The fear of becoming irrelevant to your grandchildren

My friend Betty and I recently caught up for coffee. We’re both in our late 60s, both grandparents, both with
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My friend Betty and I recently caught up for coffee. We’re both in our late 60s, both grandparents, both with grandchildren who are in primary school or very early high school. We’ve been friends for a long time and for so long we’ve had very similar opinions on many things and similar outlooks on life. But the biggest difference we’ve had is how we’ve “done” grandparenting.

While chatting she told me that she fears becoming irrelevant in her grandchildren’s lives as she and they, get older. The more I think about it, the more I realise that this is probably not an isolated issue. As our grandchildren grow up, how do we stay relevant to them and involved in their lives – of course without overstepping the mark?

Betty gave me permission to write this article because after she revealed this to me she explained in further detail and we realised that perhaps her story could help others.

When her grandchildren were young she wasn’t as involved in their lives. She wasn’t fussed on being “used” and rightly so – with four kids she had done her share of the hard stuff! She would only babysit once a year or so on principle – she didn’t have regular babysitting help so why should she offer that to her kids? She factored their sporting carnivals, music festivals and drama performances into her life only when it suited her and waited to be told about them instead of asking and expressing an interest.

Betty jokingly called herself a “convenience grandparent” and would laugh about how she only had time to grandparent when it suited her social schedule. But now that attitude seems to be coming back to bite her.

While we spoke we realised just how important those early years are in shaping the grandparent-grandchild relationship. If you’re not there for them regularly, if you don’t express an interest in their lives and give them the love and attention that is required to build a meaningful relationship, it seems likely that they won’t be interested in suddenly starting that kind of relationship later on.

Betty told me that she feels like she’ll forever be the “distant” grandma who is too busy with her own social agenda and who prefers talking to the parents instead of the grandkids and this worries her.

The fear of becoming irrelevant in your grandchild’s life is a very real concern and I think that the only thing to prevent it is having a constant, loving, supportive presence in the lives of your grandchildren from an early age.

If you think about it, their early years are when they are taught right from wrong, what they don’t like and what they do like, who to trust and who not to trust. So if we don’t become important to them then, it’s unlikely we’ll ever become important later on.

This may create a harsh image of Betty and she is a lovely woman who doesn’t deserve harsh criticism. There is no right or wrong way to grandparent but if someone can learn from Betty’s story, then it’s a story worth sharing.

How have you shaped your relationship with your grandchildren? Do you share the same fears that Betty does? Or perhaps how have you prevented them? Tell us in the comments below…

  1. I was very involved in my grandchildrens life
    Had regular babysitting jobs. We had the most wonderful time together. They always said your the best grandma ever. I knew my son and his wife were taking advantage of me. I continued i loved them so much. I always had this little thought that when the kids were older i wouldnt see them as they wouldnt need. And sure enough thats what happened. Havent had a family relationship with them now for ten yrs. I have asked countless times how can we fix this situation. Evetytime i asked this question i was bombarded with abuse. For the first five yrs i had contact with my grandchildren. But now i have no contact what so ever. It is a very sad situation. I never thought it woulld have been so bad. But saying this i dont regret the time i spent with my grandkids at least i have beautiful memories that no one can take away. I thought id always have contact with the kids but no thats the most disappoiinting.

    • Noelene Davey  

      Catherine Hay i know just how you feel, i cannot understand the children of today, I just loved my grandparents, i would ring my nan most days and visit her once a week and have dinner with her, I never wanted to leave them, but today they dont seem to care a lot. Sometimes i think its they way they have been brought up today although my son is a very careing person and always visits his grandparents when his in melbourne. Let me know if you find an answer.

    • Jill Rayment-Williams  

      Catherine, your grandchildren will remember you with great affection. When they become adults and have control over their own lives they can arrange to see you. Are they old enough to be on Facebook? Are you on FB. A lot of people knock it but it could be a way to connect.

    • Vivien  

      I can sympathise with you Catherine as the very same thing happened to me without any explanation as to why. It hurts so much.

  2. Noelene Davey  

    I came to Canberra to be near my son and i helped get my granddaughter from Squash to hockey, visa versa, and was there when ever i was needed and i enjoyed being part of her life, but unfortunately she forgets all that, and through some little tiff we had, she now does not want to be a part of my life, she has been quite nasty to me at times and has no reepect. Lots i could write, but i will die with a broken heart over this girl as she is my only grandchild. Do not know how i can rectify the problem just hope one day she will learn respect and realize what people have done for her.

