The Painful truth about unhappy grandmothers

There are many happy grandmothers about. I know; I am one of them. We play with the kids, we bore our friends by talking about how wonderful they are and we generally feel very pleased with the way grandchildren have enhanced our lives.

But what about the unhappy grandmothers? Those who cannot see their grandchildren much – or at all. Those for whom the occasional visit is a painful experience due to complex family relationships. Let us pause for a moment and think about them. Perhaps you are one of them.

Distant Grandchildren

The least complicated scenario is where the grandchildren live far away. People are so mobile nowadays, they think nothing of traversing a continent for a new or better job. This leaves a lot of bereft grandmothers. Women in California whose grandchildren are in New England, women in London whose grandchildren are in Australia – it goes on and on.

Of course, there is Skype and all the equivalent apps that allow us to see the grandchildren grow from a distance. We can talk to them on a regular basis and keep up with their new pets or toys or hair styles. As discussed in more detail by grandmothers in my book, it is never the same as actually holding them in our arms.

And then we can travel to see them or vice versa. Airports are full of eager older people, often women, clutching presents on the way out and holding back tears on the way home. It will ever be so.

Difficult Families

A more difficult case is where families are in a state of conflict for immediate or past wrongs and the grandmothers are not welcomed. Sometimes, they can visit but only occasionally or under very specific conditions. Sometimes they are refused access completely, such as when there has been an acrimonious separation or divorce.

It may also be the case that you can visit, but it is painful to do so because your son or daughter’s marital relationship is so difficult that being around them is highly unpleasant. You want to go, but you don’t enjoy the time there due to bickering or uneasy silences. How can you enjoy the grandchildren in such circumstances?

Overworked Grandmothers

There is yet another scenario where grandmothers have taken on a great deal of childcare and find it difficult to manage. With too much access, rather than too little, this is a different situation altogether and requires a post all of its own.

Ways Forward

I wish I could offer easy solutions. I wish I could make relationships easier, whether people live close or far. All I can say here is that, whatever the difficulties of your circumstances, you are not alone. There are many others living with similar pain and some organisations committed to helping you. It is well worth checking what is available near where you live.

This was first published by sixtyandme (

Interview about Life in a Hospice

Life in a Hospice takes you behind the scenes in end-of-life care, where you will see the enormous efforts of nurses, doctors, chaplains and others – even a thoughtful cook – to provide the calm that we all hope for.  Perhaps you are looking for end-of-life care for someone you love. Perhaps you are wondering if this is the job for you. Or you just feel like being inspired by humanity at its best. This book will be for you.

Life in a Hospice: reflections on caring for the dying by Ann Richardson

1. What inspired you to write your book?

After the death of a good friend, I worked for four years as a hospice volunteer. I was extremely impressed with the dedication of the staff, but also rather fascinated by what motivated them to go to work day after day to see people die. I had already written one book based on interviews and felt this would be another suitable subject.

2. How long did it take you to write your book?

My writing is different from that of most authors as it is based on interviews.  Each interview takes somewhat under two hours and it is best not to do more than one a day. There were 31 interviews done over the course of two or three months. These are then transcribed verbatim (word-for-word), which takes about half a day each. Once I have the transcript, I read it over with enormous care, marking up the different themes and issues arising. I can do only 2-3 a day.  So there is a lot of preparation time.  These preparatory processes usually overlap, which helps.

Once I have the transcript material in order, however, it takes me only a few months to complete a book draft and a little longer for editing.  All in all, the process takes somewhere between six months and a year.

3. What is one thing you would love someone to take away after reading your book?

A sense of awe at the caring qualities of the people I interviewed.  You see humanity at its very best (not the people dying, who we don’t learn much about, but the people caring for them)

4. Describe your book in three words.

 Hospice, dedication, care

5. Who will enjoy your book the most?

People who like to reflect on deeper issues in life.  It is not at all morbid – indeed, it is funny in places –  but it is not traditional entertainment.  I suspect there is a big overlap with people who seek out literary fiction.

