Q&A: grandparents moving abroad

Kate writes:

"In one week, my in-laws are moving abroad. This is not a temporarymove; they bought a house there and have shipped their worldly
possessions across the ocean. They are moving to a country that we
visit regularly, though not terribly frequently, and to which we have
many connections–familial and otherwise. We are actually seriously
contemplating following them, but we don't know when, anywhere from six
months to six years, say.

I am happy for them, although I haven't come to grips with the
fact that I am losing free babysitting. My husband is pretty devastated
(but out of the purview of this arena).

My 4.5 year old daughter, who to this point has had this set of
grandparents living 5 miles away, is starting to realize that the hour
is nigh for their move. She's heartbroken. We went to a big send-off
for them today, and while she was fine at the party, beforehand she was
SO upset about them moving. She knows where they are going, that they
will be in the same country as her cousins, that we will try to visit
them soon. But she realizes that we won't have the casual drop-in
relationship that she has now.

They will have a U.S. VOIP number, so we will of course let her
call whenever she wants, time zones permitting. Unfortunately, they're
not terribly tech savvy, so I think it would be like pulling teeth to
get them to use Skype or some sort of internet video system. But maybe
they'll change their tune.

In the meantime, is there something we can do to make this easier
for her? (My 2.5 year old son also claims he's sad and is going to miss
them, but I am not sure how much is him and how much is feeding off of
her. He is also close to them, but doesn't quite have the long view
that she does.) We just don't know what to say.

P.S. We are also, for a variety of reasons, driving them to the airport next weekend."

Oh, this sounds so tough.

I wish I had some answers, but my parents have always lived too far away from us, so I don't have anything to ease the pain of the separation. My kids miss my parents, but it's not a new situation, so I don't know how to help the transition.

It seems like it's the transition that's the problem, as she's upset about it now. Kids adapt, and in a few months she'll be used to not having them around, but it's the sadness of the separation that's the problem right now.

Do any of you have any experience with loved-ones moving away when a child is old enough to know that the separation is going to be hard? Is there a way to ease this? Or is it just something that is going to hurt a lot, and the parents just have to be there to help pick up the pieces?

33 thoughts on “Q&A: grandparents moving abroad”

  1. When we moved across the country last year, we had issues similar to this: my 4.5 yr old knew what was happening and was devastated about leaving his school and friends. We made memory books, decorated boxes, took pictures of friends and special places.Perhaps your daughter could make a memory book for her grandparents, with pictures and stories that she’s made? Or help them pack their suitcase, putting in a token of a special time they’ve shared (something small like a Christmas ornament, if you celebrate that, or just a trinket in general). Or maybe they could make something together for one or both of them to keep? Hosting a small going away party (she’s old enough to make something simple to eat or drink) If it’s the process of separating, I would do things that make the process itself a special time while acknowledging the separation. Then, once they’re gone, she’d have something tangible to hold on to.

  2. Well we visit my family a lot, and my parents are pretty tech savvy (well dad and sister) but my 3.5 year old daughter does miss them a lot. We moved to Australia for 3 years, and before we lived in Colorado and they live in Texas. So not a drop in type of situation which I think would be much tougher.Maybe when Kate does go over to visit, she or her husband can set up the Skype and show them how EASY it is to use?
    I understand how nice it is to have the free babysitting, but now it’s also an adventure to parent on your own, and have a evolving relationship with the in-laws/grandparents. I think the kids will really love looking forward to visiting, and maybe make it more of a priority to save up to visit the extended family abroad.
    Good luck, it does suck for a bit,but as the kids get into school and their own schedules, they will adapt. I think it’s much harder for the parents than the kids… we miss our parents a bunch. 🙂

