Prev Next
Grandparenting From Around The Globe

Grandparenting From Around The Globe

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I have a question about super-long-distance family. I’m married to a (wonderful, awesome) man who’s originally from Jordan. We have two boys (3 years and 4 months old).

We try to Skype with my in-laws once a week or so, but lately our older son hasn’t wanted to talk to Teta and Jiddo (Arabic for Grandma and Grandpa). I talked with him a little about why he felt that way, and he said, “Because they’re like strangers.” Ouch. (Granted, he’s going through a rough time right now. He’s super strong-willed, and sibling rivalry is starting to rear its head through misbehavior.)

He loves calling his aunt, uncle, and cousin who live in Canada, since at least his cousin is about the same age and has toys. I totally understand why he’s not super comfortable talking with my in-laws. It’s weird talking to tiny people who live on Mama’s phone. He’s only visited with my mother-in-law five times and my father-in-law twice. On the other hand, he sees my parents at least once a week and frequently spends the night at their house.

We’re probably going to visit my husband’s family this summer. What else can we be doing to stay close with that side of the family? I feel like they’re missing out while my parents get to have sleepovers and weekly family dinners.

Thanks!

Patience, and persistence. And making extra sure that you don’t mistake “pushiness” for persistence.

And also, realistic expectations. Your son probably DOES regard your in-laws as strangers, but it’s not your fault. You aren’t going achieve total family “fairness,” and your son is likely to bond more with your family than your husband’s. And it’s not because of something you’ve done or haven’t done, it’s just the reality of the current situation. Both because of the geography and also where your son is developmentally, particularly in terms of his long-term and autobiographical memory. (Most of us can pinpoint our earliest memory at somewhere between the age of 2 and 3, so expecting a child that age to be bonding long-distance over Skype is definitely a tall order.)

But this will not ALWAYS be the current situation! Which is where the “patience” part comes back in.

He’s 3 and thinks the weekly Skyping is boring, because it probably is for him. Don’t push it, and try not to take it personally.  (And for your in-laws not to take it personally, but hopefully they understand what 3 year olds are like, having raised at least one.) My kids are all more or less the same: Unless there’s a child cousin on the screen or on the phone, they very, very quickly lose interest in conversations with adult family members. So we keep their greetings short, try to have one set action or story for them to share, and if someone is absolutely refusing to participate, that’s okay. Trying to goad/coax/beg a toddler or preschooler to come say hi to a grandparent when they don’t want to will only exacerbate the hurt feelings and awkwardness.

Instead of just “come say hi and tell them what you did today,” come prepared with something your son has already demonstrated some motivation/excitement about. A really cool art project from school or a new toy, for example. His new big kid shoes or potty or whatever. He shows that to the screen, gets a big positive response, then is allowed to either stay and talk about it some more or be excused. (Luckily your 4 month old is still an immobile hostage and can handle the extra screen time.) If he flat-out doesn’t want to join, then YOU share the artwork or story on his behalf. “He was so excited to tell you about this but he’s shy/missed his nap/whatever right now, so I’ll tell you instead.”

And you can take advantage of any daily motivation/excitement on his part to casually loop in a mention of Teta and Jiddo. Fingerpainting? Oh wow, look how great this is. Let’s make an extra one for Teta and Jiddo. That’s a great song and dance you just did! Want to make a movie of it for Teta and Jiddo?

And then do exactly that. Mail them artwork and handmade gifts. Make photo books on the regular and/or have a private cloud drive you update regularly with pics and video. Even if your son didn’t EXPRESSLY make it on their behalf, they’ll appreciate that you’re doing everything you can to include them. They don’t have to know that your son isn’t all that jazzed about them right now, but knowing their daughter-in-law is going out of her way to share all the little fun moments and things they’re missing will help bridge the gap.

And that’s all it is right now. A developmental memory gap that with PERSISTENCE, will eventually be filled in with memories of fun visits and birthday presents and a delayed but eventual bonding. He probably just doesn’t remember his prior visits, but he WILL be able to retain memories from the one this summer. And with persistent follow-up (showing him photos, bringing home lots of souvenirs, talking about things he did and saw, etc.) you’ll be able to cement those memories for him in a positive way. He might not bond super-close or immediately with them (so again: realistic expectations), but they won’t be strangers to him. Rinse and repeat as often as you can swing a visit, and you’re son will have a set of grandparents he might not be all THAT close to (8,000 miles will just do that, to some degree or another), but ones he loves and thinks positively about. Or grandparents who are actually extra special to him, because seeing them is a rare treat.

My sister lives across the country from us, and tries to visit us about once a year. And it took a few visits before each child was able to connect her name with her face, and then who she was in relation to the postcards and gifts she sends them throughout the year. My 4 year old is still working it out — he loves her visits and was so sad when she left, but still says things like “when is That Girl coming back, That Girl I do the puzzles with?” He’ll point to something she sent to him and ask me over and over again who sent it, just to get a reminder of her name and how she connects to him as an aunt. He will talk to her on the phone but more because of the novelty of talking on the phone is interesting to him now, although I have to constantly remind him that she can’t see him through the screen or see whatever toy he’s aiming the phone at to “show” her. (And yet when we try video chat he consistently wanders off 30 seconds later.)