6. What do you think is most important to being a powerful writer?

 Skill with words is always important (and hard to pin down what it means), but so is a sense of the complexity of human beings – their motivations, their funny little foibles and their joys.  I would place honesty above all, as readers recognize an honest book when they see it

7. When you write, who do you envision you’re writing to?

This varies book by book.  In this case, I imagined readers would be people like me who would find it fascinating to understand the joys and challenges of end-of-life care.  Regrettably, there are not so many people in this category as I hoped! Several subgroups are also likely to be interested in this book –

  1. people who already provide end-of-life care, such as nurses and others, and want to read about how others cope with it;
  2. people who are thinking about going into end-of-life care, such as student nurses and others, and want to understand what it entails;
  3. people who are looking into end-of-life care for a family member or friend and want to know what hospices are like.

I also recommend it to anyone who just wants to see humanity acting at its very best.

8. Does writing energise or exhaust you, or a bit of both?

Writing completely energises me and it is difficult for me to stop. Sometimes I will wake up in the night and go to work on a book.  Of course, in the end, it is tiring, but I am always happy when I am working on a book.

9. What did you enjoy most – and least – about the process of creating your book?

I enjoy almost everything in the process of creating my books, but there can come a time in editing a book when I feel I have had enough.

10. Did you often suffer from writer’s block whilst writing? Any tips to overcome it?

I have never suffered from writer’s block, aside from the odd morning after a bad night’s sleep when the sentences don’t flow as well as usual.

Ann Richardson’s book is available on Amazon at: Life in a Hospice

This was originally published on mumsthewordblog (

The story behind Life in a Hospice: reflections on caring for the dying


This was published on Jane Davis’ Virtual Book Club on 12 April 2017.

Background:  Ann has worked as a social researcher most of her working life, writing books, articles and reports from interviews with ordinary people about specific health and social care problems. Most of this writing was addressed to professionals working in these fields, rather than the general public. But she discovered that her real love is writing narrative books, allowing people to explain their inner thoughts in their own words. She has now written three such books and is planning another.  American by birth, Ann has lived in London with her English husband since 1968. They have two grown-up children and two grandsons, age 7 and 10.
Two reviews:

‘Adds to the canon of literature of personal narratives in the experience of illness, death and bereavement…The simple reflections on complex areas of care resonate long after you have finished reading the book.’

Cancer Nursing Forum Newsletter

Royal College of Nursing

‘Some of the stories are sad, some are amusing, but all are inspiring. This book offers a snapshot of hospice care at its finest. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in caring for people who are facing death, and anyone considering the option of a residential hospice program for themselves or a loved one.’

Professor Steven Claxton-Oldfield 

Journal of Palliative Care

A few weeks back, I re-launched a book I wrote on end-of-life care ten years ago, Life in a Hospice. Some might well ask why one would write a book on this subject in the first place, much less re-launch it ten years later. In fact, the subject has fascinated me for years. Let me explain.

In 1990, when I was in my late 40s, I met a young man who had been living with AIDS for some years and, as there was no real treatment at that time, it was clear he did not have long to live. We had almost nothing in common – he was 20 years younger than me, I was a happily married woman and he a gay man, he was a natural leader of people and I was definitely not, he was a trained nurse and I was a quiet social researcher and writer. But for reasons that are always inexplicable, we quickly became close friends.

For the first time in my life, I began to think about how one should treat people who were close to dying. What should one say? What should one do?  The more I thought about it, the more I decided that the only sensible course was to treat them as normally as possible. Give them friendship and anything that would assist a good life, but basically carry on as you would with anyone else.

It so happened that he was in the process of organising an international conference of people with AIDS and HIV. He had invited conference attendees to submit their stories and hoped to publish them, although he did not know how. Being a writer, I said I could help and, with his consent, applied for a small research grant to supplement the contributions with interviews. The result was a book, Wise Before their Time, in which people with AIDS and HIV talk about the complexities (and joys) of their lives. I managed to secure a Foreword by Ian McKellen. My friend lived to comment on the draft manuscript but died before it was published, aged just 32. The book sold quite well in both the US and UK, but is now out of print. It remains a good read about young people faced with death, but is no longer indicative of the lives of people with this disease.

Not long after publication of that book, I was invited to a hospice and was immediately taken with the calm and peace afforded to dying people there. I felt a longing to be part of that world and soon became a volunteer one day a week in a hospice near to my home. I loved the work of helping people in their last days or weeks. But it also occurred to me that it was a strange job for those who worked full time – going to work every day to watch people die. I had the idea of writing a book on the subject, also based on interviews, but it took some time to put the idea into practice.  I suspected it would take a lot of effort to get the agreement of hospices to interview staff, to find the necessary funding and so forth. I put my attention to other projects.

