash., went back to “school” at the suggestion of their daughter, Christine Barzare – who took the class with them. But the first-time grandparents weren’t offended. “We really wanted to be involved as much of the process as we could be – as was appropriate,” said Jodi Puglsey, 55. Pugsley said they learned some “really good stuff.”“We learned that whatever we did with our kids, to do the opposite,” she quipped. The most important update: back sleeping. While 30 years ago, parents were taught to place their babies face down in their cribs to avoid SIDS, more updated research shows that face up is safer for infants up to seven months.In: Sleep sacks and rear-facing car seats. Out: Boiling baby bottles to sterilize, and swabbing bellybuttons with alcohol.

Lyssy learned all about “tummy time,” and not to worry if her grandson wasn’t crawling or meeting other milestones at the rate she might expect. “They’re developing one month to two months later, because they’re sleeping on their backs,” she recalled. “So you don’t want to compare them to your own kids.”Doug Puglsey, 59, was relieved to learn that many of the newfangled trends they learned about in class were things they’d done anyway. Jodi breastfed beyond the (then) recommended six months, and they placed their three babies on their sides to sleep rather than face-down. “The trends had changed, and so we went, wow, it’s kind of neat that we were right,” he said. Older generations are often surprised to learn that women can stay home in early labor, and that they typically stay in one, spacious birthing suite through labor, delivery and recovery.

Related: Astravaganza?! When parents regret their kids' namesSome grandmothers will actually begin to grieve in class, said Janet Bowen, who leads a grandparenting seminar at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, Wash. Until the 1970s, women were often given a cocktail of morphine and scopolamine to induce “twilight sleep” during birth. Babies were delivered by forceps, and women were all but removed from the process.“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,” said Bowen.Beyond the diapering details and car-seat demonstrations, instructors say that they’re most interested in addressing “this rite of passage of becoming a grandparent. It’s one of those pivotal moments,” said Bowen. She always asks her pupils to recall memories of their own grandparents, and “it’s always amazing what comes out.” 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,” she said. “It’s a legacy that will live on, because everyone remembers their grandparents.”