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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - 10

It could be you.... 

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet in later life.

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.  

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.


So good when they go 

Maggi Stamp, laterlife's counsellor on human relationships, tells how becoming grandparents caused conflict for Mary and Ed

Being a grandparent offers many joys and rewards, but it's not a role everyone welcomes.

What about those who have quietly heaved a sigh of relief when their own children have flown the nest? Those who have no desire whatsoever to get back into nappy changing, lifting, carrying, peacemaking and pacifying, messy eating, tantrums and toys strewn all over the floor?

Becoming grandparents caused conflict for Mary and Ed, both of whom had looked forward with relish to the time they could decide on the spur of the moment to take a break without having to consider others. When youngest son Terry left home they enjoyed this new lifestyle immensely. Mary picked up on her teaching career on a 'supply' basis, standing in for absent staff. Ed's business kept him busy and active, but he could hand over to his partner whenever he and Mary felt they wanted a holiday.

The problem, inevitably, was how much and when to take care of the grandchildren. Son Terry and his wife Jane had assumed that as Mary was not working full time she would automatically want to be involved with the care of the little ones. It meant that Jane could return to work when their child was two and Mary, not wanting to disappoint, agreed to care for Jess, a strong-minded little girl, two days a week. She assumed it would only be a temporary measure until the young family made a different arrangement.

It didn't happen. Jess, centre of attention until the arrival of baby Marcus, had become rather demanding and bossy. When Jane talked of returning to work a few months after he was born, Mary dreaded being asked if she would have Marcus too. She began to feel weighed down by responsibility.

Ed, though less involved, worried about Mary. She was tired from her baby-minding, and reluctant to go out in the evening or away at the weekend. He tried to talk to her about it but the conversation became a trigger for arguments in their otherwise happy relationship.

Eventually this ended in an awful row. Ed was shocked by the strength of feeling expressed by Mary as she poured out her thoughts about their family. She said she felt taken for granted, that Ed, Terry and Jane assumed she would want to be there, to be 'useful' as if she had no ambition left of her own.  

Though she felt guilty and disloyal, she admitted that she didn't altogether like her little grandchild. She felt Jess was a manipulative, over-indulged, bad mannered little girl and if they weren't careful the baby would be as much hard work as his big sister. In her tired and worried state she looked to the future and saw her own dreams disappearing. Ed was puzzled at why she had said nothing before, and felt angry 'that she could say such things'. It was he who suggested that they might seek outside help.

When they came to see me, we spent some time talking about Ed and Mary's experiences of parenting. They reminisced about their own childhood and who had cared for them. What emerged were several significant differences. 

  • Their own parents, now deceased, had no expectations or ambitions outside the family, certainly not enough to start new things in their late fifties/early sixties.

  • For Ed and Mary, this time of life had been a long anticipated crossroads. A time for travel, exploring personal ambitions and enjoying leisure time together.

  • Jess's behaviour was not something either felt at ease with and Terry and Jane's parenting style was very different to Ed and Mary's.
At this point a 'Can and Can`t Do' list began to take shape

Ed and Mary can't carry on this way - but together they can talk with Terry and Jane. Neither wished to hurt, offend or cause problems - but they can explain that although they care about their grandchildren, their own plans no longer leave space for the present childcare arrangement and they wish to give them time to find another arrangement.

They can't say 'we only want to see the children once a week' - but they can be much more open and flexible about their other plans, telling everyone when they want to end a visit, or miss a visit.

They can't tell Terry and Jane they are raising their children wrongly  (they aren't, they're just doing it differently) but they can let them know of their concern over Jess's behaviour.

They can't tell the young parents what to do - but they can have a few ideas ready if asked - e.g. 'I wonder if so-and-so might help' or  'Is it worth trying this for a while?' or 'I found this book the other day, it could be helpful'.

They can't mention the last two things if the earlier 'can do's' have been received badly, but they can hold onto them and mention them at a later date.

Ed and Mary only needed a couple of sessions to help sort out their situation, but they left feeling things were in their control. Mary wrote later to say that Ed was now much more understanding of her position, their news though a surprise, was accepted by Jess's parents who expressed relief that someone else had noticed what was also worrying them.

Recommended Books

There are several childcare books which have very helpful sections on grandparenting as well as providing a wealth of ideas, support and insight into child behaviour which would be worth looking into for both parents and grandparents.

Green, Dr Christopher:  Toddler Training
Vermilion - £9.99

Martyn, Elizabeth:  Baby Shock: a Relationship Survival Guide
Relate/Vermilion - £7.99

Hogg, Tracy, with Melinda Blau: Secrets of the Baby Whisperer; for toddlers.
Vermilion £9.99

And for parents, on having a second child,  Abrams, Rebecca: 3 Shoes,1 Sock and No Hairbrush.
Cassell & Co. £9.99

Please don't send any confidential information to

To view previous articles  - see the Relationship Counselling & Advice Index page  



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