Sunday, 17 June 2012

Guest blog: Grandparenting Over The Seas by Libby Stephens

Libby Stephens is a third culture kid consultant who is passionate about third culture kids and works with them, their parents, teachers at international schools. She is committed to using her expertise in supporting organizations and schools, and empowering individuals worldwide. Check her website for more information. You can follow Libby on twitter too: @Libby_Stephens. I read this article on Libby's blog and I asked her if I could share it with you. Thank you Libby for such useful information in this internet age.

Third Culture Kids
One of the risks of living internationally with young children is that your child may not develop a close relationship with his/her grandparents. Your parents will never forget they have grandchildren, but it is possible that your children forget they have grandparents. But it is only a risk. It does not have to be so. Being relationally close while geographically distant is definitely possible if planned with thought and intentionality.
Here are some reasons why it's good for your Third Culture Kid to have a close relationship with grandma and grandpa:

1. “Stories” are the language of TCKs so it is important they hear some of those stories. As parents we often don’t tell stories about our own lives growing up. That task often falls to extended family members…especially to grandparents.

2. When grandparents make attempts to get to know their grandchild even while living far apart, there is a unique foundation of relationship that begins. When the child goes “home” he now has someone who accepts him, loves him. This is especially critical for TCKs because being with extended family can sometimes be the most difficult. In this way, grandma and grandpa’s house can become an oasis. It often gives them something to look forward to when they return to your passport country.

3. It gives them exposure to older people. When I was working at an international school my father, a biochemist and microbiologist, came to my school after retirement and taught AP classes in science. He was a quiet man, but the students lined up to talk to “Doc”. I asked a group of students one day why they liked Doc. “He’s old. He’s wise. He is history. I think he must be like my granddad.” They would say. Because many TCKs are in the international community for much of their growing up years they do not have the opportunity to get to know older adults.

4. Having grandparents provides a relational root that is connected to time and history. It helps them develop a sense of relational history. Since a TCK’s sense of rootedness is in relationships rather than in geography, it becomes all the more important that  relationships with extended family and most especially grandparents be strong. Parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, great grandparents give the TCK a family line he belongs to. Not just by blood, but in relationship.
Here are just a few ideas for grandparents to help them develop emotional closeness while they are far apart from their TCK grandchildren.

1. Skype…Grandchildren need to see grandparents because keeping the children current on what grandparents look like is very important. Though some children may actually get to be with grandparents in the summer months, I don’t think that is enough. It’s important that children see their grandparents age. There can be a lot of physical change in children and grandparents in one year. Remember, young children keep the last image they saw of the person as what he/she is supposed to look like.

2. Create a CD…As parents we often make videos of our children and send them to grandparents, but I would like to suggest that it happen the other way around. Oh yes, continue to send those videos to grandma, but encourage her to make one for your child. I know of one grandmother who set the camera on record and made a CD of herself reading bedtime stories to her grand children. She would read a little, then turn the book around to show the pictures as if her grand children were right in front of her. Just think how magical that was to those kids.

3. Photos…on the computer to be printed by you or sent via mail…it doesn’t matter. Just ask your parents to do this - and often! This is a tangible thing that can be put by a bed, in the living room, or at the dinner table when there is a special occasion and you want your child to remember your parents. It keeps grandparents present.

4. Emails…Quick little updates especially for your child! Kids love getting mail. And getting mail from grandparents is especially good. If your children are teens, ask your parents to send them text messages. Short texts at spontaneous times does wonders for a relationship. The teen doesn’t forget grandpa is there, and he sees grandpa as cool because he knows how to text!

5. Hand written letters...Sadly this doesn’t happen much anymore. I know a TCK who was in boarding school who said he got a hand written letter every week from his dad! I asked how much that meant to him and he said, “Well let me put it this way, to this day I have never thrown even one away”. Do grandparents need to send a hand written letter every week? No. Actually I would vote against it. Emails or Skype every week, I love it, but not the hand written letter. Save this medium for special occasions…first day of school,  her first date, a proud moment, or a treasure of truth that a grandparent may want to tell his grandchild.

6. Gifts…this is a tricky one. Everyone loves gifts and grandchildren know the best gift givers are grandparents. Here is the tricky part. Mom and Dad, it is your responsibility to keep this under control. It is so important for your children not to view grandparents as gift machines…putting money in every envelope, giving them everything they want when they visit. Balance is the key. Otherwise there is no real opportunity for real depth to grow in their relationship. It becomes all about the presents.

7. Play games together online…Yes, I really do mean this! There are so many games online that require multiple players and it doesn’t matter where you are. Time zones might be an issue, but I say it’s worth it.  Think about how they would get to know each other and what memories are being made!  Trust me, when they see each other face to face, there will be plenty to talk about and a great way to start conversation.

8. Tell stories …You as parents need to tell stories about your parents to your children: “I remember when your grandfather…” Family, history, roots are important! But it cannot stop there. Grandma and grandpa must tell stories too, about you, about their own childhood, about the child himself, from grandma’s perspective.

9. Watch a video or cartoon together…why not do this via SKYPE! The share screen option means the grandkids and grandparents can watch the same move at the same time, while both are eating popcorn! These make wonderful MEMORIES and a great story to tell.

10. Visit the child’s world…I cannot close this blog without mentioning this tip for forming close relationships between TCKs and grandparents. I know often we live in places where when on holiday, we just want to get away. But please do consider once in a while flipping the trip. Bring the grandparents over to you. They will see that though you may be living in a difficult place, your family is fine. More importantly, your parents have entered your child’s world. When that happens something unexplainable happens. There are new conversations. There are shared memories in your child’s land. And your parents will begin to understand the vocabulary of your child’s life.

What about you? How have you ensured that your parents stay emotionally close to your children when they are geographically so far apart?
Looking forward to your thoughts and ideas,

PS: Of course, it’s up to you as parents to make these things happen. Explain to your own parents why it is so important for you, the kids and for them.
Photo by JDurham, Morgue File

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  1. My DD has grandparents in Singapore but the contact with them is so great, that it seems they are right here. Found some new ideas today thanks! :)

  2. Yes, Yes, Yes! Love this post...thanks Libby for your insights and tips!

  3. @Windmill tales: I'm glad you found some new ideas. I grew up in Africa in the age before skype but I still have fond memories of the one time my grandparents visited us in Malawi, of being able to show them the school I went to. My grandma was very good in writing letters and sending birthday cards :-).

  4. @RaisingTCKs, MaDonna yes I agree, great insight and tips here. I like the CD suggestion, we had tapes made by our family in my day.