Q: Can you give me any tips on how to stay close to [...]
Long distance grandparentingCreated by Lisa in Long-distance Grannies
A personal experience
When my grandson was born, impotent I was over the moon, asthma so happy for my daughter and her husband and the whole family were equally thrilled. They only lived 50 miles away, pills so I was able to visit regularly, or they would to come to stay for the weekend when I could proudly show him off to my friends and neighbours.
When he was three months old, his parents decided they were going to move to Barcelona, where my son in law had the opportunity to run a business with his three brothers. I shared in their excitement and thought what a wonderful place for them to live, as I’d visited the city only a few years before.
At that point, I didn’t really think about the implications of the distance it would put between my grandson, me and the rest of his family in the UK. This was probably because within the space of a few weeks they had rented out their house and moved in with me as they waited for their imminent department to Spain.
In the end, due to various business complications, they stayed with me for three months. During this time I got to be a hands-on granny with my perfectly beautiful grandson and to watch my daughter take to motherhood like a duck to water and his father doting on them both.
So when the time came for them to make the move, it was pretty heartbreaking for me to say goodbye to them all. Not least I was worried for my daughter, who at that stage didn’t speak a word of Spanish!
For the first year or so, when he was still a baby, my visits were more difficult. I visited every 10 weeks or so, and I don’t think he really knew who I was and he sometimes seemed a little wary. While my daughter and son in law were at work, I would take him out to the nearby play parks and build sandcastles, but as I didn’t speak Spanish, I didn’t dare to venture very far.
I felt safest back at the apartment, where we could play with his toys and read books. Journeys home were sad in the early days and often on the way to the airport, I had a little cry behind my sunglasses.
But now my grandson is six years old and, writing about it today, I can’t really remember that I felt sad! I haven’t missed one of his birthdays and have been able to spoil him every Christmas. I still manage to visit every eight to 10 weeks, for long weekends and they come back to England about twice a year. I have EasyJet and RyanAir to thank for being able to make such frequent visits, when I’m afraid my environmental conscience does rather go by the board.
There has never been language problem between us, as my daughter has always spoken English with him. He speaks Spanish with his dad and his family and is taught in Catalan at school and speaking three languages seems quite normal to him. But English is his favourite language and now he helps me to speak Spanish!
When I visit now I have to make sure I take sensible shoes as I spend a lot of time playing football in the parks or on the beach. Otherwise we stay in the house and spend hours playing with Lego or drawing. I always take him an English comic which has loads of things to make or colour or count and is handy to take with us when we go out to restaurants and he gets bored. He loves playing ‘Guess Who’, which he can do in any language, or we play card games like Snap Pairs and Happy Families.
I always used to take him a book on my visits but he was having problems learning to read and write in Catalan at school, so we’ve put English books on hold for a little while.
The TV is rarely on when I go to stay as we are just too busy ‘doing things’. I try not to buy him too many presents each time I see him, but usually fail! But he’s just as happy with a jar of peanut butter as he is with racing car, and I always take a little something for Mummy as well.
We never tire of going to the zoo and always take a picnic, which we plan and make together beforehand. We usually tidy his bedroom and he will help me tidy the rest of the house, sweep and wash the floors, ready to surprise Mummy when she gets back from work.
Keeping in touch
Keeping in touch when we are apart is an interesting one as he will very rarely speak to me, or anyone else, on the phone. When he does it’s a huge treat and then he will chatter away telling me his news for ages. I send him a postcard when I go on holiday and send him pictures or cards with wild animals on every so often for him to put on his bedroom wall. He draws me pictures and my daughter either posts or emails them over to me or sends them on Facebook.
I haven’t managed to sort out a Skype connection, even after all this time, but keep promising I will as I think he would love to show off his break dancing skills to me. But I do have WhatsApp Messenger on my Blackberry so I can send free real time messages to my daughter and she is always sending me photos which I can see within seconds, which is lovely.
I have a happy, close relationship with my grandson. We laugh a lot. We just seem to pick up where we left off the last time we saw each other and, short of having him live five minutes away, I don’t mind not seeing him so often because when we are together we make the very best of the time.
My message to other long distance grandparents, and I realise some will be much further away than my grandson, is to be as relaxed as you can. Definitely take advantage of every sort of video technology you can but don’t insist on a set time and day every week which puts pressure on your grandchild and their parents. You can’t expect children to ‘perform on cue’. The same with phone calls, if they won’t speak to you, let it go for the same reason.
I’m pretty laid back, which I think helps. I think it pays not to be too desperate to please your grandchild all the time or smother them, even though that’s what you really want to do. It’s hard when your grandchild is naughty and can be difficult not to interfere with their parents’ discipline. But even it is means tears and tantrums and not having a treat during your visit, you need to respect their decision.
I’ve never actually discussed keeping in touch with my grandson with my daughter or vice versa, because what we do seems to work well. But some grandparents who don’t get to see their grandchildren that often might want to ask their son or daughter if there is anything in particular it would be nice to do to help keep the relationship as close as possible.
Special treats are great, but don’t feel you have to be out all the time, especially as some outings can cost a fortune. Doing ordinary things like drawing and colouring, reading and playing games at home, going for a walk, playing in the park or having a picnic can be just as much fun. And I don’t know about other grannies, but I get exhausted! It’s alright when they’re little and you can have an afternoon nap when they do. But at six years old, my grandson never stops. So doing something with him sitting down gives me time to recharge my batteries.
Just so long as you take lots of photos each time you visit, you will have some long lasting memories to take home with you. Oh – and always remember to tell them how much you love them, although I doubt you ever forget that one.
By Louise Esplin