Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 6–8 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

I’m grateful for the enthusiastic response to last week’s column. Several people asked if I respond to questions from older adults. I do, and I typically receive one or two weekly queries from people over 65. The term “older adults” makes me smile. When our peer educators focused on Respect for Older Adults as our theme in 2014, and I processed our youth conference plans, I asked our teens what they defined as older. The consensus was people in their 40s! Most questions from older adults center on two themes – fear for their grandchildren and loneliness. Here is one of each.

Q.My son and his family live across the country and I miss them terribly. Since my husband died, I feel very alone. I know they visit when they can, but they all have busy lives. They invite me to fly to them constantly, offering to pay for the flights. I’m afraid to fly. How can I conquer my fear? I’m afraid I’m too old to change.


Response: Your loneliness echoes in my heart. As a nonnie (a grandma), I know nothing rejuvenates the spirit like time spent with grandchildren. The days when most children grew up and lived in the same town as parents are gone. As tough as it is, your situation is common.

Your fear of flying is real. Again, you’re not alone. Many people share this fear. My own papa often said he’d return to his native Italy only when they built a bridge.

Let’s look at your options.

  • Have you considered taking a train? One of the items on my bucket list is traveling cross-country via Amtrak. I picture the scenery and the ambience of seeing America through the windows of my sleeping compartment. You have the time. Imagine reading, making new friends and eating in the dining car.
  • There are a number of programs and classes to help you deal with your fear of flying. In researching them, this one impressed me. It’s a nonprofit focusing on anxiety while in the air.
  • Consider talking with your health-care provider. Anxiety-reducing medications may help.
  • Contact your airlines and ask for support. You can arrange for wheelchair assistance if needed, as well as early boarding. I could quote statistics proving that flying is safer than driving to the airport, but data won’t ease your fear. Planning – visiting the airport, familiarizing yourself with the routine – might.
  • Try using mindful imagery to help you cope. Picture spending time with your son’s family. Bring a picture of those precious grandchildren to use as a focus. Remember to breathe.

I hope you can conquer your fear and spend more time with your family. It’s wonderful to be wanted; they obviously need you. Think of this – if flying feels so dangerous to you, wouldn’t you prefer to take that risk than expose your grandchildren to it?

You’re not too old for joy or change as long as you’re breathing. You’re strong – you raised your son and now you’re blessed to be a grandma. Life is short. You’ve got this!

Q.My grandchildren are not being parented as I like. I offer suggestions, but they seem to fall on deaf ears. I know how to raise children. I raised their parents! Why won’t they listen to me?


Response: I hope you’ll receive my response with the respect with which I offer it. Parents do the best they can with a challenging job. Parenting trends change; your parenting style may no longer be in fashion. That’s OK.

Unless your grandchildren are in harm’s way, I think your role is clear. Support your children as they parent, love those babies, and keep advice rare.

Children sense discord. Your time with your grandchildren should be harmonious and full of joy. Find someone to vent your displeasure to after a visit – a group of people your age with similar concerns is perfect. To your family, offer love and kindness and respect.

The great blessing of grandparenthood is the ability to love children without the weight of responsibility. Enjoy them. Again, if their parenting is a danger to them, speak up. If not, take a mental step back and focus on how wonderful it is to be a grandparent.

May you enjoy your time with them! Good luck.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email at

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