This post is inspired by a post on Just. Be. Enough about choosing to live close to family and a follow up post by Abby entitled “Choosing to Live Far from Home“. One post talks about living close to your parents, in the town you grew up in, and the other talks about how it is to move away. There are pros and cons to every decision you make in life.
Growing up, my family (my parents, my brother and I) did not live particularly close to our extended family. My dad is one of twelve children and my mum one of five so you can imagine that in terms of numbers my extended family, particularly now as the family tree has grown, is considerable. Considerable but scattered.
We lived in the south of England and my dad’s family live in the north of England and Wales. My mum’s family was closer but still a couple of hours drive away. The four of us were pretty self sufficient because we had to be.
I stayed annually at my grandparents house in Lancashire for a week or so in the summer holidays as well as a recurring stay with my maternal grandparents. My brother and I loved that we could help out in the cafes that our grandparents owned in Bath. The visits make up childhood memories that I cherish.
Somewhere in the festive period we saw all our extended family. But my grandparents were not weekly babysitters, we didn’t see our aunts and uncles on a monthly basis. The distance didn’t allow that. But nonetheless I have very fond childhood memories of my grandparents and my aunts and uncles. They were very present despite the distance.
Fast forward to the time when I have three little children of my own and I’m living in the Netherlands and the idea of grandparents is a huge topic in our household. The reason being is that in general my children see their British grandparents more than they see their Dutch ones. My in-laws live half an hour away, if that. Excluding my father-in-law who has a good bond with his grandchildren, my in-laws have no role in their grandsons’ or nephews’ lives. It goes to show that geography is not the be all and end all in determining how a relationship functions.
It also goes to show how language barriers can be overcome. Dutch is my children’s mother tongue but English is the first (and only) language of my family but this doesn’t effect the strength of their relationship. My children speak English with their British and American family and we work hard and willingly together to keep it up as a competent second language, despite not yet learning it in school.
The desire to be a grandparent is a huge factor in making the relationship with grandchildren work. Wanting to be an aunt is more important than the physical distance. Communication is a huge factor in making any relationship work. Letting grandchildren know you are thinking about them even if you are not there makes a relationship strong. Regular visits, telephone calls, using Face Time or Skype, letters, cards and text messages is what makes the grand-parenting bond strong. Asking after your nephews shows you are interested. It shows you care. Despite geography. Despite not sharing a mother tongue.
Expats make a choice to move abroad. To live away from family. It’s never a conscious decision to put physical distance between kids and their grandparents, but it comes with expat territory. It doesn’t mean the end of the grandparent relationship. Where there is a desire to stay close, geography will not hinder a relationship. As Abby put it in her post,
“….of course as we all know, geographic proximity is not a guarantee of closeness.”
My children are walking proof of that.
How do you keep the relationship alive with your children’s grandparents? Are there any positives in living away from your extended family? I would love to hear your views and experiences!
Choosing to live away from family throws up many challenges – from the moment you know you are pregnant abroad, to birth and far, far beyond – for more stories about parenting abroad check out our Kickstarter page for Knocked Up Abroad Again.