When the reality of being a grandparent doesn’t live up to expectation
You see it everywhere: being a grandparent is the most amazing thing in the world. It’s magical! transformative! rewarding! You’ll instantly love this child of your child, in a way you couldn’t have dreamed possible.
But what if that’s not how you feel?
What if that rush of love you’ve been told to expect doesn’t happen? You look at this baby who you’ve been waiting for months to meet, and you feel…underwhelmed. You are not the first grandparent who isn’t immediately enamored of this stranger.
Or maybe you did feel that rush of emotion initially, but as the months have gone by, you are put off by the baby’s temperament—or even by their looks. You are not the first grandparent to be reluctant to admit to yourself that you don’t really like this child.
Or maybe you find it hard to feel deep emotion for a grandchild you’ve rarely (or maybe never) seen because of distance. You are not the first grandparent to find you’re missing out on the magical rewards you were promised—and maybe you don’t even feel cheated.
Or maybe you do dearly love your grandchild, but you discover you can’t tolerate the noise and mess that comes with them. You are not the first grandparent to wish you could just love them from afar.
If one of these scenarios sounds familiar, you may be feeling guilty. Or even, as one grandparent confided to me, broken. Since we’ve been told that we should feel ecstatic about our role as grandparents, to feel anything less must mean something is wrong with us, right?
First of all, admitting that you feel guilty is actually a sign that you do care. You care enough to wish things were different, and that opens the possibility that your feelings may be different someday. If you want things to change, don’t be hard on yourself while you wait for that change to happen. It may be something that time resolves naturally.
Grandchildren grow and change at an alarming pace, and whatever is putting you off now will likely not always be true. That horrible squinty face may soften into a lovely grin—or you may learn to love it when they start to talk and tell you that you are their “best fwend”. The tantrum-throwing two-year-old will someday be a six-year-old who has the patience for the adventures you imagined.
Facetime with a baby is a difficult way to form a relationship, but as they get older and can interact with you over the distance, you may suddenly realize that you look forward to your video chats because you adore your grandchild.
The noisy, messy toddlers and preschoolers will be replaced by quieter, neater children as they age. You may just need to limit visits until they become more civilized. You may be the grandparent who connects deeply once they are teenagers.
Time may be the answer, but it’s not a guarantee. And if it really matters to you, you don’t have to wait.
If you want to improve your relationship with your grandchild, do so. If it is important to you, it’s possible! You are the only one who can—it’s neither your child nor your grandchild’s responsibility. You’ll have to find a way to connect and reset your feelings.
How to change your relationship with your grandchild in two minutes a day
Repeating kind words to ourselves such as “May you be well,” “May you be happy,” “May you be healthy,” etc., infuse a deep sense of self-worth instantaneously. During loving-kindness meditation, all we need to do is commit to some dedicated moments of appreciation, gratitude, and encouragement, first to ourselves and then to others. Positive Psychology
Though it sounds too easy to be of any value, one of the most effective ways to feel closer to your grandchild is through the practice of loving-kindness meditation. Compelling research on this short, simple meditation shows it produces positive, long-lasting emotions such as empathy and affection. There are multiple benefits beyond improving relationships, including reduced pain, less self-criticism, and more resilience. It's an excellent first step to improving your relationships. Read more about loving-kindness meditation here.
How to connect with grandchildren despite distance
I’ve often mentioned The Long Distance Grandparent Society, which provides a blueprint for connecting with grandchildren from afar. It’s geared towards grandchildren age 2-10, but it’s worth looking into now if your grandchildren are younger so you are ready when the time comes. I also have some ideas for video chat games for the very young in this post. The connection will grow if you put in the effort and commit to consistency.
Seek expert guidance
If there are deeper issues preventing you from enjoying your grandchild, you may want to seek the advice of a family therapist. Having a professional listener is a valuable way to resolve issues that are causing you pain.
Being a grandparent can be the best thing in the world, but there is nothing wrong with you if you don’t feel that way. Life is full of other fabulous adventures, and it’s up to you to choose the ones you want to embrace.