But it’s okay! We’ll get there. Patience, persistence, zero pushiness. I am happy to pick up the bonding/communication slack with tons of pictures and videos and whatever. My 7 year old recently painted a rock with watercolors and decided it was for my sister, so heads up Auntie C, you’ll be getting a random painted rock in the mail soon. And Ike says thanks for all the puzzles.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon

Comments

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Dan
Guest
Dan

Super helpful. We have both sets of grandparents on completely different continents from us (hello, 8 14hr+ flights before the kid’s 2), and I’m always concerned about how to connect the kid to his grandparents longterm, so thank you.

Heather
Guest
Heather

Some great suggestions! We lived about 2000 miles from all family for the first three years of my son’s life. We did a lot of the same things. For our Skype sessions I would also have a current favorite toy or activity handy – often I would turn the camera so they could watch their grandson play Legos, race cars, etc while I chatted about the week’s events. Another thing that helped us a lot was to hang pictures of our family members in the hall just outside my son’s room. We would say goodnight and call them by name… Read more »

Jenelle
Guest
Jenelle

Can you work the power of Amazon Prime and send them copies of some of your son’s favorite books? Then they could read them together over Skype. Or when he’s a little older and into simple board games, give each of them one and they can play together. You can also customize board books and photo books and write a story to go along with pictures of them that you can read him at bedtime.

Liv
Guest
Liv

Everything Amy said. My in-laws are a 10 min drive away but my own family is on the other side of the country. My son loves to spend time with them when they visit or when we visit but it took a while (he’s 5 now) to build that and even now, we use all those tips/strategies for keeping his interest during FaceTime calls. And still sometimes he’ll take the phone and spend 40 min showing them stuff and sometimes he waves blows kisses and says he’s done after 30 seconds. Luckily they don’t push or guilt if it’s the… Read more »

Leigh
Guest
Leigh

We have been dealing with this for years with both sets of grandparents. Best things ever, light up clown noses. Some for us and some there. Hysterical on both ends. Performing for the camera showing off toys and reading books all help too. And playing got your nose.  

Meg
Guest
Meg

I’m an American living in England with my husband and the only grandchild my wonderful parents in Texas have. We have had weekly Skype dates with Grandma and Grandpa since he was born. My son is now 4 and loves “playtime with Grandma and Grandpa”. I have a few suggestions. If you can, use an HDMI cord to attach a laptop/ipad/whatever to the TV. It makes them bigger and more interesting than a tiny image on a screen. Also, Skype time is totally playtime with the grandparents. He shows them books, games, Lego. He runs in and out of the… Read more »

Sarah in Georgia
Guest
Sarah in Georgia

A few things that have worked with my mom in Alaska: At three (and to some extent even now at five) my son did better with sending short videos privately through Instagram than with Skype. The Thanksgiving my son was three, we sent and (almost) daily “I’m thankful for” video back and forth. My mom used it to show my son her a couple of friends at work on different days and things about her house. My son showed Grandma his preschool and his speech teacher. Two benefits: *)  they are short and *) they can be watched over and… Read more »

Beth
Guest
Beth

Exactly what Meg said. I also have whatsapp on my phone and my three year old sends my mom essays of emojis. It’s hilarious. She is really good about sending him postcards and also a book that has recording option that has her voice reading the book.

Dana
Guest
Dana

Everyone’s suggestions above are great! I wanted to add that just talking about them will show your kids how important they are to your family. Mention them at bedtime, have your husband tell stories about growing up, talk about their favorite activities and foods (if you don’t know ask) and better yet do them and eat them. Our Jido loves golf so we make sure to talk about that when our boys are “playing” with their clubs. If you don’t already, make middle eastern food at home from family recipes. You will be surprised what kids retain. You are wonderful… Read more »

Elizabeth S
Guest
Elizabeth S

My parents live in England and we only see them once or twice a year. I have a 3.5 year old and a 9 month old. My mom keeps a bunch of toys on her end, and when the kids are babies shows them toys and does little games with them. She also reads the kids books, and even goes to the library to get new exciting ones! Basically she entertains them in a one woman kid show! Ha! Anyway, my point is, I think if the adults can do some engaging things on their end, it makes all the… Read more »

Anna
Guest
Anna

I definitely agree with everything that Amy has said. We live thousands of miles away from my parents (and right nearby my in-laws) and my kids have a good relationship with them through Skype. But my older kid (now 4) also went through a phase of just not wanting to talk to them. As Amy said, don’t push it, it will come with patience and persistence. What I found to be helpful, and also really nice for my parents, is to just letting my kids play in the background as I talked on the computer. My parents really enjoy feeling… Read more »

Tric
Guest
Tric

My best friend lives overseas and we both really want her to be a part of my son’s life.  On her last visit, we took a ton of pictures of them together having fun and she is creating a children’s book so that he can have a context of the “Supper Fun Awesome Times with Teyze!”  I think that will really help him fix her in his mind as someone other than the lady in mommy’s iPad.  

