Grandparents struggle with not seeing grandchildren during pandemic

"It's really been difficult. ... I feel sad a lot."
TODAY Illustration / Courtesy Cara Deighan
/ Source: TODAY
By Terri Peters

While parents are dealing with decisions about keeping kids safe during the coronavirus pandemic, grandparents are facing different struggles: Feelings of isolation and sadness due to missing in-person visits with their grandchildren.

Carol Skrysak, who lives in San Diego, California, has not seen her granddaughters, Peyton, 7, and Piper, almost 1, since her last visit to their Illinois home in December.

Skrysak says she misses spending "grandma time" with her granddaughters, but is hesitant to travel by air due to the pandemic. And, the 70-year-old says since she and her husband are "at that senior age," they're also uncomfortable taking a road trip from California to Illinois.

"It's really been difficult," Skrysak told TODAY Parents. "I thought this wouldn't last that long, but it sure has and it looks like it's going to continue. I feel sad a lot, but I also know it's for their safety as well as mine."

Carol Skrysak lives in San Diego, California, and has not seen her granddaughters, Peyton, 7, and Piper, almost 1, since December when she visited her daughter Stacey Skrysak's home in Springfield, Illinois.Stacey Skrysak

Skrysak's daughter, TODAY Parenting Team contributor Stacey Skrysak, says not having her mom's help during her daughter, Piper's, first year was a challenge. And, seeing her older daughter, Peyton, miss her grandparents has been a struggle.

"I'm having the hardest time with watching Piper grow so quickly and reach so many milestones, knowing my parents are missing it," Stacey Skrysak said. "It's crazy to think how much they have missed out on since the last time they saw her when she was four months old."

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Cara Deighan and her husband, Kevin, welcomed their daughter, Adalynn, into the world in March, when COVID-19 was first reaching pandemic-level in Houston. Deighan relocated from Butler, Pennsylvania, to Houston more than two years ago, and her mother, father and stepmother still live in the Northeast.

Deighan's in-laws relocated to Houston after learning she was pregnant and have been able to see Adalynn and help care for her while Deighan and her husband work. But Deighan's mother, Lori Cygan, who had to cancel plans to travel to Houston by air after Adalynn's birth, has only had a few days with the baby after making the trip by car instead.

Cara Deighan's mother, Lori Cygan, drove from Pennsylvania to Texas to meet her new granddaughter, after canceling air travel plans at the urging of Deighan's pediatrician.Cara Deighan

"I don’t care about me and I don’t care about my husband (catching the virus)," said Deighan, who told her parents they must travel by car, not plane, if they plan to visit to minimize exposure to the virus. "I care about the baby and the unknown of what this could do to her long-term. I'm willing to stop my life and everybody else's to protect her."

Deighan's father and stepmother, Jenny Cygan, still haven't met Adalynn. The couple have been apprehensive about making a trip from Pennsylvania to Texas due to their own responsibilities: They're raising three of their young grandchildren, and they have aging parents to look after. Once the grandchildren they care for return to school in August, there will be new concerns about their potential exposure to COVID-19.

"There are definitely some sad feelings. She's over four months old and she has never seen us," Cygan said. "We knew that them living so far away would be hard but now, with COVID, feeling like we’re not free to travel back and forth is harder."

Cara Deighan's husband's grandparents also made a road trip to Houston to meet their new great-granddaughter.Cara Deighan

"There’s a lot of disappointment and even a little bit of jealousy of the other grandparents who have been able to see her," Cygan confessed. "I didn’t think that was going to be a problem for me but it does raise the feelings like, 'Oh, she’s going to know them so much more than us.'"

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Chloé Cook, a licensed marriage and family therapist from Atlanta, Georgia, has an 11-year-old stepdaughter and a 1-year-old son. She knows her parents, who live in Jackson, Mississippi, are sad about missing out on watching her baby grow and change.

Cook said grandparents' feelings of anxiety and sadness during the pandemic are normal.

"Our brains trigger a stress response when we're isolated socially," Cook explained. "That stress response is actually our bodies trying to tell us, 'Hey we need to be around people, this isn’t normal.' It's our brain’s way of helping us survive because we’re not meant to be alone."

To help grandparents who are feeling sad or anxious, Cook said it's important for family members to use technology to send photos and videos and to schedule face-to-face video chats.

Chloe Cook's father, Martel Cook, holds her infant son, Cannon, at their last pre-coronavirus visit in December 2019.Chloe Cook

And, to help combat loneliness, grandparents should work on having a daily routine and also adding more spontaneous activities into their schedules.

“Keeping a routine means so much because that tells our brain there are things to look forward to every day," said Cook, noting that activities like sitting on the porch with coffee every morning or exercising three times a week are routine-worthy endeavors that may bring grandma and grandpa increased happiness.

"When you’re doing the same specific things every day, it kind of keeps you going," Cook said. "But, on the flip side, we actually need some things that spice it up a little bit — things we don’t normally do."

Cook suggested giving grandparents something to look forward to by planning some of these spontaneous activities together as a family.

"If there’s an art project the kids did or something happening in your home that's not everyday, say, 'Hey, we’re going to call you and you can watch them do their art project or see what they just did,'" Cook said. "It’s just about doing little things that kind of throw some anticipation and excitement into your week."

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