Grandparenting Little Expats: Part 1 — Tips and Tools for Long Distance Grandmas and Grandpas

Senior couple connected with family on internet

 

It’s not your fault.  You tried to raise them right.

And then those ornery kids of yours grew up, had little ones of their own and moved away.  What are they thinking?!  This was supposed to be your time.  You put in years of hard labor, thinking all along that some day, some glorious day you would enjoy all of the joys of frolicking, adorable children with none of the responsibility.  Sugar em’ up and send em’ home.  It was a flawless plan.

But now they live far, far away.

Don’t give up your dreams of being the best Memaw and Papaw ever just yet.  There is hope.

Even though there are plenty of things that distance makes impossible, you can still bridge that gap with a little bit of research and and a whole lot of intentionality.

Here are some tips and tools to help you get moving in the right direction.  Take what is useful but don’t be overwhelmed by the rest.

 

1.  Update Your Technology

I tread lightly here.

There is a new generation of Memaws and Papaws in the world.  You may very well already be fully digitized and up to date on the newest and latest technology.  Kudos to you.  Please don’t be insulted here.  However, don’t feel bad if you fit a more traditional stereotype.

Technology can be intimidating but it’s different than it used to be.  Today technology is so fast moving and competitive that it must be easy above all else to survive.  The result is mind-blowing resources that often cost you nothing and generally take a few mouse clicks to get running.  Don’t be too proud to get help if you need it but once you’re set up most tools are simple to use.

Start with this list (hint – click on the blue words)

  • Consider a Smart Phone – Lot’s of communication potential that is not possible on your old cell phone.
  • Upgrade – If your computer is more than 5 years old it is an antique.  Consider a new one or a tablet to ensure that new technology will run ok.
  • Get Skype (or FaceTime) – See your grandkids while you talk (think Jetsons).  Key word – FREE.
  • WhatsApp?  Send messages anytime without paying texting fees.
  • Facebook – Just in case this post reaches the last three people on earth who don’t have a Facebook account yet.  You should get one.

These are simple resources but not having them in place and running smoothly will mean deep frustration when all you really want to do is see your grandkids.

2.  Read Books to Your Grandkids — No Matter Where You Are

Remember back in the old days when books were . . . well, they were books.  Paper with words and pictures on them.  No more and no less.

Those days are behind us.  While nothing in the world can replace holding your grandkids in your lap and reading words from paper while they look at the pictures it is now possible to get closer to that experience than ever, even if you’re on different sides of the Ocean.

Here are three options that all take a little different approach to the same goal.  Reading to your grandkids.

 

recordable-storybooks Hallmark.comOption 1:  Recordable Books 

These are brilliant.  A wide variety of popular children’s books designed with a recording device that lets you read each page.  Follow the simple instructions and once you’re finished all your grandkids need to do is open the book and boom . . . they hear your voice.  Twinkle bells ring and they move to the next page.  These are a huge hit in our home.

 

Here are some places you can buy them (there are more):

Option 2:  Online Books

Now you don’t even have to buy a physical book.  You can record your voice (and video) reading a book.  Your grandkids can watch it as many times as they want.

Watch this video from  astorybeforebed.com

Option 3:  Read an Online Book 

readeo.com has brought together all the best bits of recent tech advances.  This is kind of like reading a book while Skyping but you don’t have to hold it up to the camera for them to see or try to read it while they hold it still.  Check it out.

 

3.  Make a Video

I’m about to inspire you.  Ready?

Meet Shirley.  You can call her Grandma.  She is the Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 1.40.57 PMmother of our dear friends whom we lived and worked with in China.  She raises the bar when it comes to loving on grandkids from a distance and it all started with a video.

I quote . . .

“One Sunday afternoon, between meetings and dinners and while Grandpa was taking a nap, I set up our video camera and recorded a ‘lion hunt‘ activity that I hadn’t ever done with our own grandchildren. It was very quickly edited and sent out in the mail the next day so it could arrive for Christmas.”

 

Out of that grew mygrandmatime.com

 

You need to check it out for three reasons:

1.  It is FULL of resources and inspiring ideas (books, videos, worksheets, tips, games, recipes, links and more)

2.  She is a real Grandma:  This is not a high budget, super slick website built by marketing teams and web developers at Fisher Price.  It’s a Grandma who wanted to love on her grandkids and then shared it with the public.

