The Long-Distance Grandparent Survival Guide

Our columnist has had the kids around the corner and across the ocean. Here's what she's learned.

By Barbara Graham

I've had it every which way: Grandchildren in my neighborhood, grandchildren on the other side of the Atlantic, grandchildren across the continental United States. In each instance, the same grandchildren. My heart has been broken. I have cried into my pillow. I have longed to live in simpler times (but with indoor plumbing) when families weren't scattered willy-nilly across the globe. Alas.

Now, my two granddaughters and their parents are back on the opposite shore of the Atlantic, and I have given up making predictions about where they'll set up house next. My choice, as I see it, is to go with the flow — or shoot myself. I'm opting for the former. Here are some things I try to bear in mind to avoid the latter.

1. There will be challenges no matter how near — or far away — I live from the grandkids.

I hear all the time from grandparents who live around the corner from their offspring's offspring and complain that, although they adore the kids, they frequently feel exhausted and put upon. Alternatively, I hear from local grandparents who, for all intents and purposes, are barred from seeing their grandkids and might as well live an ocean away. Then there are the grandparents who relocate to be near the grandkids, but end up pining for their former lives and friends. This underscores my hunch that…

2. Life, at best, is highly imperfect.

No matter what your situation or your proximity to your adult children, their spouses and kids, there are bound to be disappointments, mixed signals, unfulfilled expectations, hurt feelings — and all the other emotions (joy included) common in relationships among members of our species. One plus of living far away is that everyone tends to suck it up and be on their very best behavior during visits.

3. TGFS (Thank God for Skype).

I know, I know, it's not ideal. Seeing the kids on a computer screen is not the same as hugging, snuggling, tickling, or kissing them, but it is an enormous improvement over mere phone calls, especially when the little ones can't yet carry on a conversation. Face time matters. And on Skype books may be read, games played, songs sung — all of which help create a sense of continuity between visits. This is especially critical in families where frequent close encounters are prohibitively expensive, physically challenging, or otherwise difficult to arrange.

4. Keep the faith. Your grandchildren will know you. Really.

This is key. When Isabelle, my first granddaughter, was so rudely snatched by her parents and moved from my zip code in Washington, D.C., to Paris, I was a puddle on the floor. I despaired that she would have more of a relationship with her local croissant baker (she is a croissant fiend) than with me. Not so. Children are people with memories who reserve a special place in their hearts for grandparents. (We may feel competitive with the other grandparents, but kids are geniuses at making room for everybody, if given the chance.) During visits, I spend as much time as possible alone with each girl, then keep things going on Skype when I get home. (Needless to say, parental cooperation is also important.)

5. Life outside of grandchildren is essential to mental health.

Even if you live next door to the grandkids and are an integral part of their daily lives, someday you are bound to feel like chopped liver if you make them the single, central focus of your life. They will start school, make friends, and get involved in all sorts of activities. This is the natural course of things, and at a certain point even their parents will be left in the dust. (Remember?) Love the kids, dote on them, be there for them to the degree that you can, but in the meantime don't forget to get a life.

That said, I am slaving away over a hot stove learning to make the perfect croissant.


I recently found out the my son in law accepted a job and will be moving my daughter and 2 grandsons from MD which is 11/2 hours away to NC which is 6 hours away. I was shattered to hear the news and have been crying for days. I have 2 daughters but only 1 has kids. My daughters were military brats and did not get to see their grandparents on a regular basis, so my only request as a grandparent was to be in close proximity to my grandsons. I didn't see this coming, any advice will be helpful. on 2016-06-21 09:52:10

It. is chocking to see how many grandparents fee the same pain... What is wrong with living in the same town is state and finding a decent job? My son in law is taking my daughter and my grandchildren away to have a better way to support them and save for college!!!!! What is wrong with bank loans for college education? He is selfish and just thinking about his brilliant self centered career!!! Money in exchange of family ties?????? His big Yale ego is shattering our family. My only two grandchildren that I love more than my own self taken away fro me. No skype or phone or what else can replace our moments of joy together and no money in the world can buy a single second of my afternoons with my granddaughter... What kind of human beings my grandchildren will be?? on 2014-08-25 20:37:40

Dear all
I am just new here and I am sharing your pain. I knew my son in law was looking for a better opportunity to grow in his career. We all leave in CT and only 2 miles apart. My granddaughter is two years old and we developed a very close relationship. I see her almost everyday after work when she waits for me behind the storm door waving her arms and saying : Vovó !!! (It is grandma in Portuguese). I am devastated, I was never prepared for that.... They are moving to DC and I even consider moving there as well but reading the comments here and thinking what if my son in law gets a promotion and needs to to run the office in Singapore ?? I am feeling as I have no gravity, lost... I have two other daughters leaving nearby by they don't want to have children. So my granddaughter and the new baby will be the only ones. I don't know what to do to manage my career, my marriage and my grandchildren moving far away... I am feeling so overwhelmed... on 2014-08-24 08:15:52

Great article and everything I would say myself. I am a long-distance grandparent as of last year but I have learned that it really doesn't matter if they are a few hours away or across an ocean. It's all about working with your children and sometimes compromising, for example, if they have had an extremely tough or busy weekend, they might not be able to Skype and you can't take it personally. They won't forget you. I am lucky to have worked what I like to do into how I connect with my grandchildren. I have always liked drawing and writing stories (not my job though) so what better thing than to write your grandchild a story. Kids love their name in print. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate but it does have to connect with them. Rhyming books are best for younger children but you have to grow with them too and at some point, you turn it into a short story. Drawings don't have to be elaborate either and if you google most images, you will find something that fits with your story (most times I Google Images, and put in colouring pages or cartoons, to get the type of children's picture I am looking for). Try it. I think you will delight in the look in their eye when they see a book that you have written just for them and yes, it might be something they keep forever! As my grandkids get older, I now ask them what they would like a story about and I write one about that and usually we do it "on the spot". Kids have a great imagination! It keeps me busy and it's fun. They have asked for stories about peacocks, snowgirls and moose. Sometimes it's a challenge but every story can have meaning and make the main character the type of character they want but research it a bit to make sure you use a little bit of "real life" information ie, I researched peacocks and found out they don't get their beautiful long train until they are about 3 years old, so I wrote a story about being beautiful on the inside as well as the outside. I try to have meaning too, ie, incorporate real-life situations for example, bullying, making friends, being a friend, using your imagination, recycling (I wrote a book about using boxes). I am sure you can come up with something to write about. The drawings are sometimes more of a challenge but draw stick people, google something or ask them to draw the characters; that would make it a truly collaborative story. Most of all, enjoy this time together but don't be upset if each and everything you write isn't a hit. It's about you connecting with your child and learning what they like so it's not a wasted effort - and it keeps you busy too. Have fun with your grandkids but have fun in your life too!

Crosbie on 2014-06-15 10:52:39

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