How to Cope With Losing Contact With Grandchildren

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Your adult children move hundreds of miles away. You have a disagreement with your son’s wife. Your daughter doesn’t like your input on raising her children. Whatever the situation, you find yourself cut out of your grandchildren’s lives, and processing all the emotions that come with being estranged.

Research shows that 43% of grandparents say they travel over 200 miles to see their grandchild who lives the furthest from them. Travel time, however, is not the only challenge to being a part of a grandchild’s life. Strained family relationships, feuds, and even religious differences can have an impact.

Accepting the challenges, coping with the reality of the situation, and working to develop a resolution can give you hope as you attempt to reconnect with your grandchildren. Here are some ideas for gaining perspective as you work toward reestablishing a relationship.

What Is Grandparent Estrangement?

Separation from grandchildren in a physical, mental, and emotional sense can lead to grandparent estrangement.

“It’s a situation in which grandparents are not allowed, denied, blocked, [or] prevented from seeing their grandchildren or engaging with their grandchildren,” explains Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist and program coordinator at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center. 

When that relationship is diminished in a grandparent’s life, it can create a sense of loss. Experts say experiencing grief is normal. “It’s like the loss of the future and the excitement you planned with your grandchild," says family therapist Amanda K. Lopez, LMFT, in Vista, Calif. "[There’s also] a lot of sadness, a lot of anger, hurt, heartache, isolation, and loneliness."

Over 70% of grandparents surveyed by AARP said they enjoy their role as a grandparent. Many noted that being connected to their grandchildren gave them needed mental and emotional support. Being separated from that sense of joy sparked by a relationship with a grandchild can be tough.

Why Grandparent Estrangement Happens

Separation from grandchildren can happen incidentally; for example, the grandchildren live a significant distance from the grandparent, and travel is difficult or too expensive. Other times the adult parents deliberately decide to separate their child from one or more grandparents. No matter the reason, separations often cause a rift for everyone involved. Here are some of the primary reasons estrangement takes place.

Childhood Trauma

When an adult has experienced any type of childhood abuse at the hands of a parent, they want to protect the children from the same traumatic experience. Experts say this is often a reason for grandparent estrangement.

“The parents of the children have, perhaps, unresolved trauma, unresolved feelings, and relationship issues with their own parents and then they don’t want to impose that on their children,” Dr. Mendez notes.

Different Belief Systems

Many parents raise their children with a specific religious belief system and tend to want their now-adult child to raise their grandchildren with the same set of beliefs. If that doesn’t happen, it can cause a rift. Research shows that close to 20% of Americans who were raised with a certain religion say they no longer practice it.

Divorce

When a marriage dissolves, a lack of communication can set in. “Separation, marital conflicts, and divorce all can be a big issue,” states Dr. Mendez. “The issue might be the one parent that has custody most of the time won’t allow [grandparent visits].”

One partner may also be afraid that the grandparents may take sides or talk negatively to the children about their parents. It can create a messy situation.

How to Cope

When a grandparent is cut off from a relationship that they cherished, they may feel like they have no choice in the matter. Finding ways to cope in the midst of loss is key.

“The first step is always to be aware of how you feel, to acknowledge it. It’s sad," says Lopez. "If you want to be involved in your grandchildren’s lives and you’re not, that’s devastating."

After acknowledging your feelings, consider exploring other fulfilling pursuits as you try to come to peace with the situation or take steps to remedy it.

Nurture a Hobby

Instead of using your free time to focus on the relationship you don’t have right now, put your energy into something you enjoy. Start a new hobby or dive deeper into a current interest. Put time into activities that help to nurture you mentally and emotionally.

Find a Support Group

People who are dealing with the same type of loss and estrangement as you can help validate your feelings. It’s important to acknowledge the impact the estrangement has on you.

“Ignoring feelings is not the answer. That can lead to all kinds of other things, like explosive anger, depression, substance abuse, [or] high anxiety,” Lopez notes. A therapist can also help you confront and sort through your feelings.

Keep a Journal

Grandparents can keep a journal of all the insights they want to someday share with their grandchildren. Showing grandchildren that you have been thinking about them, even though you were not with them, can be a touching gift.

Reconnecting with Your Grandchildren

Rekindling your relationship with your grandchildren may require creativity, humility, and work. The benefit of spending time with them, however, can make the effort worthwhile.

Practice Active Listening

If you are estranged from your grandchildren because of a conflict with your adult child, talk to your child about it. Why are they upset? What are their feelings? Listen with compassion and without judgment. Is an apology warranted? Be prepared to help do your part to heal the breach, such as attending family therapy.

Respect Boundaries

Abide by the boundaries your adult child has in place. If religion is a source of contention, consider staying away from that topic. If your child feels you are too controlling, try to withhold unsolicited opinions. Above all, don’t engage in any negative talk to your grandchildren about their parents.

You can try to repair bonds but don't overstep. If your child is firm in not wanting a relationship between you and your grandchildren or to reconnect themselves, it's important to respect their decisions, as hard as it may be.

Connect in Different Ways

Technology has provided numerous options if meeting in person isn't available due to distance or parental preferences. Video chats like Zoom allow you to see your grandchild’s smile. A phone call lets you hear the grandkids’ voices and laughter.

There’s no substitution for one-on-one time with your grandchildren. Despite the physical and emotional distance that may keep you apart, it doesn’t change what’s in your heart.

“Remember that a loss of contact does not always mean a loss of love. You can only control your actions and your responses, so try focusing on what you can do,” Lopez concludes.

A Word From Verywell

Being separated from the people you love is hard. If the separation is caused by a conflict or family rift, it compounds the pain. Try to do all that you can within your control to maintain a peaceful, respectful relationship with your child. Your compassion and patience can open the door for a stronger bond with your grandchildren.

Originally written by
Susan Adcox

Susan Adcox is a writer covering grandparenting and author of Stories From My Grandparent: An Heirloom Journal for Your Grandchild.

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