Grandparenting on lockdown

by Arion Lawrence & Manu Shah

Covid-19 has presented us all with a mental and emotional strain. Many parents, particularly with younger children, have felt the lack of respite from parenting that the lockdown has brought. I’ve worried about the impact that could have on my own mental health as a parent and I’ve seen ups and downs in how I’ve been coping as a dad. Although the lockdown has also brought time with my son, and my wife, that isn’t subject to the usual constraints of our busy lives. In that regard, I can find some solace in an otherwise mentally challenging period.

Grandparenting on lockdown

An experience that is less spoken about, is Grandparenting on lockdown. Lockdown has abruptly separated many grandparents from seeing their grandchildren. Indeed, it has exacerbated the impact on their mental health in a painful experience that has been overlooked.

While my parents don’t see my son that often, actually not being able to see him due to the lockdown has clearly affected my mum. Moreover, for my in-laws, who provide childcare when my son isn’t at nursery, it’s been especially difficult.

Missing the support grandparents provide

We’ve always appreciated and valued the support from my in-laws. The lockdown has shown just how much of a support system they provide. My wife and I are teachers. So we’re both working from home to provide remote online learning (I’ve also been going into work as schools have remained open for vulnerable children and the children of key workers). Yet working from home is near impossible with a toddler. 

We’ve adopted a shift pattern where I have my son for the morning while my wife works and vice versa for the afternoon. Although it doesn’t always work. My son has made cameos in our online meetings and when I’ve finished my morning ‘shift’ with my son, it’s straight to work. There is no respite whatsoever. Respite that would have been enthusiastically welcomed and forthcoming from my in-laws in any other situation.

If our son’s nursery reopens in June, we aren’t fully sold on how safe it is to send him back. But if there is a wider opening of schools, and teachers have to return, it throws up a huge question of what we’ll do for childcare. A question that would normally have been answered by grandparents in a flash. 

Will the lockdown affect my son’s relationship with his grandparents?

We video call the grandparents daily and you can see their excitement upon answering and seeing my son’s face. The mental strain of lockdown is temporarily eased as he regales them with his day’s activities and amuses them with his antics. It’s something we’re aware of as a small way to support their mental health during this period. But it isn’t the same as seeing him in person. 

My son is young enough to be accepting of the lockdown. I still worry about how it’ll impact his relationship with his grandparents. Will he remain as enthusiastic towards spending time with them as he was before lockdown? Will he feel less familiar with them? My wife and I are currently discussing childcare options for our son once the lockdown is relaxed. My in-laws undoubtedly feature in our plans. They’re an integral part of his and our lives and the lockdown has made that even more apparent.

That said, the perspective of grandparents during the lockdown is a story that isn’t really shared. My father-in-law therefore shared his experience as a grandad during this period.

Grandparenting during the lockdown – by Manu Shah

The lockdown has taken its toll on all of us and as a grandparent, that’s no different. I’ve not been able to see my grandchildren since the lockdown started. It’s a painful and frustrating experience to say the least.

I miss the simple things. Being able to hug my grandchildren. Sitting with them while they eat. Playing with them and hearing their laughter fill our house. It’s created a palpable and unwelcome absence for us and it’s a struggle not knowing when that will end. Being able to video call them does ease that; we’re lucky to be living in a time where technology can play the role in our communication that it does. But these new ways of grandparenting on lockdown are no substitute for actually being able to see them. That doesn’t change the fact that video calling my grandchildren is the first thing I think of when I wake up.

The joy of being a grandad

I love being a grandad. In many ways, becoming grandparents has given my wife and I an opportunity to make up for lost opportunities with our own children. When they were younger, I devoted a lot of time to work; disproportionately so I might add. That meant I missed out on a lot of experiences that I’m now fortunate to share in with my grandchildren. It’s a second chance at some of the fun I missed out on. And because of that, I’m as involved a grandparent as I can be. Yet now, grandparenting on lockdown deprives us of that opportunity and the source of so much joy in our lives.

In our culture, there’s a sense of duty that comes with a grandparent. In that context, we miss being able to help with childcare or cooking a dish that our children or in-laws enjoy and dropping it round. Not to mention, it’s a great excuse to make an impromptu visit to see our grandchildren! It’s just another aspect of how our happiness and sense of purpose has been eroded by the lockdown.

Social Distancing from family is so unnatural

As many grandparents do, we provide childcare for our daughter’s son when he isn’t at nursery. The night before we would have him, I would look forward to driving to my daughter’s house to pick him up before she and my son-in-law left for work. On the days that he would go to nursery, I would go to work and yearn for the subsequent day that we would have him. Now on lockdown, my grandparenting routine has completely changed and it’s left me frustrated and on edge. Emotionally, it’s a struggle because as a creature of habit, I’ve lost my routine. At least if I was still at work, I’d have a fleeting distraction from missing my grandchildren.

I fractured my wrist just before the lockdown and had to go to the hospital to get my cast removed. The hospital isn’t far from my daughter and son-in-law’s house so I went to see my grandson from the window. I was close to tears at not being able to hold him and had to fight myself from going inside. Social distancing is so unnatural for our normal interactions. But unimaginably so when it comes to preventing me from embracing my grandchildren.

Has the lockdown been handled badly?

Despite the impact it’s had on us, I don’t disagree with the lockdown. It’s a worrying time and we need to do what’s necessary to keep ourselves, our families and our communities safe. However, I do disagree with how it’s been handled. 

If the government hadn’t been so nonchalant to begin with, and started the lockdown sooner, perhaps we would be able to see our grandchildren now. I’m angry with the government for such a poor response that has increased the time families are separated. I agree that everyone’s safety comes first. But the impact on grandparents, and the effect on our mental health in not seeing our grandchildren, is something I feel is overlooked.  

Unrelated to Covid-19, we had a recent death in our family. Due to understandable restrictions on how many people can attend funerals, we weren’t able to pay our respects in person. During our mourning, seeing our grandchildren would bring some much sought after solace and joy in a difficult time for our family.

That said, at a time when togetherness is so important, we have immediate and extended family that help to achieve that, albeit remotely. My son-in-law is the first person to call us every morning. We’ve not experienced any real isolation during this period. Furthermore, I’m obviously grateful for my family being healthy during this time. Being able to spend time with my wife. Nevertheless, that doesn’t change how much I miss my grandchildren and I can’t wait to see them in person again.

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