Eventually, the lure of the book was too strong and, without any funding, I decided to proceed. The resulting interviews proved even more fascinating than I had expected. To me, the subject was never morbid or depressing, but incredibly uplifting to see the many ways in which nurses, health care assistants, doctors and so forth tried to make the last days of hospice patients as meaningful as possible.

Nurses were constantly trying to accede to the requests of the patients, whether helping an old lady to write the letters she said she wanted to write before she died or taking a patient outside to die under a tree when his time had come. A palliative care consultant explained how it was an intriguing puzzle to work out the appropriate medication to keep people pain free but nonetheless awake. And a very reflective cook gave a lot of thought to how to encourage patients to eat because, as he said, if they ate they would have the energy to say goodbye to their family and leave a good memory for them.

The resulting book had a Foreword by Tony Benn (who was a big supporter of hospices), a lot of good reviews and was Highly Commended by the British Medical Association. As the only higher award given by the BMA is Medical Book of the year, I was particularly pleased. The reviewer for the BMA wrote “An easy-to-read book, which will surprise many readers with its lightness of touch, humanity and refreshing tone. I would recommend it to anyone who has worries about their own or a relative’s care at the end of life.”

But after some reasonable sales in the first years, the book languished quietly out of site. Not only had the publishers set a very high price for the book from the outset (over £20), but when e-books began, the price was not very different. As they also did nothing to publicise the book’s existence, its lack of sales is no surprise.  This made me incredibly sad, as it was my favourite book of all those I have written.  I was even reluctant to recommend it to friends because of the high price.

So, ten years on, having gained experience of self-publishing through another book entirely (about being a grandmother), I decided to take the rights back from the original publishers and re-launch a second edition. This process proved surprisingly easy. There was no argument over rights. I undertook a small amount of research to update information about the number of hospices and what they do, commissioned a new cover and added the usual pages that tend to accompany a second edition, such as reviews of the first edition.

Importantly, I set a low price of £2.99 for the e-book. I have not yet decided whether to also produce a paperback, but will respond to demand if it is there.

If you cannot face reading a book that has a theme around dying, I cannot recommend this book. If, however, you are interested in seeing humanity at its best, you could find fewer better examples. It was my privilege to midwife the book into existence.

Life in a Hospice: reflections on caring for the dying is available as an e-book on Amazon. You can read more about it, see reviews and some sample chapters on the author’s website:

This post was initially published on Jane Davis Author’s blog (


My granny likes to stand on her head

My older grandson went into his nursery school not long ago and told the teacher “My granny likes to stand on her head”. And he was right.  Despite being in my mid-70s, I do like to stand on my head, having practised Iyengar yoga for over twenty years. I never heard what her response was, but I liked the sentence.

 The image of grandmothers

It made me think about the images that come to mind when we hear the word “grandmother”.  I suspect that many people, including myself, have two very contradictory ones.

On the one hand, we immediately think of our own grandmothers. From our childish point of view, they were old, wrinkled, wore sensible shoes and certainly didn’t get up to much. Something like the picture of Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, who was additionally portrayed as very round and sweet.

And then we look at ourselves and our friends and the image changes completely.  We don’t feel or look nearly as old as our grandmothers seemed. We are active, we’re often still in work and some of us can stand on our heads. (I am not alone – a number of the women in my yoga class are grandmothers.)  Or perhaps we do other things – sports, dancing, travel. We are busy and we feel vibrant and young.

What is going on?

It may well be, as many people believe, that things have genuinely changed. They say that sixty is the new forty and we can be just as active as we were some decades ago. We look around at ourselves and see enthusiastic, engaged women, not remotely like that picture in our heads of our own grandmothers.

But it is also possible that our own grandmothers were not as un-engaged as we thought. Perhaps in their own way, and suitable to their own times, they were more active than we ever imagined. Undoubtedly, some were very conventional, but others were busy with politics or local organisations or even – for all we know – dancing!

First published by GRAND Magazine.

Author Spotlight with Ann Richardson

This week I am featuring one of the distinguished Authors of the Facebook Page – Books Go Social Authors Group.  Her name is Ann Richardson and she lives in London, England.  She is the Leader of the Facebook Group – Real Lives which is a part of BGS.