    • Bill Dyer  

      It’s sad. In my case my son stopped me from any contact with my grandchildren.
      Initially it was you can’t say this or that, then it was being put down in front of them and now it’s no contact at all.

      I think that it’s the outcome of the me generation and not anything to do with us at all.

      I’ll only remember those in my will who are kind to me. To heck with the rest.

  3. bernadette  

    this relationship is harder to establish when your grandchildren live soooo far away that you only get them once or twice a year. skype is a poor alternative cause not all children get let alone their parents.

  4. Cass Cunnane  

    I flew to the other side of the world to be part of my grandchildrens lives. I get overwhelmed by the love that I feel from them. It’s hard to keep up energy levels they are so active, at two and six year old.
    My daughter has her own business, own house, good husband and although very busy , great lifestyle. Without Grandma this would not have been possible.
    I sleep very well each night, and thank God for my blessings X

  5. I’ve been heavily involved in my grandchildrens lives and while it can be taxing it can be the most enriching experience. I love them all so much but I know that as they grow up and I age they will slowly pull away. They will come to see my caution as restricting and my ideas as old fashioned. I know they will always love me and I them and they’ll always know I am here for them. I think pulling away is a normal progression. They’ll still want a hug now and then, praise when they’ve done well, a chat when they haven’t but I will matter less as they go out to discover and experience the world around them and I’m content with that.

    • Darrell Warrington  

      Very sensible attitude.

      • Pauline Belshaw  

        I take that view too, my little guy is only 3 and I am going to enjoy as much as I can, as once he gets friends and his own mind, I will be old and boring to him. I am just so glad my girl now has her own little family.

      • Maya  

        This is how I see it too.
        I had both my granddaughters (cousins) separately every week for a day including overnight stay. Best 5 years of my life without doubt. I just love them to the moon and back. The love and joy I am getting from them is unbelievable. We are very very close. The older granddaughter just finished prep, so she was in school in the past year. I still had her often and she spent a week with us during every school holidays. I took her on holidays since she was 3 every year.
        My second granddaughter and I have the same strong bond. She will come to her first holiday with me soon. She staying with me every week and overnight.
        I am very very lucky because both my daughter-in-laws encourages and supports our relationships with my granddaughters and they are very grateful for the help. I treasure their support. I am always saying: are you coming to spend time with GM & GD in grandma’s house? I never call it baby sitting. Our times together is so so precious. Love them dearly.
        I don’t think they will ever forget our times together. As they grow older, I am sure I will see less of them, however the bond will be always there. 💕💕

  6. Diana  

    My grandchildren are all very young, but I work very hard at building a relationship with them. I call to talk to them and send them letters in the mail. I spend time with them as often as I can. I fuss over their artwork and other creations. I give them gifts that reflect what THEY are interested in. I send them Snapchats of me being silly, and I take their pictures. I read them books and sit with them on my lap so I can get them talking about their lives. It isn’t always easy, but I agree that establishing those bonds when they are young are the only thing that gives you a chance at a close relationship when they’re older. Note that my grandmothers never did this, nor did my mother for my kids, but they were not faced with a world that was so full of distractions for the kids either. Even if my grandkids pull away when they get older, I’ll still call them, write them and send them silly Snapchats. I want them to know that they are important to me, even if I’m not the center of their lives. I never feel “used” when asked to babysit. I feel honored. (It helps that my kids don’t abuse the privilege.) When my life is over, I want them to know that I loved them with all my heart, and I want them to tell their children about how much their Nana adored them.

    • Desiree Osborne  

      Thanks for sharing. I love the idea of sending them letters! God bless you.

    • You, like I, have put in the effort and your grandchildren will always have time in their life for you. With my great grandchildren, I post them random little items, and they love getting mail addressed them as did their parents when they were little. Love flow over distance,,I lived overseas for teen years so missed grandchildren but we kept in contact and the bonds were never broken. I visited a few times and my eldest grandson could not wait to take me for a spin in his sports car that he bought and restored. Was lighted to have him and his wife ask me to ke christening outfit for thr first baby and thrilled to have him phone and ask my advice about things. When healthy bonds are made, they are never severed.

