Becoming a grandparent with Parkinson’s prompts joy, worry

How will the disease affect my relationship with my grandchild?

Christine Scheer avatar

by Christine Scheer |

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We’re going to be grandparents! My husband, John, and I couldn’t be more excited. Grandma, Nanny, Grannie, or Gram — I don’t care what this baby calls me.

I look forward to the (hopefully) beautiful relationship I envision with this child. I hope to be a source of love, cuddles, cookies, and fun in their life, and I can’t wait to see what kind of person they’ll grow up to be.

However, I’m a bit apprehensive about my Parkinson’s disease interrupting this new experience. What if I have too many or too severe tremors to hold the baby? What if I move too slowly to chase a toddler around? What if my Parkinson’s progresses to the point where my deep brain stimulation no longer helps me? This disease has made me somebody who can’t be counted on.

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I’m the youngest in my family, and John was also on the tail end of his siblings, so by the time we got around to having children in our 30s, our parents weren’t really into it. My father, who passed away when our children were very young, was a kind but distant figure. My mother, who was slipping toward dementia, would often announce to anybody who might be listening that she had no intentions of babysitting her grandchildren. She would visit us from her home in Montreal, and when she arrived, I’d warn our girls to be on their best behavior. Pretend like Grandma is the queen, I’d tell them.

John’s parents lived much closer. During the summers, in fact, they lived in a cottage on the same farm property as us. They were a five-to-10-minute stroll away — or with children, a 30-minute adventure past ponds, a wishing well, a waterfall, and many frogs! When our children were young, they enjoyed walking to the cottage for a visit with their grandparents.

In the cottage is a lovely big fireplace, and inscribed into the hearth are the words, “We see a lot of trouble in our days, most of which never happens.” This quote, a version of which is often attributed to Mark Twain or Winston Churchill, has become a family motto. It’s a reminder not to let our worries and fears needlessly consume us. We often quote it to each other when things look dark and we can’t see a way out. Will it ease my concerns of being a grandparent with Parkinson’s disease?

John’s mother was a loving but reluctant grandparent. She was terrific in a pinch when we needed help, but we had to be careful not to overdo our requests. Grammie, as the kids called her, was a great baker and a fantastic gardener. These two things defined her relationship with our children.

Behind their cottage, she grew raspberries, from which she made raspberry jam. If there were any extra berries after she made jam, we were allowed to pick them, but only on her say. She was big on setting boundaries.

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One day, our daughters and I walked to the cottage. Nobody was there but the raspberries, so we went to visit them. Then we tasted them in all their summer juiciness. We munched through the canes, raspberry juice staining our fingers and clothes. It was glorious.

Next thing we knew, my mother-in-law’s car was coming down the road.

“Hit the deck!” I shouted to the girls. “Grammie is on her way!”

We dropped to the ground and scooted away army-style. Our secret foray into the raspberry canes went undetected.

As I mentioned, Grammie was a terrific baker, and Gramps, my father-in-law, had quite the sweet tooth. There was always some sugary action going on in their kitchen. As you might imagine, all this sweetness was quite a draw for little children. I called her one day and told her the girls and I were going on a walk, and I wondered if we could drop by. She answered, “You can’t possibly come by now; I’m busy making cookies.”

I know that my mother-in-law loved all of her grandchildren. She was probably tired and overwhelmed when I called, but explaining that statement’s logic to a 3- and 5-year-old was downright ridiculous. So we went for a walk anyway, waved to Grammie as we went by, and then trundled back home.

What kind of grandparent will I be? Despite Parkinson’s, I’m hopeful. This disease brings many challenges, but I’m determined to ensure this new grandbaby feels my love. John and I will be moving into that cottage very soon, and I’m eagerly looking forward to the visits!

Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


Bill Patterson avatar

Bill Patterson

Having been a grandparent for the last 10 years I have a little bit of perspective on a subject. I was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2010, had had symptoms three and a half years before diagnosis. Just prior to my becoming a grandfather I attended a lecture session at the library given by journalist Bill Grist (father of MSNBC TV journalist Willy Geist). I asked him what he would say to me as a prospective grandparent. He told me that grandchildren would make me forget I had Parkinson's!

Christine Scheer avatar

Christine Scheer

Thanks Bill! I love hearing this!

Charlotte Juarez avatar

Charlotte Juarez

My toddler grandson imitated my tremors once and it gave me the idea to write my early readers books, "Grammy has Parkinson's" and "Does Your Grandpa Shake Too?" for helping young children better understand the disease. I don't want my grandchildren to be afraid of my Parkinson's and I will certainly do what I can to keep it from holding me back from enjoying time with them.

Christine Scheer avatar

Christine Scheer

Brilliant! A perfect example of making lemonade from lemons! Thanks for sharing!

Cheryl L Picard avatar

Cheryl L Picard

I enjoyed this grandparent story. As a grammy of 7 the children realize that I move slower than the other grown ups, the 4 year old attributes to my age and will often offer a hand. While I cannot run after or catch the 2 year old and at times tire easily, they are my joy ❤

Christine Scheer avatar

Christine Scheer

Thank you for sharing your experience Cheryl, I really appreciate it.


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