Living far away from each other isn’t always easy, but there are ways of coping. Our writer, grandmother Jacqui, explores her own situation and how she tackles the challenges, before talking to other grandparents to find out how they’re coping.
When my eldest daughter gave birth, she was living a mere 20-minute drive from me. I had moved closer to her a couple of years previously, with a feeling that soon there would be a grandchild on the way.
When my grandson was born in March 2017, I was relieved we lived so close. I had all kinds of plans for how I’d play a part in his life, visions of how close we’d be. So when it was announced, just months after his arrival, that his little family unit was moving to Scotland, I was silently devastated.
I didn’t show any of this of course. What good would that do? I was pleased for them and remained stoic. It would be fine: I’d visit; they’d visit. How hard could it be?
I was living in London at this point – just four hours on the train; what’s that between a grandma and her precious absent grandbaby? It’s no time at all.
Seeing them was harder than I thought it would be
Before I knew it, however, several months had passed. Courtesy of Facebook posts and mini-videos via email and messaging apps I could see my grandson growing fast. But I’d only met him once in person, when he was five days old, so I couldn’t wait to go and get another cuddle with him.
But he was six months old before I got to see him again. He was almost 10 months old on my next visit. The following visit was prevented by snow, and the next. The one after that was cancelled due to a death in the family. Being able to see my grandchild was not as easy as I’d hoped.
Having a long-distance grandparenting experience
My friend Graham and his granddaughter Leni – now four – have had a long-distance relationship all her life. Grampy Graham, 65, lives in Portugal and Leni lives 1,200 miles away in Bristol: but the distance between them hasn’t been a problem at all.
“At first, I was a bit worried about how it would work,” admits Graham. “When she was born in 2016, I flew back to the UK and helped out as much as I could for three weeks. Leni and I bonded in that time and that bond has never been broken. Despite the distance between us, we’re incredibly close.”
Now retired, Graham visits as often as he can. For him, being separated from his beloved granddaughter hasn’t been that difficult.
“It’s the way it’s always been,” he explains. “When I’m in Portugal, we video call at night before Leni goes to bed. Sometimes, we just chat and other times I’ll help get her off to sleep by reading her a bedtime story from one of the books I keep here for her. We’ve done that since she was a baby, before she could talk, so it’s just a part of her routine now.
“These days she can chatter away, and with video calls she can see me and I can show her around my apartment. She often instructs me to take her to see the swimming pool or the kitchen. I have a bedroom here for her, so she likes to check on that occasionally to make sure I’m keeping it tidy!”
Technology to the rescue
Graham thinks it’s imperative for grandparents to have some kind of video connection to distant grandchildren. “I know a lot of older people aren’t that great with technology,” he says, “but if they want to keep in touch, they really do have to get to grips with it, no matter how alien it might seem to them. I’d say, if you want to maintain a regular relationship with a distant grandchild, that’s THE most important thing.”
Accounts supervisor Maggie agrees. “If you have a computer or a tablet, it makes staying in touch a whole lot easier. A phone can be a bit of a strain on the eyes, so I’d definitely recommend getting a laptop. It’s better to have a computer, especially if you like to watch TV together, which I do a lot with my grandkids – whole films usually!”
She reckons it’s also important to let them know you’re there for them 24/7. “Just because you can’t be with them physically doesn’t mean they’re cut off from you. I always tell my grandkids they can contact me any hour of the day or night.”
When the separation gets too painful, Maggie says, remember to tell them you love them and that you’ll see them as soon as you can. They need to know that being apart isn’t a forever thing.