Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Best Advice After 10 Years as a Family Columnist

grandfather giving grandson ride on shoulders while grandmother watches
Photo by Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

The Genesis of Dr. Gramma Karen

When I was growing up, as soon as the daily newspaper hit our front door, my four siblings and I would argue over who would get to read the “Dear Abby” advice column first. We would read the problem some reader would send to her, and before reading Abby’s response, we would give our opinion on what advice she should give.

Several decades later, this memory of how my siblings and I fancied ourselves “a dear Abby” helped me decide that I wanted to follow in her footsteps as an advice giver. In fact, I remember the exact moment this crystallized for me. 

It was early summer in 2011, shortly after I had retired as a corporate business consultant. I was sitting poolside, keeping an eye on my then-five-year-old grandson while chatting with another grandmother who was watching her grandchild. She asked me if I had a place at the beach community at the Jersey Shore where this conversation was taking place.

I explained that my husband and I were living with our daughter, son-in-law, and two grandsons in their vacation home for the summer. As the other grandmother was saying how nice that must be for us, she was cut off mid-sentence by a young woman seated two lounge chairs away, who yelled over to us with undisguised hostility, “You couldn’t build a house big enough for me to live with my parents or in-laws!” 

Whoa! Where did that come from? 

This proved to be a seminal moment for me. As a result of this young mom’s negative comment about her relationships with her parents and in-laws, I began researching parent-grandparent relationships to understand better why some are solid, loving, and fulfilling, while others are uncomfortable, unpleasant, and sometimes contentious. 

I learned that although many personal advice columns existed, there did not seem to be one spotlighting the unique issues that impact young parents, grandparents, and grandchildren. Hence, my decision to write an advice column exclusively for this intergenerational group.

My Hosts

Obviously, I needed a platform to publish my advice column, and so, for two reasons, I decided to approach, a national online community for parenting resources, support, and education.

First, Mommybites had announced plans to include a new offering focused on family, and I figured my column would be a timely and relevant addition. Second, since my daughter Heather was a Mommybites co-founder, I thought my idea might be seriously considered, you know, a request from a mother to her daughter. It was, and they agreed to host my advice column. (Guilty: shameless nepotism.)

Mommybites introduced me to their community in September 2011 and Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: An Advice Column for Young Parents and Grandparents went live. I invited readers to submit to me their various situations involving parents and grandparents for which they would like my advice. I, in turn, would select situations that I thought would have broad appeal to other parents and grandparents. 

We weren’t sure how my column would be received, but much to our delight, it was well received and has garnered a strong and growing following. To date Mommybites has published around 325 of my columns. 

In 2014, I was pleased to receive an invitation from GRAND Magazine, a quarterly publication, to be a regular columnist; they have published about 40 of my columns. 

(All my posted and GRAND Magazine columns are archived and available on my website.) 

I am grateful to both for their continuing support and sponsorship. They provide me the opportunity and platforms to present and reinforce the guiding principle in all my responses: Do what is best for the children/grandchildren involved. 

Simply Put

My advice to grandparents typically boils down to this: Do whatever it takes to stay connected to your grandchildren. This often requires grandparents who are feeling misunderstood or mistreated to put aside their hurt feelings, even though they may feel they are in the right. The fact is that parents are the grandparents’ gatekeepers; they control access to the grandchildren. With this reality in mind, my advice to grandparents is often Zip It! if you want to be a welcome participant in your grandchildren’s lives. 

I also have two words of advice for parents: Lighten up! If the grandparents have loving intentions, parents should give them a break when they don’t exactly follow directives. Kids are very resilient and can easily survive occasional deviations in their nap times or eating a forbidden dessert. If parents have enough trust to leave their children alone with the grandparents, then there will most likely be times when the advice to Lighten up! makes sense.

Simply put, my advice typically distills down to two words: For grandparents, Zip it! For parents, Lighten up!

Read Next | Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Grandfather Is a Baby Hog

Gratitude and Appreciation

On this tenth anniversary of writing my column, I want to express my gratitude to all my readers and to acknowledge the community we have built together, one that is based on sharing and learning from each other. I always appreciate your comments and suggestions.

I am especially grateful to those of you who have contacted me over the years to share your challenges and to seek my advice: I am honored by the regard and trust you place in me. As many of you have expressed, it is sometimes easier to pour your heart out to a stranger, in this case, to me, because, as the idiom goes, I have no dog in this fight. My only goal is to provide help, support, and objective ways to think about issues and problems. That is, ways to answer the question: What is best for the children/grandchildren? 

I extend my gratitude to all of you — my platform hosts, my readers, and those who have sought my advice. I have developed many cyber relationships over the years, and I will always cherish each of them.

A friend asked me if I plan to continue writing my column. I told her that I plan to wear my Ask Dr. Gramma Karen hat so long as readers seek my advice …. 

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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