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’m a mother of the sweetest 2 year old boy and my parents moved to our town once he was born and have been babysitting 2 days a week. They have recently announced that they will be moving to Florida and I’m crushed, completely devastated. My little boy loves my mom so much that I think this will damage his ability to trust when she leaves, I think he will feel abandoned like I do. And here all of you are wanting to live near your grandkids so much that your devistated when they leave. Why couldn’t I have been lucky enough to have someone like you as a grandparent for my DS. My heart is broken, no babysitter will ever be able to replace my parents. What do I do? on 2018-02-27 21:57:23

I have been having a hard time with this for awhile. We never lived in the same city with our grandchild, but when she was a baby we lived in the same state. Then right before she turned one we moved out of state. Yes, video chat is a wonder and I talk to her and my DD almost every day but sometimes I feel it's not enough! When we do go visit she really doesn't want to be around us. I keep telling myself and our teenage DD that she is two and a half and is going through the terrible twos, but it still feels like she doesn't know us every well and that is the worst feeling in the world. Does it get better as she gets older???? on 2017-07-06 10:18:28

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

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