I asked Ann a few questions and she provided some very interesting answers.
She has lived an exemplary life and is proud to be a grandmother to her two grandsons.

Tell us a little about yourself?
I have lived in London, England, most of my life, but I am American by birth. I met my English husband when I was only 19, married him two years later and 54 years later, we are happier than ever. (This story, I presume, would not make a good novel!) We have two children, both of whom live in London and two young grandsons. Somewhat unusually for my generation – but not subsequent ones – I have worked throughout my life, although only part-time when the children were young. I was a social researcher, initially employed by an independent research organisation but then working freelance for most of my life. About 25 years ago, I wrote my first book for the general reading public and have written two others since. I am now at the age where you are supposed to be ‘retired’. I am a very involved grandmother, but am also still active in writing – and promoting – my books.

When and why did you begin writing?
I have been writing for as long as I can remember. Even as a small child, I wrote stories. At my school, writing skills were taken seriously and I clearly honed my abilities there. In my first year at university, I shared first prize in a university-wide writing competition. By that time, I knew that writing was important to me.
But I did not consider writing as a career. Few people did, of course. My interests lay primarily in social problems. I completed a PhD in political ideas and, as noted above, became a social researcher. I gained great satisfaction in writing numerous reports for the agencies commissioning my work, as well as a number of books and articles for a wider audience. I loved learning new things and never stayed on one subject. In the course of a long career, I wrote about the experiences of people with a wide range of medical conditions (cancer, COPD, heart disease, mental health problems and others), patient support groups, public participation and other disparate subjects.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
You can see that I became a writer without quite intending to. A great deal of my time was spent writing about the results of research – mostly my own but sometimes those of others. As an independent consultant, I was hired to write reports from three Committees of Inquiry, for example on the needs of people with learning disabilities, as well as conference reports. I was also hired to edit other people’s writing. In the course of all this work, I was sowing the seeds for the kind of writing I most love now – writing what I call narrative non-fiction about important aspects of people’s lives.

Being a writer means being a communicator. You need to communicate ideas from one set of people (or one person) to other people in ways that they will understand. This means knowing what the readers think beforehand and then judging how best they will absorb new information or thoughts. I found this a fascinating exercise, which had to be constantly addressed in new ways.

At some point, someone I didn’t know asked me what I did and I said, without much hesitation, that I was a writer. And I realised I was.

Do you have a specific writing style?
I have written many books intended for different audiences, including people working in the caring professions, university students and other researchers. These were all written in an easy journalistic style, because of my concern to communicate well. I am not discussing these here, as I think they are of less interest to your readers.

Over time, I developed a very distinct writing style in my books, which I call ‘narrative non-fiction’. This is writing based almost entirely on the exact words of other people, with only minor interjections from myself to maintain the flow. The best way to explain this is that it is like a television documentary with interviews but in writing. I feel that it is an excellent way of communicating the thoughts and experiences of people, without losing something in translation. I also find it both challenging and very fulfilling.

I came on this writing technique from two directions. First, after many years of writing up the results of interviews, I concluded that ordinary people are much better at expressing themselves clearly and with originality than the researchers studying them. While my colleagues tended to summarise the results of interviews, with the occasional quote, as an illustration, I turned this on its head – using people’s original words as much as possible. As interviews were always transcribed verbatim, I had a full transcription of what anyone had to say.

Second, I realised that if you want a reader to really understand another person’s point of view, there is no better way than to enable the latter to speak directly and from the heart – person to person. I was used to working with deep interviews, where people talk openly but confidentially about some aspect of their lives. If I could put passages from these together in a way that flowed easily for the reader, I felt they would come to ‘hear’ the people talking and understand their perspectives. Views would be fresh and very powerful.

e916f-wise2bbefore2byour2btimeI have now written three books in this way and am about to embark on my fourth. The first
was published in 1992 about people with HIV and AIDS, when few people survived a diagnosis and those with the condition were often treated as pariahs.
The stories in the book were extremely moving, being about young people with a fatal disease coming to terms with their situation. Called Wise Before their Time, it had a Foreword by Sir Ian McKellen and despite only limited reviews, sold roughly 7000 copies worldwide. McKellen said that the book was ‘as powerful as any classic of fiction’, which pleased me enormously.



f6573-life2bin2ba2bhospiceHaving worked as a hospice volunteer, I became fascinated with what it was like to work every day with dying people. In 2007, I published Life in a Hospice about the lives and thoughts of people who work in end-of-life care – nurses, doctors, managers, chaplains and even a very reflective cook. It had a Foreword by the late Tony Benn, MP, was very well reviewed and even Highly Commended by the British Medical Association.


