We knew one of the hardest parts of having a baby abroad was going to be the distance from our respective hometowns. While we call Berlin home, we have no idea what being a kid in a big city is like, what challenges our little Berliner will face.
I grew up in a small town in Washington State once known for its farming. My life was all horse riding and soccer (not Fußball). The “big city” of Seattle was about an hour away, but I only got there on special occasion.
Then we uprooted our life to move to the German capital. Though Berlin has an unusually relaxed atmosphere for a major metropolis, it is still city living. What is it like to have a bilingual child in a language I am still too shaky in? Is she going to confidently travel the city by herself like those roving gangs of 10-year-olds I see? What do I do when my 15-year-old orders herself a beer?
Even more than these (possibly petty) worries, we wonder about the effects of raising her away from her grandparents. All of them are still based in the States. Though we took parental leave for almost 2 months over Christmas and spent everyday getting showered in new grandparent love – this is a far-cry from being based in the same city, or even the same state, the same continent. Through no-fault of their own, our parents are trying to make Long-Distance Grandparenting work.
It is brutal. I think we all knew it would be, but whew! Most heart-breaking has been my parents asking if we want to raise her away from them. I stand firm in thinking Berlin is the place for us and a fabulous place to raise a child, but it is not easy to hear the pain in their voice. While there is no perfect solution (besides moving back which isn’t happening yet – sorry!), there are things we do to make the distance seem shorter. Here are three ways to cope as a Long-Distance Grandparent.
Seriously – how did people move abroad before the advent of Skype? We have regularly used the service sine first moving overseas in 2007. It can be infuriating when a call inexplicably gets cut off or to try to talk through an echo, but I always remind myself that this is a lot better/faster/cheaper than sending a letter.
Since my little girl is only 7 months old, a lot of the calls are just chatting while we watch her play. On last week’s call they marveled at her sitting skills, ability to chow down on a cracker and vocal range. It takes little to hold the grandparent’s interest and just watching her relieves some of the heart ache.
I’ve heard Skype calls can be difficult with older children whose short attention span makes it impossible to focus on far-away grandparents. Tips from other expat mamas I plan to utilize:
- Try chatting during bath time or dinner. The grandparents get to participate in an everyday activity they otherwise are missing out on and the child gets to be engaged in something besides creating conversation.
- Have the grandparents use a stuffed animal as a special guest. Kids may have an easier time talking to Elmo than Opa.
- Make it a time for show-and-tell. They can gather any new crafts, toys or pictures and show them to the grandparents.
- Skype Joke Hour! One inventive mom said her parents started collecting knock-knock jokes that her kids love. Now that the kids have gotten older, they are sharing jokes of their own. If you’re not one for jokes, try story time.
LOTS of pictures and video
Skype calls don’t totally fill the gap – especially with a 9 hour time difference. To try and include my parents in all parts of our girl’s life I started a simple tumblr blog where I capture everything from epic spit-ups to first sit-ups. Nothing is too small for these long-distance grandparents.
We also recently got a fancy moving picture frame for the grandparents that is helping them stay connected. As soon as I have a picture I shoot it off to the frame so they can see the latest pics immediately.
Another tip I gleaned off expat moms is to create a photo album of the grandparents for the child. This can help them feel connected and familiar with their extended family.
Regular Trips Back and Forth
All of this is still no substitute for in person grandparenting. We are planning our next trip home and one of the grands just arrived this week for his second visit in 7 months. Having kids is a sure-fire way to get your parents to visit more often.
Do you have tips for Long-Distance Grandparenting? Please share them in the comments!