The grandparenting experience fills grandmas and grandpas with love, joy, pride, amazement and optimism. And guilt.

I know that to be true because I’m a grandparent who occasionally feels guilty. And I have many grandparent friends and connections that admit to feeling guilty now and then, too.

Though our specific guilt triggers may be different, our most common grandparent guilt trips typically fall into two categories: what we do and what we don’t do.

Guilt over what we do

1) Saying no

Because I’m a long-distance grandma, I have limited opportunities to say no to my grandchildren. But my friends talk about the big guilt they feel when saying:

  • No to attending a grandchild’s special event or outing.
  • No to having a grandchild stay the night at Grandma’s.
  • No to borrowing Grandpa’s car — or money.
  • No to more cookies, more candy, more goodies.

Yes, we feel guilty but we say no to these things for the sake of our own health, finances, or physical ability — as well as getting an occasional break from little ones. Sometimes, us Grandmas and Grandpas must consider ourselves first. And by the way, our grandchildren’s parents may not realize the toll their demands take on our patience and pocketbooks, so it’s okay to say something to them—and don’t feel guilty about it.

2) Saying yes

Of course, there’s the other side of that coin. Grandma or Grandpa say:

  • Yes to attending yet another extracurricular activity — then resent the obligation and feel guilty about that.
  • Yes to having a grandchild stay the night… again — then lose their cool with the child and feel guilty afterward.
  • Yes to opening one’s pocketbook — then realize they’ve taught the child nothing about personal responsibility or gratitude and feel not only guilty but angry, too.
  • Yes to too much junk food — then must deal with upset tummies, upset mommies and the guilt resulting from both. (Okay, I admit it. I am guilty of this one. I plead the “but I don’t get to see them often” defense!)

3) Thinking, feeling — and saying — what we “shouldn’t”

Many guilt trips result from what Grandma or Grandpa thinks or, heaven forbid, says. Perhaps you prefer one grandchild to another. Or dislike your son-in-law. Or resent your grandkids for not keeping in touch. Or just plain think the parent should be doing things the way you used to.

It’s human nature to find some characteristics in another irritating or off-putting. Even in a grandchild. And many of us do sometimes think the parents should do things our way. No need for guilt over thoughts and feelings. Just try not to voice those thoughts and feelings— at least not to anyone remotely related to the situation.

Guilt over what we don’t do

1) Not rising to our role as “activity director”

Today’s grandparents often feel they need to prepare a jam-packed schedule for time spent together. We think actively involved grandparents read with the kiddos, cook and craft with them, take them on educational outings and provide out-of-this-world handcrafted fun.

Or so we tell ourselves. Before visits with my grandsons, I spend an exorbitant amount of time coming up with ideas guaranteed to keep my grandsons entertained, educated or busy. If my packed grandma goodies end up not fitting the bill — or our time — as I hoped, the guilt creeps in.

2) Not visiting — or connecting — enough

Living more than 800 miles from my grandsons means I simply cannot be present much of the time. So I do my best to connect by snail mail and text messages, FaceTime, and phone. To me, it never seems enough, especially when I miss important events, like birthdays. Guilt, guilt, guilt.

Surprisingly, I often hear similar groans of perceived guilt from local grandparents who worry they’re simply not present enough.

3) Not buying enough

Grandparents enjoy giving clothes, books, toys and more to the little ones. But it’s far too easy to consider all we don’t purchase, rather than all that we do. Yeah, we know most kids have too much stuff nowadays. And many of us — hand raised here — know we have limited budgets that simply can’t accommodate showering our sweeties with gifts.

Warranted or not, it’s hard not to feel guilty about not providing as much as we’d like. Or that they’d like. And on a grander scale, some grandparents beat themselves up for not being able to contribute to a grandchild’s college education.

Guilt-free grandparenting

We grandparents often feel guilty, but the expectations we (and perhaps others) have for the role may be unrealistic.

It’s impossible to completely eliminate the demands of our cherished role. Minimizing unrealistic expectations, though, goes a long way toward minimizing guilt.

For me, honestly assessing how I’m doing in the rewarding but sometimes-exhausting role of grandmother reduces my guilt. I do that by considering an altered version of the Serenity Prayer, assessing:

  • How well I accept the things I cannot change (my resources, location, physical ability)
  • How courageous I am in changing those things I can change (my attitude toward myself and others as well as true opportunities for improvement)
  • How wise I am in knowing the difference


Similar contemplation may help other grandparents declare themselves guilt free, as well. And a guilt-free grandparent makes a far happier grandparent — and far happier grandchildren, too.