Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Grandmother Is Miserable Caring for Grandsons during Covid-19

frustrated grandma

Dear Dr. Gramma Karen,

After I was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease and Parkinson’s Disease, because I couldn’t financially survive, I accepted my mother’s invitation to live with her.

Then, a year ago, my daughter and her two sons (who are my grandsons, ages 9 and 12), moved from a southern state to my state of AZ, about an hour away from me. Her reasons for the move were: to “help” me; to get away from a toxic relationship with a boyfriend; to live in a less rural area. (Neither of my grandsons’ fathers are in the picture.)

My daughter, a receptionist for a medical practice, lives paycheck to paycheck. To help out, in addition to giving her money from my limited income when I could, I was driving back and forth every day to take care of the boys. I had the boys all last summer before school started. The commute was too hard and expensive, so I moved into my daughter’s small place where I sleep on a daybed in the living room.

Now that the Covid-19 pandemic has occurred and the boys are not in school anymore, I have them all day, every day, while my daughter continues to work. This has proved very challenging for me. For one, the boys fight and argue constantly about almost everything, most often instigated by the younger one, who screams and yells when he’s caught at something, blames everything on anyone but himself, talks back, and argues constantly.

I believed my daughter and I had a good relationship, but I’ve since learned that it was very superficial. We have gotten into several fights that escalate into yelling. I hate conflict and am usually good about avoiding it, but I have resorted to yelling also during these fights. I feel attacked as my daughter brings up what she considers to be my faults, past and present.

On an almost daily basis my daughter says, “I can’t afford that,” yet she will treat herself to a three-day day ski weekend with her coworkers and spend $750-$1000. But then she will say she can’t afford the water or electric bill or groceries.

So, as much as I love my family, I’m flat-out exhausted and miserable. For one, this doesn’t feel like a very healing environment for me to be in, plus the daily fighting and bickering wear me out.

I feel like I should move out and move back in with my mom. But I’m worried that the boys will then be left alone all day since my daughter can’t afford care for them, and I don’t know if care is available with the coronavirus anyway. Thank you for any insights you may have.

Dr. Gramma Karen’s Response:

I think you have accurately summarized your situation (“I’m flat-out exhausted and miserable”), and you have presented a good solution (“I feel like I should move out and move back in with my mom”).  I do have some suggestions, beginning with your physical and emotional well-being.

Your Physical Well-Being

I am not a medical doctor, so you need to talk with your physician about the points I make regarding the status of your health and the coronavirus. First, because of your Parkinson’s Disease (PD), “All things considered, it is good practice for those with PD, because of age and because of their underlying PD, to consider themselves at increased risk from COVID-19.”

Regarding your chronic Lyme disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) views you at increased risk “because people with Lyme disease may be immunocompromised and thus more susceptible to infection.”

In short, it is not safe for you to live with your daughter and two grandsons in their home during this pandemic. Your daughter works outside the home and could bring contagion into that home that could have life-threatening implications for you.

Read Next | Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Daughter-In-Law Is an Obstacle to Seeing Our Grandchildren

Your Emotional Well-Being

Based on the circumstances and relationships you describe between you, your daughter, and your grandsons – which are too detailed to include here – it is fair to say that you are not in a position to influence positive behavioral changes in that household. It is unrealistic to expect you to manage the complex and often problematic dynamics taking place.

Going Forward

Yes, I agree with you: it is in your best interest to move back with your mother to preserve your physical and emotional health. (In doing so, you need to talk first with your doctor about self-quarantining in her home for a period of time when you return.) I suspect your daughter will be upset with your decision to move out, but your first obligation must be to take care of yourself, lest you get sick and become a burden on others.

That said, I suggest the best way you can help is to stop viewing yourself as the prime resource to provide what your daughter needs, i.e., child care and financial relief. Instead, I suggest that you urge your daughter to consider taking advantage of the agencies and resources that can make some important differences in hers and the lives of your grandsons.

By using Google (“state resources in [name of state] to help during coronavirus”), for example, in your state of AZ, here are some agencies you can suggest your daughter contact that offer assistance to single moms: (1), (2), (3).

In addition, if your daughter is considered an essential worker during this pandemic, here are some resources that might provide child care assistance: (1), (2), (3), (4).

Read Next | Talking with Teenagers about Grandfather’s Illness

In Summary

Here are the steps I suggest you take:

  1. Talk with your doctor to confirm that with your underlying medical diagnoses, living with your mother is a safer environment for you than living in your daughter’s home, where she may be exposed to the coronavirus through her work.
  2. Explain to your daughter the medical necessity of you moving back with your mother. Have this same conversation with your grandsons.
  3. Provide your daughter the resources and agencies she can contact to get the child care and financial help for which she might qualify.
  4. Help her financially, if you are able to do so.
  5. Stay connected with your daughter and your grandsons, if possible, via technology, Zoom, FaceTime. Otherwise, use the phone and mail.
  6. Be prepared for your daughter’s displeasure with your decisions.
  7. Resist the urge to feel guilty and remind yourself that, first and foremost, you need to take care of yourself. That is not being selfish, it is being practical and responsible.

I close by suggesting that, with your doctor’s guidance, these are the steps you need to take for your physical and emotional well-being.

kids playing video games
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Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
E-mail queries to [email protected]

Dr. Rancourt’s most recent book is

It’s All About Relationships:

New Ways to Make Them Healthy and Fulfilling, at Home and at Work

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