Stanford Medicine Newsletter Updates For the Local Community


Classroom catch-up for expectant grandparents

Bill and Ann Stark updated their babying skills at the Becoming Grandparents seminar at Packard Children’s Hospital.


Weeks before the birth of their first grandchild, Bill and Ann Stark of Los Altos Hills found themselves making their own trip to the hospital, one they hadn’t anticipated.

“We found out that my son’s mother-in-law had signed up for a class called Becoming Grandparents at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. She was so excited, so we signed up, too—the pressure of a fellow grandparent!” Ann Stark laughed.

The two-hour seminar is one of the more unique offerings at Packard Children’s. The hospital has long been a hub for traditional courses, such as preparation for parents-to-be and for new siblings, infant care and first aid, but some key figures in a baby’s life were being left out of the mix. And so Becoming Grandparents was born.

The Starks were not new to dealing with infants, but the class taught them just how much protocol has evolved since they had first hovered over the changing table.

“We had our two kids 30 years ago. Things have changed,” Bill Stark said. “We used to put babies to sleep on their stomachs, for example, and we learned that that’s not done anymore. There were a number of things like that.”

Indeed, child rearing is an ever-changing science, full of small but important revisions. Seminar participants learn about the advent of the five-point harness in car seats and the importance of keeping seats rear-facing for the first two years. They become familiar with obstetrical practices that have shifted in recent years, such as the popularization of epidural anesthesia.

And sometimes they get to appreciate an old idea that’s come back, as with the resurgence of swaddling.

Nancy Sanchez, community relations manager at Packard Children’s, notes that the class isn’t just a list of procedures that have been amended over time. The arrival of a new child also comes with complex emotional issues, which new grandparents learn to address and negotiate during the class.

“One thing we’ve noticed is that grandparents often expect they’re going to be right there in the birthing room. We tell them they need to ask, to find out the birth plan—a relatively new thing in its own right,” Sanchez said. “A lot of folks really appreciate this, so ultimately they’re not offended when they learn that perhaps the kids don’t want them there for the birth.”
The class helps grandparents navigate another potential minefield: advice.

“We learned some great advice of our own: Don’t butt in!” Bill Stark said. “With the access that new parents have to information these days, they’ve already researched things and know what they want to do. So we learned not to volunteer information unless it’s specifically requested.”

Even cultural shifts make their way into the nursery, as the class discusses.

“The way we talk about fathers has evolved a bit since we first started,” Sanchez said. “The research-based importance of early father involvement is sometimes a surprise to people. Dads need access to their babies, not just for their own enjoyment but for the development of the baby.”

The formula for the course seems to be working. Sometimes grandparents sign themselves up, while other times their kids do so. They can attend as individuals or as a couple, and they can be accompanied by the adjoining set of grandparents, step-grandparents and even great-grandparents.

For all the answers the Starks came away with, they say the most profound aspect of the course was in the form of a question.

“It was toward the end of the class when we were asked to talk about our grandparents,” Stark recalled. “We all shared what memories we had, if any. It was terrific. Then she said, ‘Forty or 50 years from now, if your grandchild was in a course like this, how would you want them to remember you?’”

A few weeks after the seminar, the Starks’ grandson Will was born. They see him once or twice a week, and they speak of their visits as particularly fulfilling ones.

“The class imparts a wonderful message to any grandmother or grandfather,” Stark said. “To leave those important memories with the child, you need to understand the importance of being a positive influence and to really know how to be involved in the child’s life.

To learn about upcoming Grandparents Seminars, go to

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