Welcome to Part 2 of Grandparenting Little Expats.
In Part 1 we discussed the first 5 tips (and a number of tools) that address the issue of distance. Specifically the fact that there is too much of it between you and your Grandkids. If you missed it click below.
Ready for 5 more? Here we go.
Let’s be fair. All of your grandkids are unique no matter where they live. Knowing that is what separates the good grandparents from the great ones.
That said, there is something special about your grandkids who are growing up in a different country. They are Third Culture Kids (that will make more sense later). There is a unique set of challenges that comes with the experience that can, at times, be quite confusing. On the flip side, their experience is rich and shaping them to be the global thinkers and leaders that our world needs desperately for the coming decades.
The more you understand about the uniqueness of their experience the more you will be in touch with their life . . . their real life. There is a wealth of information out there that can help you understand the complicated excitement of growing up cross culturally.
These resources will open the door to a whole new world of understanding that you may have never considered. HOWEVER (and this is so important) – NOTHING can replace talking to your grandchild and building that relationship. Use what you learn to build a framework for asking informed questions and understanding who they are.
Here are some good places to start (there are many more resources):
- Wikipedia: “Third Culture Kid” (Understand the basics of the term TCK)
- Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds (So insightful. Must Read)
- Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child: Practical Storytelling techniques that will strengthen the global family
- Libby Stephens — libbystephens.com (TCK expert – lots of insight and additional resources)
- Denizen (Online magazine written for, by and about TCK’s)
- TCKid.com (Online community for TCK’s
7. Brag Like a Grandparent Should
There is something extra special about a grandparent’s pride. Artwork on the fridge. Karate pictures framed and hung on the wall. Exaggerated smiles and hugs when you see their report card.
They know when you’re beaming and they eat it up.
You are the easiest people in the world to impress but it still feels extra good to know you think they are awesome.
Here’s where it gets good. If your grandchild is growing up in a different country they have a fascinating story to tell and they may not even realize it. Be fascinated. Don’t be the grandparent who wrinkles their nose or shakes their head when they hear about “strange” foods or “funny” languages.” Kids love to tell their stories but they will quickly learn who wants to listen and who doesn’t.
You should be at the very top of the “Wants to Listen” List.
Here are some pointers:
They are world travelers
- Keep a chart or a map that tracks the places they have been (count the airports).
- Every time they visit a new country, buy them that country’s flag (or at least a flag sticker).
- Ask them to get you something from every place they travel. It could be something really simple (like a rock or a coin) but they’ll think of you when they go and they’ll love telling you the story of how they got it.
- Get them the same thing when you travel.
- Ask them to save their boarding passes and tell you the story of their travels when you get to see them.
- Send them a laminated photograph of yourself and have them take their picture with it everywhere they go.
They are Global Citizens
- Keep a map that shows where their friends are from. You’ll be amazed.
- Let them teach you a few phrases in the language they are learning.
- Try their favorite foods (or the weirdest food they’ve eaten). You don’t have to like it but you’ll get big points for willingness to try.
- Go to their school website (if one exists) and learn about it.
- Learn about their city/town/village and not just their country.
Most Importantly – Ask, Ask, Ask. Don’t settle for, “How are you doing?” and “Do you like school?” Get specific and give them your full attention. You don’t have to treat them like they are more important because they live far away but if you saw them every week you would know this stuff. Bridge the gap and ask questions.
8. Write A Book
Kids build a relationship with the books in their personal library. They read (or have read to them) the same ones over and over again but it goes deeper than that. Even when they are sitting on the shelf or laying on a messy floor they become a regular part of their childhood. They grow to love books like they love toys, simply because they grew up together.
You need to get in on that action.
Option 1: Make a Picture Book: Keep it Simple
No need to get fancy. Just go print some pictures and pop them in a scrapbook or a photo album. Add to it if you want but at the very least get some photos of you in their library.
Option 2: Make a Book about Them
Everybody loves a story about themselves. Put them in the story and you’ll have a guaranteed reader. Combine this with option 1 if you’re crafty but even if you’re not there is help.
Try these sites – They’ll make you look way more creative than you really are.
To create a quality scrapbook without scissors, glue and glitter:
To customize books with their names and yours:
Kids That Smile: Put them in a story with Batman
Option 3: Go All Out
It’s easier than it has ever been to create a genuine, full color, hard cover, just like you would buy in a bookstore book. You can include the pictures you want, write your own story and most likely have it shipped directly to your grand kids. Don’t be overwhelmed. Follow the instructions and get help if you’re not familiar with things like uploading pictures or selecting fonts. A little work and some forethought can produce an impressive work of art that will be cherished for years to come.
Have fun exploring these links:
My Publisher.com (picture above)
Blurb.com (check out the video below)
9. Make Your Mark – Be as present as you can be without being present and when you’re present make it count
You will be remembered by your grandchildren according to two key categories of time:
- 1. The times they see you
- 2. The times they see, hear and think of you between those times
We’ve already established the fact that the amount of time between actual, physical encounters with your grandkids is far too long. The core question is what are you going to do with that time?
Think QUANTITY and QUALITY.
All ten of these tips are about Quality. Spend some time working through them thinking about how you can make your time together and away absolutely premium.
Now let’s talk QUANTITY – We need to get your face, your voice and the thought of you into their lives even when you are nowhere near. It is rare for expat grandkids to talk to their grandparents every day but that doesn’t mean you can’t be present.
When you buy them a gift, consider leaving your mark on it. Memaw Loves Me hot chocolate mug. Keep Calm – Grandpa Loves Me bib. Favorite picture of you and them on a blanket. Take advantage of the times. It’s easier than ever to sneak a little bit of yourself into their every day life.
Here are a couple of fun sites to explore:
AND THEN — When you finally get to enjoy those sweet, sweet moments of life as it should be don’t miss the opportunity to make great memories.
Finish this sentence for your grandkids 3o years from now. “I didn’t get to see my grandparents very much when I was a kid but every, single time I did they _____________________.”
What do you hope they’ll say?
Bought me ice cream? Squeezed my guts out? Took me camping? Made homemade pizza? Told me I am awesome?
Make your mark. Be remembered for something great.
10. Get Your Name on a Plane Ticket
Nothing trumps you going to see your grandkids in their world. It will connect you in a way that you can’t even imagine. You get to see their people and eat their food. You get to experience their reality and they get to play tour guide.
They get to speak their new language while you ooh and ahh. They get to introduce you to the friends that they’ve been telling you about on Skype. They get to bounce on your knee and hug your neck without jet lag . . . at least not for them.
Make the trip. You won’t regret it.
Intentional is the key word. Intentional quantity. Intentional quality.
Excuses are the enemy of intentionality. “They’re so far away.” “I don’t understand computers.” “I don’t even have a passport.”
All of those excuses could be dealt with in a matter of hours. Or you could hang on to them for years but no one knows this better than you do . . . they won’t be young long.
You can do it.
If you are grandparenting little expats . . . I hope this helps.
If you know some grandparents (or some parents) who are too far away . . . pass this on along with PART 1
If you’ve been there and done that, don’t be stingy — What are your tips?