Grandparents Are Truly Struggling With Separation Anxiety During Pandemic

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We all know that the older generation is more at risk from complications if they get COVID-19. We know that it’s important to protect our family members who are senior citizens. Part of the way we can do this is by not visiting them.

It may sound simple, but as time goes on, staying away from parents and grandparents can be more and more difficult, especially psychologically.

While grandchildren may miss spending time with their grandparents, grandparents probably miss spending time with their grandchildren even more. 

Gloria Warnicki is a 72-year-old grandmother whose grandchildren call her Gigi. She has her family room set up as a playroom for her grandchildren who live close enough that they used to spend time at her house on a regular basis. She desperately misses those visits. Now, she only sees her grandchildren online via Zoom or when they drive by and wave from the car.

Warnicki told AARP, “I miss feeling them, holding those little hands.”

Warnicki is not alone. Richard Victor is a 70-year-old grandfather who used to see his grandchildren every day. Now, months later, he only sees his grandchildren via Facetime. He told Kaiser Health News, “It’s very, very difficult.” He expressed that it’s especially difficult “because we don’t know when this will be over with.”

Preeti Malani, an infectious-disease specialist and geriatrician, told The Washington Post, “Nobody loves children like their grandparents. They are such an important part of the lives of children, something that is so fundamental and important for both grandparents and grandchildren.”

Unfortunately, right now, it seems that visiting grandparents is still not a wise idea. According to Tina Q. Tan, professor of pediatrics at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and medical director of the international patient services program at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, “Until we can test more, I think people need to keep doing what they’ve been doing and basically shelter in place.”

While some grandparents may worry that their grandchildren will forget about them or that they’ll lose the bond they once had, psychiatrist Alan Schlechter, a clinical associate professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at New York University Langone Health offers this reassurance. “Children are not going to forget loving grandparents. That’s not the way human brains work.”

In some cases, grandparents may even grow closer to their grandchildren with the help of technology. Barbara Mitcho is a 70-year-old grandmother, and her 6-year-old granddaughter has recently started calling her via the Messenger Kids app. Mitcho told AARP, “She called me at 7 in the morning and she said, ‘Do you want to help me pick out what I’m going to wear today?’” She added that while these calls can’t replace seeing her granddaughter in person, she is glad that her granddaughter feels comfortable calling her and including her in her daily life. She adds, “this is new — the fact that she feels comfortable to do that with me…I do look forward to the calls.”

Tan advises that if grandparents absolutely must see their grandchildren in person “then they must abide by the recommendations, which is to wear a mask and gloves, and stay six feet away. Say hello to them but don’t touch them. No hugs and kisses. Lots of hand-washing and be sure the older person is up to speed on vaccines.”

If you are a grandparent, how have you been staying in contact with your grandchildren?