  3. I can also pipe in as we are living this very situation. My parents moved to France 8 years ago and we’ve been living abroad for the last year!I have a 3 year old and a 9 month old (born abroad, other fun topic for a future discussion!). When we moved away, we also had a bit of the anxiety because we’d had such a great support network in Canada through family and friends. We also got VOIP telephone and I have to say that it has helped us alot as my daughter can talk to family on a daily basis should she require it. It has also been a Godsend for me too as I can still pick up the phone whenever I need to and call my parents when I need advice (which is on a daily basis ;o)!). Having this kind of phone has also helped us stay easily connected with everyone..
    However to get back to the matter at hand, I also strongly, strongly suggest webcams via MSN Messenger. When my parents moved to Europe, it was the best way to keep them in our lives. My daughter could see them daily and my mom and dad would show her stuff, practically play with her via the net…Actually, I could leave the room and my mom would correct her should she get into things she wasn’t suppose to! It was neat! The added bonus of webcams was that when my mom would come and pick us up at the airport, my daughter would run to her as she recognized her immediately, so there was no awkwardness for our initial meet up at the airport…The added bonus of having my parents abroad:
    a) Great vacation destination, cheap rent!
    b) when we do visit them, we don’t have to share them with anyone else, they are entirely ours for the duration of the trip…Good way to recharge the closeness til the next trip!
    Kids are incredibly resilient and bounce back way faster then we give them credit for, I see the life we lead and all the change we have brought to both our kids lives and see that they are doing incredibly well…We’ve always tried to not make a big deal about big changes in the manner that it is part and parcel of today’s world, making change as fun as possible (and I know this can be incredibly hard, I know!).
    I swear by today’s technologies and am glad that we have them to facilitate our lives and keep us connected, I sure hope this helps you too as it has made all the difference in our lives…I certainly do not feel distant from my family and friends even though my closest relatives are about 2400 km away!

  4. This also might be a place for a ‘social stories’ book – a book of photos that she can go back to obsessively about the series of the change, how it will work in the functional steps. Sometimes the distress is about ‘I don’t know how this looks in the new version’ – how CAN I stay connected if it is just phone? You can have her pose for the photos and put them in the book (‘picture of you talking on the phone to grandma’ ‘picture of grandma on the phone on the other side’, with words… step through the entire process from where she initiates wanting to talk – or grandma/pa does – through the end of the call).She will adapt. It may be useful to check in with her to see what she needs to make better over time, too.
    My mom does book-reading over the phone to one grandchild who is on the other coast. She buys two copies of the same book, ships one to him, and then calls him and reads it to him while he turns the pages. She doesn’t do technology much, but she can do that easily. They both love their story time. So that’s another idea if you can’t get them to go higher-tech.

  5. Okay. This one I can help with. Get grandparents to read stories with her and video them. Then you can play them on the DVD at night. Also, if you have the computer that they are taking with them, then set up MSN Live or Skype etc for them. Or else enlist a cousin over there to do it. It is brilliant. It really helps to keep everyone close and you can show drawings and grandma can kiss hurt boo boos and you can read stories and see birthday parties.Remeber to vary the routine a bit too. If you always went to grandmas after church, maybe change the time you go to church. Also, avoid favourite diners / places etc for a little while.
    Present the change as a matter of fact. Yes she will be upset. Yes she is allowed to be upset. Yes she is allowed to show she is upset. But, change happens to all of us and this is her first taste of it.
    Also, take lots of pictures of them doing things together and make a scrapbook. Can you develop a silly goodbye phrase just for them? Then get them to use it each phone call, MSN session and visit.
    Also, I believe it is GOOD that you are going the airport. It will be tough probably but it is final, and there will be no illusions that every taxi has grandma or grandpa in it. (Yes, I had this for six months when Daddy was deployed. He looked for Dad in every single taxi we saw. Never again!)

  6. I’m going to echo what the others are saying- your in-laws CAN figure out Skype. Most modern laptops come with a webcam and a microphone already integrated. Then setting up Skype is as simple as a download. We talked my parents through it on the phone, and were videoconferencing that day. My parents are not at all tech-oriented. Don’t underestimate the lure of the grandchild!I don’t have any advice for Kate, though, because while my in-laws live in New Zealand (where Hubby is from), they always have lived there, so Pumpkin doesn’t know any different. My parents live in Arizona- much closer to us in San Diego, but not close enough for daily visits or anything. Pumpkin is always devastated when they leave, but she gets over it quickly. We keep photos of both sets of grandparents around and talk about them often, which seems to help.

  7. I think many of the same issues pertain whether you are moving or a dear one is moving away from you. We moved last summer with a 2 and nearly 5 year old and almost all the stress (which the 5 year old showed; the 2 year old was cool) was before the move happened. She had a talk with the school’s counselor, and we got some books about moving from the library (ask your librarian for recs – they will have a list). Since we moved we’ve had occasional talks about missing friends, school, etc. (best one was, in Voice of Melodrama, “What if [classmate] was my true love? Now I never see him any more!”) But in our case, anticipating the change was worse than the actual change.We are actually talking about getting a camera for our computer to video chat with grandma in Boston (we’re in GA). I love technology.