This book was seen to be very uplifting, showing humanity at its very best with complex stories of how some people helped others to come to terms with themselves at their most vulnerable time. But because the publishers priced this too high (around £20) and did not publicize it, relatively few copies were sold after its first year or so. I am now re-issuing this book with a small amount of updating and the same title. It will initially be an e-book only, but I will produce a print version if there is sufficient demand.

d0bea-celebrating2bgrandmothersAnd, finally, in 2014, having become a grandmother and finding that there are many fascinating aspects in that role, I decided to write a third book in this genre, called Celebrating Grandmothers

My main concern here, before undertaking the interviews, was that it would prove to be a sentimental book, but I had not counted on the many ways in which difficult family relationships intrude on our lives. It is about both the joys and the challenges of being a grandmother. This was the first of my books to be self-published. It has received many good reviews from readers.


I  might add that after I had developed my narrative non-fiction style, I discovered that there was an American journalist – Studs Turkel – who won the Pulitzer Prize for a book written in the same way. His books spanned larger subjects and were viewed as part of oral history. He died nine years ago.

What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book in this genre had a very clear moment of inspiration, which I remember well. I had a close friend with AIDS, who was the principal organizer of an international conference of people with HIV and AIDS in London. We were having lunch one day and he told me that he had asked each invitee to the conference to write their personal story as part of their application – and he wanted to turn the contributions into a book. He thought he could just hand these over to a publisher and it would be done. I told him no, any publisher would send them right back, but I could help him to write the book. I then applied for a small amount of money from the Department of Health (who funded research projects) to pay for some interviews at the conference, and to my amazement received this within two weeks, and the project was off and running.

I proposed that my friend should be a joint author of the book. He lived long enough to comment on the draft manuscript but died before its publication. He was only 32 years old. All royalties went to AIDs charities.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
The most challenging aspect of my writing is actually editing. When you are working with the words of other people, you want to be true to them, but you also want to ensure that their thoughts are clear to other people. This may sound simple, but it isn’t. When people want to stop to think, they often interject meaningless phrases which give them time, such as ‘I mean’ or ‘you know’, but these are not part of their message. In addition, people often start a sentence, then pause, and start it in another way. Listen to yourself sometime, and you will see that we all do this more frequently than we think.

I also have to think about whether to keep ungrammatical sentences, which would embarrass the speaker (as if their clothing was not adjusted appropriately), or poor English when foreigners are talking.

I never add words – ever – but I feel it is appropriate to remove some, such as these interjections or half-formed sentences. To give an example, I once interviewed a really thoughtful man with HIV who frequently added ‘and stuff like that’ to his explanations. Once I removed these interjections, his thoughts emerged so clearly, it was if clouds had been lifted. I tend to correct grammar, on the grounds that the speaker would want me to, and only partially correct the English of non-English speakers.

You are always trying to balance the dignity of the speaker with the understanding of the reader. It is a challenge, but a rather enjoyable one, at least to me.

What are your current projects?
Following my book about being a grandmother, I am keen to write another book about the experiences of older women. We are a group who are often overlooked in our youth-oriented society – indeed, some argue that we are ‘invisible’, not really noticed by anyone. But being an older woman is fascinating in so many ways that I would like to provide an opportunity for some women to talk about it and others to read their reflections.

I have also discovered the joys of blogging; very few people read my own blog, but I have been invited to be a guest blogger on several sites. The most notable is SixtyandMe (, an online magazine, that asked me to write a series of 12 posts. I not only enjoy the process but like the fact that I am able to reach – and interact with – large readership.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I am a very fussy reader. Not only do I need to be drawn into a narrative fairly quickly, but I tend to edit as I read – not on purpose, but I can’t help it – which makes reading annoying.

