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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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You should all watch my video that I made for my daughter when she stopped me from seeing my grandson with no explanation. It has been three years now. If this has happened to you, be aware you’ll probably cry. The poem that the video is about, I wrote, is not hateful until the end, and then it is not that it is hateful, it is that I lost not only my grandson, but my daughter as well. I believe there were signs all along indicating she was capable of doing this to me, I just chose not to see it.


Overworked grandmothers:
I once worked with a woman who retired and I asked her what were her plans
in retirement. She said “Oh, my daughter wants me babysit” with a sigh. I thought that is not fair. I thought this was her time. Sometimes, yes all the time, no.
My mother baby sat my nephew briefly early in her retirement but when it limited her activities, she ended it.

My gran came over everyday growing up as my mother worked.
As for me, no children nor grandchildren.

If this is what a grandparent wants to do, fine but some parents
think that babysitting in retirement is automatic. Some women I
worked with kept working so they would not have to deal.


Hi Anne,
Thank you for writing about the different circumstances that grandparents may experience. It was helpful for me just to see the written words describing these situations. Our daughter is married to a spoiled, narcissistic, arrogant and disrespectful man with an anger management problem. Although we would like to spend time with our 5 and 6 year old grandsons and our daughter, his presence is difficult to tolerate. We find ourselves limiting the occasions on which we visit and the amount of time we spend with them when we do visit. Again, just knowing there are other grandparents experiencing many different types of complications makes me feel less alone. Thank you!

Ann Richardson

Thank you! It’s always good to hear that my writing helps.That is always the intention. SixtyandMe is a very positive place and tends to want articles with solutions to problems. But I am of the view that some problems are not solvable, yet it is nonetheless helpful to know that someone understands.


I have to say I am very happy I did not have children, hence no grandchildren. I had a very chaotic childhood and no wish to replicate it. I empathize with these hurt feelings around families not being inclusive or considering your feelings. So, in my case, the responsibility lies squarely with me to find adequate company and the good life I seek.

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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