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Heartbroken Great-Grandma Feels Left Out

A great-grandma wrote to ask for advice after being denied access to her granddaughter’s preemie. I invite you to read her letter and then consider how you would respond to her. Please share your thoughts in the comment box.

Dear Ask GaGa:

I am a great-grandmother to a baby boy born in August. Sammy was born at 28 weeks, weighing 1 lb. and 14 oz. So far he has passed all tests and is gaining weight and thriving. Sammy was born early due to my granddaughter’s eclampsia. We were worried sick whether they would both survive. Before I explain my dilemma let me say that my daughter, granddaughter, and great-grandchildren are all close. When my first two great-grands were born, my daughter made a huge commitment that she would bring the children to visit me every week. She did until COVID. The children are 4 and 2 so it’s been a long commitment. In addition to their weekly visits, we had many family get-togethers.

About 3 weeks ago in one of our numerous texts, my daughter invited me and my other daughter to get together and watch the live stream video of Sammy in the NICU. I asked if I could have the password. She said no, that it was only for parents and grandparents.

I later discovered that the video is for all family members to view the progress of their preemies. I told my daughter I knew she lied to me. Then my granddaughter texted me and said “we didn’t want to give it out to just anyone”! Anyone! I’m just anyone?!

It was like someone had punched me in the stomach. She said they were allowing the grandparents and siblings only. I was crushed, furious, every emotion possible. This has caused a break in our relationship. I can’t understand how she could hurt me so. What if Sammy didn’t survive and I never got to see him? They still haven’t given me a reasonable explanation as to why they excluded a great-grandparent.

We’ve exchanged many harsh words over this. My daughter thinks I’m being selfish and that her daughter has every right to make her own decision as to whom she wants to look at the baby. I understand she has the right, but why would my daughter allow my granddaughter to hurt me this way? They both acknowledge they lied and have apologized, saying this is exactly why they lied — to spare my feelings. I’ve only told two close friends what happened and they gasped! They couldn’t understand why my granddaughter would make such a decision or why my daughter would support her. I’m hoping you can give me some advice.

Heartbroken Great-Grandma

Dear Heartbroken Great-Grandma:

First, let me congratulate you on building such a strong multi-generational bond with your family! That’s remarkable – you sound very engaged. I hope I get the chance to be such an engaged great-grandma!

Second, congratulations on the new arrival. But oh, how frightening to have such a tiny preemie. I’m glad he’s thriving.

Now, let me address your questions and concerns. Are you familiar with Jane Isay? If not, I highly recommend her book: Unconditional Love: A Guide to Navigating the Joys and Challenges of Being a Grandparent Today. She is one of my favorite grandparent authors. I recently heard her speak and her advice comes to mind. Give your grandchildren unconditional love and don’t take things personally.

As I read your email, I had great empathy for your granddaughter who gave birth way earlier than planned. How scary and traumatic for her. I hope you can put yourself in her place with all that she’s gone through. You may not like what I’m going to say but it would be good if you could let go of your ego and your own needs and have some compassion for your granddaughter. Sometimes we make poor judgments when our hormones are out of whack like your granddaughter’s. She’s been through a trauma and you need to give her all the love, support, space, and non-judgment you can muster.

Try to be grateful for the bond you have and stop feeling sorry for yourself. Take a softer approach and stop blaming your daughter and granddaughter. The more open you can be to letting her call the shots (just like you had to do when you became a grandma) the more they’ll be open to letting you be part of the team. It’s hard to adjust when you’ve been so involved. It takes time and patience.



4 thoughts on “Heartbroken Great-Grandma Feels Left Out”

  1. Donne, this made me think of our cousin whose baby girl was born with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. They actually put photos on facebook right away and they were pretty pathetic looking. She was all hooked up to tubes and O2 – and her missing right hand was obvious. It was fairly shocking to see before being forewarned that sweet Mati had so many issues. If she had a sensitive great grandmother, they might have thought twice about putting her through those images…. I guess they were pretty determined not to act like they were in denial… We have been following the saga of Mati for the last 18 months – she just had open heart surgery for a hole in her heart…. So perhaps your writer was just being spared the heartache of seeing a very tiny baby looking so vulnerable.

    1. Thank you for giving us another real-life perspective, Diane. Maybe the great-granddaughter WAS trying to spare her great-grandma the heartbreak that your friend’s family is obviously experiencing. My heart goes out to them.

  2. I also think a soft approach to being included would work better. Letting her know she is the ultimate decision maker AND that you LOVE everyone in the family is a good start. Also, ~~GENTLY~~ mention that at your age, time is short and you sincerely hope she would include you more as time is so meaningful at your age. Start with some small request….and if she puts up a wall, sincerely ask what you can do to gain inclusion.

    1. Thank you for your insightful and sensitive suggestions, Irene. You’re really seeing it from both sides which is so important in the relationship with our adult children and even great-grandchildren.

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