  8. My parents moved away several months ago, and we use Skype all the time so they can talk to the baby. My mother is the least tech savvy person in the entire world (I have to check her voicemail for her, so needless to say she doesn’t know how to work a computer), but she knows how to Skype, so it really is easy to use.

  9. We moved several times when dd was around that age to change was such a constant in large proportions so I’m not sure how relevant my advice can be. But it sounds to me like a situation where grief is involved (it’s a loss of the LO’s sense of normalcy). Kids have their own ways of expression of grief. My oldest dd likes to draw and tell stories, so that is how we encourage her to express those feelings. If your dd is like that, then that might work. I can remember having lots and lots of crafts to work on in that time period as both of us were having troubles coping. I bought us a plasticine art book and we must have spent two weeks working on tiny plasticine animals together. We did some jewelry making and painted sun catchers too.Good luck. I’d make sure LO is present and able to say good bye but set up the boundaries before hand – once the grandparents are past the security point they’ll have to say good bye, etc.

  10. Skype will be a HUGE help (and as others have said, they *can* use it). When my older kids’ father travels to Mexico on business, we always use Skype so they can talk to him nightly. I also encourage them to do their homework reading to him on those trips. It lets him be involved and since we don’t use the camera, he can actually do whatever he needs to do on the other end while they read and they don’t know the difference.

  11. My MIL not only will not use Skype or video chat, but she won’t learn how to check her e-mail to get digital photos of the baby, so be prepared for that to be a possibility. I print out lots of pictures to send to her–maybe your daughter can pick out some good pictures and print them out and send them to her grandparents with a note every couple weeks. Good luck!

  12. What bandwidow said (@10:44am). Allow the kids to fully Mourn the Loss. Reflect their feelings back to them when they tell you how they’re feeling -“You’re saying you’re sad because you miss doing X with Grandma.” Accept & reflect back even their negative & angry statements about their grandparents – “You hate Grandpa right now.” Let them fully experience whatever emotions they’re going to experience & accept them just as they are with things – especially the messy stuff you may not really want to hear as you process your own grief.

  13. My parents also live far away and we rely on Skype. Would it help to have a routine for talking? We skype my parents at regular times (always Sunday mornings) and Beaner loves it so much – he gets his cheerios, sits on my lap and “talks” to the grandparents. That way there is always something to look forward to.

  14. Kate, this is a toughie. I’m so sorry for all of you having to go through it. I have a lot to say so I think I’m going to email you, one tired ema to another. I’ll add here, gently, that I don’t think the transition is the only issue. Of course they are going to be okay – I don’t mean to be negative. But I do think sometimes we are tricked by how adaptable kids seem, while there are lots of deep feelings there even once the adjustment period is over. I would say just talking and acknowledging – especially acknowledging the not-sameness of the world – is really powerful.

  15. My grandparents always lived too far away from me to be a part of my daily life. One thing one set of grandparents did to keep in touch (these were the pre-e-mail/Skype/video chat days) was send a letter to me (not via my parents) regularly. I think it was once a month? I always looked forward to receiving that letter.Perhaps your in-laws could do the same thing? It might help your kids to feel connected to Grandma & Grandpa.

  16. Perhaps this makes me old-fashioned, but like Heather, I am a big fan of the letter. Your daughter can write letters to her grandparents on a regular basis, send drawings, maybe you can show her how to take pictures with your camera and send them pictures of what she sees outside the window. It will cost more in terms of stamps than just shooting off an email, but she will get to replace the fun bits of seeing her grandparents all the time with the fun part of making packages/letters to mail and getting stuff back in the mail addressed to HER

  17. The letters are a great idea, and maybe the grandparents(or a helper) could put them in the mail the day before they leave so that they arrive soon after, sort of “bridging the gap” for the time that they will be busy setting up the household. I think kids are way more tuned in to the tangible for various reasons and she will appreciate having something to hold. Also, is there some sort of trinket of the grandparent’s everyday life that your daughter seems tuned into (e.g. grandmother’s perfume bottle)? Maybe that could be turned into a gift for her to “hold on to” until they see each other again. Good luck Kate, best wishes to you all. And yes, if my MIL can Skype, ANYONE can Skype.

