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The Painful Truth About Unhappy Grandmothers

By Ann Richardson August 03, 2023 Family

There are many happy grandmothers about. I know; I am one of them. We play with the kids, we bore our friends by talking about how wonderful they are, and we generally feel very pleased with the way grandchildren have enhanced our lives.

But what about the unhappy grandmothers? Those who cannot see their grandchildren much – or at all. Those for whom the occasional visit is a painful experience due to complex family relationships. Let us pause for a moment and think about them. Perhaps you are one of them.

Distant Grandchildren

The least complicated scenario is where the grandchildren live far away. People are so mobile nowadays, they think nothing of traversing a continent for a new or better job. This leaves a lot of bereft grandmothers. Women in California whose grandchildren are in New England, women in London whose grandchildren are in Australia – it goes on and on.

Of course, there is Zoom and all the equivalent apps that allow us to see the grandchildren grow from a distance. We can talk to them on a regular basis and keep up with their new pets or toys or hair styles. As discussed in more detail by grandmothers in my book, it is never the same as actually holding them in our arms.

And then we can travel to see them or vice versa. Airports are full of eager older people, often women, clutching presents on the way out and holding back tears on the way home. It will ever be so.

Difficult Families

A more difficult case is where families are in a state of conflict for immediate or past wrongs and the grandmothers are not welcomed. Sometimes, they can visit but only occasionally or under very specific conditions. Sometimes they are refused access completely, such as when there has been an acrimonious separation or divorce.

It may also be the case that you can visit, but it is painful to do so because your son or daughter’s marital relationship is so difficult that being around them is highly unpleasant. You want to go, but you don’t enjoy the time there due to bickering or uneasy silences. How can you enjoy the grandchildren in such circumstances?

Overworked Grandmothers

There is yet another scenario where grandmothers have taken on a great deal of childcare and find it difficult to manage. With too much access, rather than too little, this is a different situation altogether and requires a post all of its own.

Ways Forward

I wish I could offer easy solutions. I wish I could make relationships easier, whether people live close or far. All I can say here is that, whatever the difficulties of your circumstances, you are not alone. There are many others living with similar pain and some organisations committed to helping you. It is well worth checking what is available near where you live.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you live very distant from your grandchildren? Do you have family problems limiting your access to your grandchildren? What do you do to cope? Please share your thoughts and experiences with the Sixty and Me community.

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Catherine Vance

Showing up for their activities helps, if you can. My parents were at every concert, sporting event, and so on. Even if you only get a quick hug, or a quick lunch after an event, it matters. It’s part of letting go of them just as you let go of your own kids. You move into the bleachers or the margins, but you never go away.


What about the older generation who haven’t been blessed with any Grandchildren? I find myself recently widowed with one daughter who lives at the other side of the world, with no intention of having children. Not only am I losing out on the happiness of having youngsters driving me mad but also I will have to spoon feed myself in my dotage! It just Me, myself and I. Ha! Ain’t life grand?

Catherine Vance

Oh my goodness! There are adopt-a-grandchild organizations,
mentorship programs, foster parent programs, churches and youth
organizations who LOVE the senior generation to help. My mother
“Granny Annie” has so many non-biological grandchildren because
she is loving and reaches out to those who NEED HER instead of
her feeling sorry for herself and thinking of HER unmet needs. She is
surrounded by loving youngsters because she GIVES love and does
not let it be limited to DNA or other family bonds. A recent church I
attended, the person in charge of the acolytes was 80+ and she reminded
me of a beloved mother hen with all her little chicks!

Shirley Bennett

Oh my goodness! It’s going to be difficult for people to feel confident to share their feelings and disappointments if responses show so little empathy!

Ann Richardson

Sue, I would never suggest that this covers everything you might want, but I did write about this issue very recently. See

Ann Richardson

Yvette, these things do happen, especially when kids are particularly adept at making friends. It happened to me with one of my grandsons – I didn’t live so close, but he was always busy with friends or various after school activities and there were long periods when we didn’t see him. You just have to be pleased for them. Best wishes to you.


What was the point of this article? It just listed a variety of ways we can be sad grandparents, with absolutely no effort to share thoughts or ideas on how to cope,


I agree I have tried everything but nothing seems to work.
I see friends with there families and it seems so easy.
i persecute myself as to what I’ve done wrong when I ask I’m told there’s nothing wrong but very few phone calls .
its painful and I fear I will become more isolated
as I’ve got older it’s harder as older people seem to rely on family more and it hurts
so I’m with you Anita

Ann Richardson

To Anita and Irene and anyone else with sadness of this kind. I am very very sorry that I have no magical solution to this very difficult problem. I wrote the article because I thought it might help some women to see that they were not alone, which can be a source of support on its own.

Families differ so much in the ways in which they interact and I agree it can look easy from the outside. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t, but I know it is incredibly complicated and hard when it doesn’t work out.

We all have to find our own solutions to sadness – it may be religion, it may be talking to a friend or counsellor or it may be devoting yourself to some new activity that makes you feel needed (volunteering?). You may need to be more pro-active than you are used to, but there are so many people out there seeking warmth with others. There are even families with no grandmothers who would love to welcome someone into the adopted role.

I wish you all good luck in finding a good way forward.


Thank you for this article. It helped to know I am not the only one being kept from her grands for arbitrary reasons.

Mercene Shogren

You forgot those of us who are raising our grandkids or have them living with us with their parent and we don’t get to be a grand parent because we are still raising them. Instead we are just bitter and exhausted and wanting to live alone.

Ann Richardson

Thank you for the comment. I did mention the grandmothers with too much childcare and do think you need a post devoted to the issue, as it is so very different. I can well understand your wish to have some time to yourself. Good luck!


Hi Mercene, I have every sympathy. After my divorce, I let my daughter and son-in -law move in with me, thinking I would be less lonely. Now I’m run off my feet with housework and two young children and feel more lonely than ever. I long to be a grandma who’s excited to see her grandchildren!

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The Author

Ann Richardson’s most popular book, The Granny Who Stands on Her Head, offers a series of reflections on growing older. Subscribe to her free Substack newsletter, where she writes fortnightly on any subject that captures her imagination. Ann lives in London, England with her husband of sixty years. Please visit her website for information on all her books:

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