AARP Eye Center
Grandparenting should be slurping ice cream, cheering at Saturday morning soccer games, and teaching a child to ride a bicycle, bake a cake or use a rod and reel.
But some people can’t enjoy these simple pleasures with their children’s children. They’re restricted when it comes to spending time with the kids. Children’s parents are the gatekeepers who decide how much access grandparents have to grandchildren, and sometimes family feuds mean that access gets limited.
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The impact on a banished grandparent can be loneliness, hurt, shame, blame and stigma from others who wonder what the older person did to “mess up [their] child,” says Megan Dolbin-MacNab, an associate professor at Virginia Tech who has studied grandparenting for more than 20 years and is a marriage and family therapist.
Imagine lunching with friends who show off the latest photos of their grandkids — something that could trigger jealousy. “It’s incredibly painful,” Dolbin-MacNab says. “It is loss, it is grief…. It could be embarrassment.”
Causes of estrangement
Issues large and small can launch a cold war between the generations.
Divorce and remarriage, or a parent’s death, can lead to bad blood. Or a disapproving daughter-in-law or son-in-law might slam the door shut on a grandparent for their own reasons.
Those reasons could range from seemingly minor disputes about junk food or screen time to larger disagreements over COVID-19 vaccines and masks, parenting techniques, politics, religion or sexual orientation, Dolbin-MacNab says.
Around the world, grandparents are valued for their practical, emotional and financial support, she says, and as people live longer, relationships with grandchildren can last decades. Older folks can be caregivers, family historians, role models and mentors.