  18. I don’t have time to read the comments but just wanted to chime in as someone whose grandparents lived 2 provinces away (14 hour drive). No pop-ins existed for us.I was born in the same city as them but moved when my dad was transferred when I was 2. My parents left their parents and all of their brothers and sisters behind (8 on my moms side and 5 on my dads). Sounds kinda crazy doesn’t it? Well, I’m sure they would say it was, but we are still living 2 provinces away (28 years later) and our relationships with family have not suffered. Sure they are different, but I still had a very close relationship with both sets of grandparents and all my aunts and uncles.
    For the first few years we traveled to my parents ‘old’ home to visit on every holiday and for a couple months over the summer. My brothers and I used to spend a whole month with my grandparents and my mom and dad would go back to our new home and work. What a unique opportunity that my cousins who lived in the same city didn’t have.
    Anyway, I guess my point in this post was that even before technology existed that could make communication easier, we were able to sustain loving, lasting, and meaningful relationships with my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. If you have a strong connection with your in-laws and maintain that despite the distance, your kids will too.
    Good luck.

  19. I’m not a parent, but I know how I’d feel if it were my grandparents moving a continent away. Maybe you could work on a scrapbook together with photos of the grandparents and kids together. Maybe the opportunity to talk about fun things they did together and the fun things they’ll get to do together once they go to visit will help.

  20. Oh, that’s tough. I can’t give any advice about this. In fact, in our situation, we’re contemplating the reverse–moving away from our son’s grandparents (but only for a year). I also will mourn the free babysitting, but in our case it’s the grandparents who will be absolutely devastated if we decide to go. So if anyone has advice on how to break that to the *grandparents* I’m all ears!

  21. I’m sure it will be a huge adjustment and I’m sorry. I would imagine that they are quite sad about the situation as well.I’ll echo everyone else that webcams are a lifesaver for long distance grandparents. Set everything up for them before they go and do a few practice runs so they get really comfortable with it before they leave. You don’t want to be walking them through it on the phone after they’re gone. If they have any favorite books to read together, get a second copy that they can take so they can read to her while she follows along. It can be a bit awkward to talk to the image at first so help your daughter by prompting her with the conversations. Have her do drawings and share them with her grandparents via the webcam and them mail them off to them. Have her show them toys or games she likes. Reading together etc. Eventually it will be old hat.

  22. It occurs to me that maybe this isn’t that much different in some ways than helping a child mourn a grandparent’s death. Not sure that helps, really, though.I have an idea for helping them feel connected, though. Maybe more for the grandparents than the kid. A woman whose kid goes to our daycare transcribes the whiteboard report of what the kids did each day onto the back of her kid’s daily sheet. Then she mails the sheets to grandma (once a week maybe?). I love that it gives grandma a picture of what’s going on — it’s that minutiae (whether he’s napping well, what his favorite toys are, even whether he’s started liking fishsticks at lunch) that gets lost when they’re far apart. I think 4 1/2 is old enough to start transcribing emails (or a blog!) as a kind of regular communication.
    If there’s resistance to the Skype/webcam/tech solution from the grandparents, maybe set it up with the cousins at their house and then when they see how fabulous (and not complicated) it is, they’ll be more willing.
    My 4 1/2 year old would totally dig having some THING of the moved-away family member. A t-shirt to sleep in (or with) or a favorite plant to take care of or a special tchotchke to watch over them. Something physical, preferably something that can be touched and held.

  23. My parents and ILs both live on opposite sides of the country (and we live in the middlish), so when they came to visit when our son was born, my hubby sat down and installed Skype on their laptops, set up their accounts, trained them how to use it, and we even had “practice sessions” while they were here. It definitely paid off. Both sets of grandparents (and my MIL is a self-professed technophobe) now call us up and want to Skype (actually, MIL says, “I want to see him on the computer video!” when she calls). We also set both of our long distance sisters up as well, so that the Pea can get to know his aunties.Best two hour investment ever.

  24. I’ll chime in that not only is Skype easy, but there are applications that can record conversations. My husband and I left DD for four days with my parents, and we Skyped quite wonderfully and successfully; turns out, the videos also held the kid over while waiting for another call almost as well as live action did.

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  27. Do not despair!!! As a grandparent who has lived abroad for some years I can tell you they will miss you more and will probably be planning to come back before you know it!!!

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