I often read non-fiction of various sorts, but I do like a good novel. My real discovery in the way of novelists is an English writer called Jim Crace. He has the ability to create an incredibly powerful atmosphere, drawing you into a situation often taking place somewhere out of the ordinary. One of my favourites is about people living in the Stone Age (The Gift of Stones), but he has also written about Christ’s 40 days in the desert (Quarantine), a dystopic book about the US (the Pesthouse) and one about village life sometime in the past (Harvest). I highly recommend any of these for their excellent writing and ability to take you far away from your own day-to-day life.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
I find it hard to offer advice to others, because everyone comes from a different background, has different skills and different interests. Nonetheless, I would say if you feel a burning desire to write, then do so. Do not expect to make your fame or fortune – very few writers do – but do it because you love the process and will feel good about yourself when you have done so.

If you were not a writer what else would you like to do?
I once wanted to be a ballet dancer and had a good grounding, having started lessons at the age of four. I have never regretted the loss of that career!

This interview was posted on the website of Brenda Mohammed, a fellow writer.

What it means to say “I am not a grandmother”


We do not usually identify ourselves by what we are not. We do not say I am not blonde or not good at knitting or I do not come from a large family. Nor do other people think about these things when they think of us.

Not Being a Mother

But there is one aspect of our lives where what we are not does arise from time to time – our involvement with children.

Younger women experience this when they are asked if they are a mother and must reply “No, I never had children.” It starts a lot of conversations, many of which will be unwanted.

 Not Being a Grandmother

And then it crops up again amongst many in the Sixty and Me community – “No,” you must say, “No, I am not a grandmother.” I know well that it can cause a lot of pain. Indeed, some of you have called attention to this problem directly in comments on these posts.

Perhaps you always loved children and love being surrounded by them. Your friends are excited by the births of their grandchildren and various milestones (first birthday, first day of school) and you cannot share your experience with them.

You long to hold a new baby or talk to young children again. You want to buy those gorgeous baby clothes or fun toys for children. You may do so for a niece or nephew, but it is not the same. Some of you know that you will never do so. It can be very painful.

Are Your Children OK?

You may worry for your son or daughter. Is a lack of children the sign of an unhappy relationship or no relationship at all? If they are postponing the decision, will they end up disappointed? We all want what’s best for our children and it is hard to leave the joys of parenting out of the equation.

There are, of course, many reasons not to be a grandmother. You may never have had children yourself, whether by choice or bad luck. You may have had a child who died, making the lack of future generations particularly poignant.

Some adult children have not yet found the right partner. Or your children might be married or in a relationship but are experiencing serious illness or other problems. Couples will delay having a baby for all sorts of financial and career reasons. And some may be gay and not wish to expand into a family.

Some of these circumstances may be temporary and the hope of becoming a grandmother one day is not unreasonable. Children who have no close partner may suddenly find one. The carefully planned delay to parenthood may come to an end with a series of healthy babies. Gay couples increasingly choose to have children by one means or another.

Looking at the Longer Term

And yet, there are some of you who know you will never be a grandmother. Or the chances are becoming increasingly slight. You may not be bothered, but if you are, you are not alone.

And what can you do? You can, of course, get involved in the lives of other children, perhaps those of your siblings or friends. Many do so with such enthusiasm that they gain many of the benefits of being a grandmother directly.

Or you can consider the possibility of becoming a surrogate grandmother to someone living nearby. There are many organisations devoted to making this an easy choice. This helps young mothers with no one to help in a grandmotherly capacity and much fulfilment to the woman acting in this role. Do give it some thought.

This post was originally published by Sixty and Me:

Sharing photos as a new grandma


So, you have become a grandmother! It is a time of excitement, love and warmth – and you are eager to share this with your friends. What better way than via pictures of the new baby? It is so easy these days with mobile phones. You can show photos from day one. What a pleasure for everyone.

The Response

Well, I must admit to a failing here. I do not naturally cluck over newborn baby photos. A real live baby – yes, every time. You can hold them, cuddle them, smell them. But pictures just don’t do it for me. In fact, it is often hard to see anything aside from a tiny face, eyes closed, hardly visible underneath blankets and enfolding arms.

I have spoken to friends and I know at least some of them are like me when put in this position. We know exactly what we are supposed to do, but find it very hard to do. I usually manage a “lovely” or “how wonderful,” but it doesn’t come out with natural grace.

