I struggled with my mental health when I heard I was becoming a grandparent

I struggled with my mental health when I heard I was becoming a grandparent

July 1, 2020

I remember the day well. It was my 52nd birthday and, as was customary, my three daughters and their partners were celebrating with my husband and I at the family home.

But when I opened a card from my middle daughter, I saw something quite different from the usual birthday greetings.

Instead, there was a grainy black and white photo of a tiny human being. I raised my eyes to see my daughter grinning at me, while my mind tried to take in the enormity of what lay in my hands. I was, in fact, looking at the photo of my first grandchild.

I remember hearing screams and shouts of joy from the rest of the family. My heart felt like it would burst as I ran to my daughter and scooped her up in my arms.  

As I gazed at her, memories of her childhood came flooding back and yet, she was no longer a child. My daughter would soon become a mother.

Some hours later, as the family left, I experienced a mix of euphoria and sadness. My daughters, all in their twenties, had left home some years ago and I was overcome with the feelings of loss associated with empty nest syndrome.

Although I was overjoyed to be welcoming a new baby into the family, my thoughts turned suddenly to my father who had died 18 months earlier. The news of a grandchild compounded my grief somehow, as I longed for my father to be with us.

I wanted to relive the halcyon days of my own children’s childhood, when they got to have a wonderful relationship with my parents. Now I realised that I was the grandparent – I had, in a matter of minutes, swapped roles with my parents.

I felt proud, but this came with a huge sense of responsibility. Would I live up to the task ahead, knowing how wonderful my childrens’ grandparents had been? 

At the time, I was struggling with anxiety that had been triggered by the menopause and I knew that it was common for those aged over 50 to struggle with their mental health.

According to Saga, a company that caters to the over 50s, a third of people in this age bracket have suffered from mental health issues in their lifetime, while another survey by YouGov and Age UK has found that nearly half of over 55’s experience common mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

But I desperately wanted to be free of these debilitating symptoms so I could concentrate fully on my new role as a grandmother. 

The months leading up to the arrival of my grandchild passed by in a blur. My feelings of excitement and joy were tinged with apprehension – I had experienced difficult pregnancies with all three of my children and I silently prayed that my daughter would sail through pregnancy with no major hitches.

I continued to have low mood swings and I would daydream about the past, reaching for baby photos in order to feel better by recalling happier times. These unstable moments scared me as I was uncertain as to why I felt anxious like this.

I was trying and failing to recreate the past, and not accepting that my life was different

However, writing my thoughts and emotions down allowed me to see the conflict in my mind.

I was trying and failing to recreate the past, and not accepting that my life was different. Spending time journaling helped me to realise that and I was able to resolve my conflicting feelings.

By the time my beautiful grandchild arrived, I had made my peace with myself. I remember seeing my daughter and grandson for the first time, and with it came the most powerful surge of love I have ever experienced. 

Here I was, stepping into the big shoes of my own parents and starting my own memories with my own grandchildren. Now, a few years on with two grandchildren and another due anytime soon, I can honestly say that my role as a grandparent is both fulfilling and heart-filling.

My mental health has vastly improved, along with my general health. The presence of my wonderful grandchildren has helped me to reassess my life and come to terms with the loss of my father and my children leaving home – my aim is now to be a healthy grandparent so I can enjoy my grandchildren’s company for many years to come.

I’m not the only person to feel this way. Another YouGov and Age UK survey found that the vast majority of grandparents who provide regular care for their grandchildren feel huge benefits, such as keeping physically and mentally active, not feeling lonely and having a sense of purpose.

Becoming a grandparent following the birth of my first grandchild also provided a catalyst for me to seek help for my mental health. After a consultation with my GP, I ventured into the world of mindfulness, meditation and yoga. 

Within a few weeks of these gentle therapies I was feeling more relaxed and able to cope better with the symptoms that had been dominating my life. 

My life as a grandparent is filled with love and I cherish every moment spent with my beautiful grandchildren. The circle of life keeps turning and I am truly honoured to be part of it.

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