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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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After reading the article and all of the comments, I am counting my blessings! From the time my grandchildren were born through high school, we had dinner as a family one night a week (they called it Nana Night). They made Nana Night a sacred night they rarely missed; bringing their girlfriends with them as they got older. Little did I know that spending quality time with them while they were young was building healthy relationships with them into adulthood. Two of my grandchildren now have children of their own and again, my husband and I have weekly dinners/outing with their families. I’m so grateful we lived close by during their childhoods and we built strong bonds as part of their upbringing. Forging those relationships throughout each of their childhoods has resulted in strong relationships through the next generation. I am truly sad for grandparents who long for stronger relationships with their grandchildren. I pray for healing, restoration and peace in your lives.

Sandra Schuck

I moved close to my daughter after retirement to be close to my grand children. I’m 15 minutes away and see them once a week on Wednesdays when I babysit to keep the daycare expenses down.

I didn’t have a great upbringing but my grandmothers saved me, loved me unconditionally and because of them I was able to succeed. They were everything to me. Guess I expected some of the same. My daughters in-laws have much more time with them than me.

Last edited 3 months ago by Sandra Schuck

I am sad every day. Coping is very difficult for me. I do not know how to ease my pain.

Ann Richardson

Rene, I am not a therapist or a doctor or anyone who can help you but I am very concerned for your welfare. There is probably a lot that could help you, but you need to ask someone nearby for that help. I would strongly urge you to discuss this with your doctor. Please, please talk to a person and not just a website.


I totally understand your situation as mine is very similar. I try to understand the different lives and generations to help me. Thank you for sharing.


I am a grandmother of four granddaughters and they do live in my same town. Their life is very very busy and active so I don’t have a lot of quality time unless I go to their games. I’m trying to understand the difference in when I grow up and how things are now with kids and trying to be more understanding. Any shares would be very helpful.


Tracy, you sound like me. I have 3 grown grandkids, 2 girls and 1boy. We live in the same city but I don’t see them as much as I would love to. I too think about when I was a young lady and how much I saw my grand parents. If I wasn’t calling, I was physically dropping by their house. This generation is so different from us.

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: http://annrichardson.co.uk.

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