  7. Elizabeth  

    The role and the road of a grandparent can be both wonderful and exhausting. To keep the connection going you have to work hard at it. Not so difficult when they are young, but as has been said in other posts, they start to move on as they get older., with outside interests consuming their time. Parents too, can often encourage them to not need Nana so much, which is really sad. Because the kids are more adult and interesting, the parents often suddenly want more of their company, forgetting how they couldn’t wait to farm them out to Nana and grandad as Littlies. But if the ground work has been done, they never totally go away from your life. Put effort in for life long returns and you must surely have success. A good grandchild/ grandparent relationship is an awesome blessing.

  8. Dianne Evans  

    I have loved and been as involved with all my Granchildren as much as I can. I do not expect payback I did it because I wanted to and it gave me fun laughter love and great joy. I have 8 Granchildren and they range in age from 23 down to 8 years I do things I would not do otherwise. I just love them full stop no matter what. I do not expect them to be like me and if I do give them any advice I do not expect them to take it and run with it they live their own lives.I am happy a lot of people have told me over the years I do to much for them but I did it because I could and I wanted to. Time and fun parks and surf and games and just laughter together. And they all know one thing Nana and Grandad love them all.

    • Lyn Hassall  

      I love your attitude, Dianne, and feel the same. I see my grandchildren as much as possible but I don’t expect payback. This time is precious. I won’t regret, although I might miss them and I won’t expect, although it would be nice.

  9. Vicki Allison  

    A lot depends on the parents of the children if they are encouraging surely that makes a difference.My son and his wife have been keeping my first and only grandson away from me preventing me from having any kind of relationship with him at all, so gone are my hopes of babysitting him and being part of anything happening in his life. I am more than ready to do the school pickup, sports day, end of year play at school thing but alas I fear that it will never happen. This is not what how I saw my grandparent experience playing out, so so hurt and don’t really know why this has happened.

    • Perhaps they mmaay not wat you too feel used? All to them, tell them yooou would love to be involved. We thhildren have sporting and school events, ask ffortheto let you know soon can go and cheer them on. Ask if you can take them to a park or zoo etc for special outings. My grandchildren loved the special outings we had together when they were title.

  10. Elizabeth  

    My attitude was different to Betty’s. We lived in Australia when our daughter was born and all her grandparents lived in NZ. Raising her without family around to help was hard and I vowed then it wouldn’t happen that way for her – I saw my grandchildren (all three of them) every day from the day they were born until they moved away two years ago at 6, 4 & 3 and we became Grey Nomads – we still see them for as many important occasions as we can and feel very much a part of their lives. I know they will grow away, but hope that they will always be aware of how much they are loved. And our youngest grandson gives the most gorgeous cuddles 🙂

  11. Jennifer  

    Due family circumstances’, my daughter ceased contact with me for three years’.
    She only re-contacted as ‘forced’ to by a couple of good friends’ of mine who said she must let me know she was expecting my Grandchild.

    She did this, March’15, at minus two months’ from the birth. We’d been having a lovely ‘catch-up’, when, out of the blue, in Sept’16, she decided to cease contact with me again.

    So I’ve just had THE most miserable of Xmas’s, NOT seeing my children, or my Grandchild. She ignores any Emails’ I send her. I’ve asked for photos’. Ignored.

    My son, too, I last saw Mother’s Day his year, only at the behest of my daughter. Other than that he doesn’t see me from one year’s end to the next.

    I’ve no idea what I’m going to do.

    The loneliness, sadness, & anger I feel is palpable.

    • Perhaps you need to open communication and ask what has been the problem? What is preventing you from visiting to get. it sorted?

    • Bill Dyer  

      So sorry for you.

      It is an evil thing to be written out of your children’s lives. I know.
      It seems that most will only show an interest at the reading of the will.

      My suggestion is to become a volunteer and as you give you will be loved in turn by a number of people as they transit through your life.

      You will live forever in their hearts and minds and by your generous spirit.

  12. elfa lerae  

    My grand daughter is the only person in the whole world who has ever gasped when they see me. I commented on this now everyone does it when I turn up ( as a joke) . But it was a sobering thought. Haha….

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