It is that time of year where our latest visiting family member is on their way home (bye Opa!) and we are reminded how very hard it is to have a baby abroad. We have no one to call about a sickness in the middle of the night, no family at her birthday party, and nary a date night in sight.
While there are many positives of raising a child in Germany (hello practically free child care), nothing replaces family. Though we took two periods of parental leave to stay with family in the States – this is a far-cry from being based in the same city, same state, same continent. Through no-fault of their own, our parents are trying to make Long-Distance Grandparenting work.
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, there are things we do to make the distance seem shorter. Here are three ways to ease the pain of raising kids away from family.
Frequent Video Calls
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. And there are now many other options like Facebook messenger, WhatsApp for texts, and a host of other services.
Since my little girl is only 2, a lot of the calls are just chatting while we watch her play. On our last call they watched her in the bath and got to enjoy a classic scene of our new kitten falling into the tub. They couldn’t have been more present than if we’d all actually packed into our tiny bathroom.
I’ve heard calls can be difficult with older children whose short attention span makes it impossible to focus on far-away grandparents. Here are some of the top tips I am utilizing:
- Try chatting during an activity like bath or meal time. The grandparents get to participate in an everyday activity they otherwise are missing out on and the child isn’t in the spotlight, forced to perform.
- Have the grandparents use a stuffed animal as a special guest. Kids may have an easier time talking to Elmo than Opa. Or in our case, an oinking, tottering pig.
- Make it a time for show-and-tell. They can gather any new crafts, toys or pictures and show them to the grandparents.
- Reading a favorite book. I can’t believe how much Little Blue Truck and The Pout-Pout Fish play into our daily lives.
- Joke Hour! One inventive expat 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
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. I mark off firsts and gifts she receives so they feel included in all these landmark events.
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.
I also made a brag book of up-to-date photos that they can whip out and show to their friends, sharing the grandchild’s latest exploits.
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. Our every year-and-a-half trips aren’t cutting it and we are traveling home more than ever, for longer than before. And having kids is a sure-fire way to get your parents to visit more often.
Do you have tips for how to Raise Kids Away from Family? Please share them in the comments.
This edited GW Expat Blog post was originally published on June 17, 2015.