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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships 55    

November 2006

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 as we pass our half-way markers. 

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. 


Grandparent’s longing

Dear Maggi,

I have been searching the web for a solution to a problem concerning my grandchildren, and I found the laterlife website. I think it looks fantastic. I shall visit it regularly and tell my friends about it.

We are both feeling sad and worried, as we have not seen two of our four grandchildren for almost a year. We used to see them often but that has stopped. The visits were always at our instigation. This isn’t a healthy situation in the family and I don’t know what to do.
Mrs A.S

Dear Mrs AS, Thank you for your kind words about the website, I’m sure everyone involved will be pleased that you are spreading the word.

But to your problem…

Memories for My Grandchild

How hard it is for grandparents - and grandchildren too - to lose contact with each other. Grandparents have a very special role in a child’s development. We do not have the responsibility for everyday childcare, the preparation of meals, planning out of school activities or choosing and paying for holidays. We are not the ones who say if the child can or cannot go on a play-date or have an expensive new toy.

Grandparents just are. We can be there whenever the child wants a bit of company for themselves or someone neutral to talk to. We can sit for ages helping to make a cardboard model or a jigsaw puzzle and listen to chatter at the same time.

The child who has grandparents nearby is a fortunate child. The bond is deep in a different way to that of parent and child. It in no way detracts from the love for a parent – it is simply a different relationship.

For a while I was a little jealous watching my own mum be warm, cuddly and giggly with my sons, remembering that my relationship with her had been tense and fraught with conflict. I eventually realised why and felt pleased for my boys and for my mother.

She could play and show affection with them, as she didn’t have the added pressures and worries that most parents struggle to balance while trying to do the best for their child. She had time and a quietness that was not available when I was small. I longed for a grandparent. All of mine had died very young so I decided to adopt the old ‘Gramps’ from next door.

Gramps spent his days gardening or sitting on a bench in the sun in his waistcoat and braces, smoking a pipe and telling me tales. I loved the strong smell of him, earth and pipe tobacco. He was only there for two years but his image is clear in my mind to this day, decades on. For a brief period I felt the security of an elderly friend and he deepened my love and respect of the people and ways of the countryside.

Grandparents do not have to be anything other than what they are. Children draw close if you can listen to them with interest, be excited in their tales and games and spend time with them. Grand-parenting is a pleasure for us, and provides a vital link and stability for the child.

I wonder if your son or daughter realises the important role you have played and have still to play in the welfare of their children? The relationship between the children and you is not to do with their parents but a personal bond between them and you. Parents need to respect the child’s wishes and affection for you.

Is there any way you could talk things through with them without blame or accusation?

  • Try telling them how much you treasure time with the little ones and how important you feel it is for the children to have the choice of contact.

  • Acknowledge how hard their struggle to run their family must be.

  • If you are physically able to have the children occasionally, offer, explaining it is your way of trying to support them.

  • Ask if there is anything you can do to make the visits easier for the parents, i.e. you travel to collect the kids for a few days to give them some time together, or perhaps offer to house and child-mind while they take a break.

  • Stick to their routines and patterns in their house and promise not to over indulge the kids when they are in your care. So no buying loads of sweet or gifts and no late night tv if they are only tiny– you will need that time for yourselves!

  • Perhaps the young parents are so stretched that they find having guests to stay too stressful. If that is so, offer to visit but say you’ll find a guesthouse nearby so that they don’t have to rush around making up beds, etc.

  • Keep visits short, a few days is better than a week if they want to get on with things. A short but happy visit is much better to remember than one that drags on with awkwardness marring it.

  • Never, but never, criticise their parenting. They live in a different age and have their own way of doing things. It is hard to resist at times, I admit, but so long as our grandchildren are not being mis-treated, we have no right to interfere.

The best we can do is to always keep the channels of communication open with our grandchildren. As the years go by they will swing between wanting to be with us as much as possible and not contacting us for months, but the love we show them is a constant in their lives that gives them a deeper sense of self-worth and belonging. It is never forgotten.


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

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