It gets easier as babies gain a few months, because then you can comment on who he or she looks like. “Oh, she’s got her father’s eyes,” can be a genuine response. And you can talk a bit about what the baby is doing, how much sleep the mother is getting and how often the grandmother sees them. The older, the better.

To Show or Not to Show

Do you show everyone pictures of your grandchildren? I spoke to a lot of women when preparing my book, Celebrating Grandmothers, and they had varying views on this issue. Many loved to show such photos and admitted they were very quick to do so.

But a few were more reticent, noting that while they knew their friends were very happy for them, they might be quickly bored by photos. Moreover, if anyone was around who was not yet a grandmother, or might never become one, it could be insensitive. Some simply felt that their love for their grandchildren was a private matter.

What Is Going On?

I have been pondering how there can be such a disparity in the feelings of those showing pictures and those looking at them, or, at least, some of us. What is going on?

It is obvious once you think about it. Women showing their grandchild’s picture – even the little face hidden in a blanket – imbue the photo with all the love that they feel. They don’t see a hardly visible baby – they see the baby they have held and felt so much love for.

The onlooker, in contrast, cannot easily share this, however happy they are for the grandmother herself. They know what their friend is feeling, but cannot conjure up the same senses from a photo.

Indeed, one can go further. The same problem can arise with pictures of any new love in a friend’s life, for instance a man they have recently met. You can wish them well, but you cannot call up all that emotion in the same way.

This post was originally published by Sixty and Me (

Are you ready to be a great-grandma? Thinking about the long-term future

Not long ago, my six-year old grandson took me aback. “Granny,” he asked innocently enough. “Would you do me a favour?” I assumed he wanted another biscuit (cookie) or to watch some more television. “Granny,” he continued. “Would you and Grand-dad do your very, very best to stay healthy, because I want my children to know their great-grandparents?”

Well, that was surprise! I promised to try. What else could I say?

Thinking About the Future

Like many grandmothers, I have not thought much about becoming a great-grandmother. Many older women are not yet grandmothers and taking it to the next step, even for those of us who are, seems a bit far.

And yet, if you have a reflective nature, you have undoubtedly begun to think about the long-term future. It’s not something you think about all the time, but it comes on at odd moments of the day or when prompted by some event.

Of course, you know you are growing older inexorably day by day, but you also know that there are too many unknowns to create a very vivid picture.

The Maturing of the Generations

If you are a grandmother, you may think about the future more readily, because when you are with the grandchildren, it is right there in front of you.

You do wonder what will happen to them. You look at those little smiling childish faces and try to imagine what they will look like when they are older. What will they be like as adults? What will they want to become? And what will the world be like when they get there? Things around us seem to be changing so fast, it is hard to imagine.

You may also wonder about your own children as older adults – although any transformation will not be so great – compared to small children.

But, quite naturally, you will also wonder about yourself. Will you be around in twenty or more years’ time? If so, what will you be up to doing? Will you have stayed healthy, as so eagerly urged by my grandson, or will you be struggling with some major illness? Will you still feel engaged and productive? Will you be happy?

The Satisfactions of Being a Great-Grandmother

This leads me back to that surprising issue of being a great-grandmother. I had never given it much thought. Indeed, I find it hard to imagine.

My older friends tell me it is somewhat like being a grandmother, but the distance in age, and sometimes your own frailty, makes it hard to feel quite so involved.

Of course, it is wonderful to hold a new and related baby in your arms. Indeed, as one friend put it, “To look into the eyes of the next generation.”

Multiple Generations Face-to-Face

If you and your children all started their families early, it will be much easier. You might be a great-grandmother in your sixties, with plenty of energy to take an active role. But for most of us, with children being born later and later, you may feel you need to take more of a back seat. This is not to say that, as the children grow and ask questions, you can’t impart the occasional wisdom. That could be very satisfying indeed.

And if you get there, you will be faced with amazing twin facts affecting your self-image. First, you will have reached the lofty stage of being a great-grandmother. Second, you will have to accept that your once little child is now a grandparent!

This was originally published by Sixty and Me:

Why downsizing is so difficult


When I was young, I would look at old people living in big houses and think it was all wrong. Young families needed their space, so why didn’t they just move on and let others have their houses? And anyway, wouldn’t they prefer a place that was easier to manage?