3.  You can do it too:  I quote again —

“I’ve always wanted to be a grandma.  You see, I had a wonderful grandma . . . “

You don’t have to be Grandma Shirley.  Everything she has put together flows very naturally out of who she is and a life long desire to be a great grandma.

Be yourself but find a way to share that with your grandkids?

For starters — Wait until Grandpa takes a nap and grab a video camera.  See where that takes you.

You can get ideas from “My Grandma Time” at her Facebook Page as well.

4.  Send a box

You cannot fathom the joy that fills an expat family’s home when a box arrives and Grandparent boxes are the best.  Here are some tips.

    • Consider Flat Rate Boxes:  If you are shipping from the US the US Postal Service offers a one rate box (in different sizes).  You pay one price no matter how much it weighs (there is a limit but you can still cram it full).  Other countries may offer this service as well.
    • Fill up the empty spaces:  If you’re going flat rate you don’t pay for weight.  Empty space is wasted space.  Also the more space there is in the box, the more likely things are to shift and get damaged during shipping.  Pack it tight and fill those spaces with goodies and treats (you may want to get permission from Mom and Dad first depending on the goodies and treats).
    • Don’t send breakable things:  Rule of thumb — If it CAN break it WILL break.
    • Don’t send liquid:  Same basic idea only liquid ruins everything else in the box.
    • Send things they can’t get:  There is nothing more exciting than a box of cereal when you live in a country where cereal doesn’t exist.  Find out what is hard to find and send it.
    • Include something for everyone:  No one likes to get left out
    • Make it personal:  Always include a note or a picture.  As great as the stuff is, they really miss YOU.
    • Be Grandma and Grandpa:  Remember your plan?  Sugar em’ up.  All kids need socks and underwear but that’s not your problem.

Shipping internationally is not cheap but trust me you are investing in HUGE relationship points when you send a box.

 

5.  Play Diary Tennis

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love this idea.  Buy a journal.  A good one.  Leather bound, blank pages,  no lines.

Now write a note on the first page to your grandchild.  Something simple.  What did you do today? What’s the weather like? How much do you miss them?

Date it.

Love,  Memaw and Papaw

Now mail it to them.

Page 2 belongs to them.  They can draw a picture, write a note, scribble, handprints, finger paints, tape a photo, whatever.

And then they send it back to you.

Your turn.

Sounds simple but how incredible will that book be in 20 years?

 

We’re just getting started here.  Click here for 5 more tips in Part 2.

 

If you’ve got Expat grandkids (or even grandkids you just wish lived closer) I hope this helps.

If you know some long distance grandparents (or parents) please pass this on.

If you’re living it, don’t be stingy.  What works for you?  Share your tips below.

 

I leave you (for now) with this final bit of brilliance.

“A loving adult does more than provide for a child.

A loving adult grows with a child.

That is why the world and the people in it need children.”

mygrandmatime.com

 

 

4 Comments

  1. Jerry,
    Thank you for the nice comments about me. I have found over the years, both as a child, a parent and as a grandparent, that when you bless your own family others are also blessed. What a way to change the world!…by openly blessing your own family. Don’t have one?…pick one! Our children were blessed with wonderful bio grandparents, but also wonderful adopted grandparents. Thank you for your part in inspiring more people to be intentional in their relationships.
    Grandma
    P.S. I’m still looking forward to a book about your China experiences!

    Reply
    • we are the ones who live internationally…..not the soon to be grandkids…..yeah for 11or 12 time zone difference….

      Reply
  2. Hi Jerry, our daughter Anna Maria, who grew up as an expat child due to my international career, sent your advice to us. She recently gave birth to twins in Oslo, Norway where she and her husband live. My wife and I live in the U. S. so we have been concerned about not being able to spend time with our grandchildren easily. Your tips will certainly help us feel closer to our grandkids. Thanks so much, Garry Moore

    Reply
  3. My two children were born in Geneva, Switzerland where I worked. My mother was determined that they become avid readers and that their English language be fluent. We would receive boxes of wonderful children’s books and we read and reread them. Both “children” are now young adults and they love to read, are fluent in both English and French and now my son and wife are expecting my first grandchild. I am back in the USA and they are the expats of their generation. It was my daughter-in-law who sent your site to me. Thank you for the great tips and advice. Sara

    Reply

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