Kacy
Guest
Kacy

My son loves having my parents read books to him via Facetime.

Jules
Guest
Jules

This is my ongoing battle with myself as I try to forge *some* kind of meaningful relationship between my very shy three year old, who only speaks English, and my in laws in Iran, who only speak Farsi. I feel strongly that it’s important that they be well represented in her family narrative, so I ask my husband to tell stories about them, and we talk frequently about how she was named after his mother, and try to relate their (very different) childhood experiences.

Praepes
Guest
Praepes

I see your nine pointed star there 🙂 My dad also left his family pioneering in South America, so my mother-tongue was different from my grandparents. Fortunately my dad only spoke engllish to me, always. My first years I would answer in spanish of course, but after visitng and spending time inmersed in a foreign language environment, my english appeared. I guess it was even easier with my little brother because by then it was three of us! I have to say, my mother never spoke an inch of english, and whenever it was the four of us, we would… Read more »

Traci
Guest
Traci

This is such a helpful post! My mom is on the other side of the country and I know she wishes she could be with us more! For Christmas I got my little guy a cloudpet. It’s a stuffed animal that connects to your phone and allows others to send them messages and for the child to send messages back. It’s been great! He gets messages from my mom and from his other grandparents. You can invite anyone to send him messages. He loves it. He is only 23 months so we haven’t managed to get him to send a… Read more »

Angela
Guest
Angela

amy had a post a few years ago (can’t find it now!) that also suggested making a “who loves kidsname” book with pictures of everyone. this helped enormously (along with the regularly scheduled skype sessions, and chatting about the the grandparents) with my kids. we have a photo book (old style with the plastic sleeves so that even babies could play with it) with all the relatives and grandparents and we try to update it with pictures whenever we see them, preferably with pictures of the grandparent and kid together. it goes a long way toward making these people seem… Read more »

MR
Guest
MR

We did this too. We created a small photo album with their pictures, and I made sure their pictures were on our wall of family pictures. We would often go through and point at the pictures and say, “Who’s that? That’s Grandma!” And then for a couple of months before a visit, I would make sure to do that EVERY day, at least once, and in the last few weeks before the visit, do it even more often. Talk about them a lot too. Talk about what you are going to do with Grandma and Grandpa, talk about how excited… Read more »

Emily
Guest
Emily

Shutterfly! We made a photo book on Shutterfly and really edited it into more of a “story” that we can read with our daughter. It talks about her family and calls out the grandparents/aunts/cousins by name with pictures of them. We made sure to include pictures of my daughter with her family wherever we could, and the story emphasizes on how lucky she is to have such a big, loving family. She loves it, and it’s really helps her remember who is who when she gets to see them in person. 

Jess
Guest

My in-laws live in Germany, and my parents live a plane ride away, but still in the U.S., and they visit more, and my kids know them better than they know Oma and Opa, and while that is too bad, letting go of the idea that they should have equal relationships with all their grandparents has helped me a lot. Also, my son is now five and when he was three he also had less than zero interest in Skyping with Oma and Opa (not to mention that they speak German, which he also speaks, but at ages 3-4 he… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

My parents live far away, so they make photo books: we send a stuffed animal or a cut out of an animal, and the animal goes around with GG and Papa for a few days. They are pictures of themselves with the animal, then put pictures into a book with stories, and send animal and book back to us. Kiddo loves looking at the book and getting new story books, and she’s excited to discuss it with them for months.

Christy
Guest
Christy

Everything people have posted here is great. Definitely agree to letting go of some of the guilt associated with fostering equal relationships….the important thing is that both sets of grandparents will have their own relationships with your kids and that is awesome. I just wanted to share a totally different idea that my brother and sister in law (who live on the other side of the country) did with my oldest when she was around three. Basically they got a big colouring page. They coloured a little bit of it and then mailed it to her for her to colour… Read more »

Jessi
Guest
Jessi

My MIL lives across the country and visits 1-2x each year. My husband has always called her on the phone everyday (drove me crazy when we first got married, but now that I have a son of my own it I get it…) My son (3.5) loves talking on the phone with his Gigi. There are a few ways we sneak in daily calls – We set up the laptop at breakfast and they chat and she encourages him to keep taking bites while hubby and I shower and get dressed. My husband does day care pick up and they… Read more »

Praepes
Guest
Praepes

I feel so identified with this post! I was your son more than 25 years ago! My dad was the only member of his family to live abroad, so all my life my grandma lived in a different country, a 9 hour airplanetrip away. When I was a kid there was no internet of course, my dad would record cassette tapes of me singing and talking about my day, to keep Grandma updated on us. The first time I visited I was also three, she had visited before when I was less than a year old. My grandma was the… Read more »