Ah, yes. If only it were that simple. As we of older years well know, moving anywhere is a very major decision and a very difficult one. Perhaps some find it easy, but I have yet to meet them. It is a huge upheaval, both practically and – perhaps more importantly – emotionally.


Downsizing means finding a new place to live. Do you move to a new area to live near your children or simply to gain new experiences? That means leaving behind all your local knowledge, such as the best shops for your favourite food. You may well miss the neighbours – the people who look after the cat when you are away or even help out when you are ill. Such support is not easily replaced.

There is also the question of what kind of house or flat you move on to. You expect it to be better, but you also know there may be hidden problems. You may find you miss having that extra room. Or the walls are too thin and the neighbours noisy. Or it is harder to get around by public transport.

Looking through your past life

But most difficult of all, downsizing means sorting through all your things and throwing or giving a lot away. To young people, such sorting may seem like nothing more than a lot of boring afternoons spent going through old stuff. To us, in contrast, it means confronting some heavy emotional issues.

Many of the things you own have a significance for one reason or another. Some may remind you of your childhood or earlier years. Some may have belonged to your late husband or your parents or even grandparents. Going through these things means thinking about your life and what was important in it. Getting rid of them means saying good-bye to your past. These are very difficult tasks.

The good side

Of course, there are many good reasons to move. By buying a smaller place, you will invariably release some equity, enabling you to pay off your mortgage or otherwise cushion your future. Or it might provide capital to allow your children to put down a deposit for a home of their own. It will also be cheaper to run and easier to clean and maintain. It may be newer, brighter, and more in keeping with your current and future circumstances.

Making the decision

All in all, it is a very difficult decision. You may want to act when you are young enough to weather the upheaval. You don’t want to be faced with a move just when your spouse or partner has died.

Thus, a lot of us will conclude it is an excellent idea to move on, but maybe it could wait a few more years. If that is you, you are not alone.

This was originally published by British Seniors (

Grandparents Day

Ann Richardson pictured with her grandson

IF you haven’t heard that October 4 is Grandparents Day, you are not alone. Few people have heard of it and most don’t care. Talking to my friends and neighbours in north London, I note a common view that it is just another American import with no relevance here.

Yet having a special day offers a chance to stop and think about our grandparents and their role in our lives. Perhaps you were brought up by yours. Perhaps you learned a lot from them when your parents were too busy to sit down and talk to you. Perhaps they had little importance at all. Or maybe you are a grandparent yourself.

Having a special day is a chance to stop and think about how you feel about this. Grandmothers have a rather bad press. They are seen as old and grey and boring. But I suspect grandmothers themselves, would argue strongly against this image.

I never had much to do with my grandparents when I was young, so when I became one myself, I found it a big surprise. Just when small children were a thing of the past, suddenly there they were again – new bodies to cuddle and new minds to nurture.

Spending time with grandchildren changes the texture of your day-to-day life. Once again, you are reading bedtime stories, going on outings and noting the fresh way that young children look at life. You may have much more involvement with your son or daughter and develop a new role as helper and giver of advice. And you have moved up a generation, necessarily making you think.

I found this all so fascinating that I decided to write a book about it. While there are many advice books and the occasional book offering grandmothers’ wisdom or recipes, there are no books about how it feels to be a grandmother.

I interviewed 27 grandmothers about what they did, how they felt and how it changed their lives. Their responses varied – from those who were very happy and involved to those who found it hard to see their grandchildren due to distance or difficult family relationships.

The resulting book allows these very different women, ranging from their mid-40s to late 80s, and from all walks of life, to explore the many aspects of what it is like to be a grandmother.

They talk about their love, of course, and note the small pleasures, such as lying in bed with grandchildren, chatting with a teenager or talking to young adults about their lives. Being around children again made them think about their own success or failure as mothers and how they would do it differently if they had their time again.

These grandmothers also talk about how having grandchildren changes relationships within their families. Some loved having a greater closeness – others found they were very irritated by a daughter- or son-in-law or even by their own son or daughter.  There is the occasional surprise, such as the Hindu woman who viewed her granddaughter as a reincarnation of her late husband.

All grandparents – but perhaps especially grandmothers – know that when it comes to giving advice, you have to tread carefully. You may think you know best, but as one woman in the book put it: “Every grandmother should be issued with a zip”.

This article was first published by the Camden New Journal 24 September 2015