I’ve had it every which way: Grandchildren in my neighborhood, grandchildren on the other side of the Atlantic, grandchildren across the continental United States. In each instance, the same grandchildren. My heart has been broken. I have cried into my pillow. I have longed to live in simpler times (but with indoor plumbing) when families weren’t scattered willy-nilly across the globe. Alas.
Now, my two granddaughters and their parents are back on the opposite shore of the Atlantic, and I have given up making predictions about where they’ll set up house next. My choice, as I see it, is to go with the flow — or shoot myself. I’m opting for the former. Here are some things I try to bear in mind to avoid the latter.
1. There will be challenges no matter how near — or far away — I live from the grandkids.
I hear all the time from grandparents who live around the corner from their offspring’s offspring and complain that, although they adore the kids, they frequently feel exhausted and put upon. Alternatively, I hear from local grandparents who, for all intents and purposes, are barred from seeing their grandkids and might as well live an ocean away. Then there are the grandparents who relocate to be near the grandkids, but end up pining for their former lives and friends. This underscores my hunch that…
2. Life, at best, is highly imperfect.
No matter what your situation or your proximity to your adult children, their spouses and kids, there are bound to be disappointments, mixed signals, unfulfilled expectations, hurt feelings — and all the other emotions (joy included) common in relationships among members of our species. One plus of living far away is that everyone tends to suck it up and be on their very best behavior during visits.
3. TGFS (Thank God for Skype).
I know, I know, it’s not ideal. Seeing the kids on a computer screen is not the same as hugging, snuggling, tickling, or kissing them, but it is an enormous improvement over mere phone calls, especially when the little ones can’t yet carry on a conversation. Face time matters. And on Skype books may be read, games played, songs sung — all of which help create a sense of continuity between visits. This is especially critical in families where frequent close encounters are prohibitively expensive, physically challenging, or otherwise difficult to arrange.
4. Keep the faith. Your grandchildren will know you. Really.
This is key. When Isabelle, my first granddaughter, was so rudely snatched by her parents and moved from my zip code in Washington, D.C., to Paris, I was a puddle on the floor. I despaired that she would have more of a relationship with her local croissant baker (she is a croissant fiend) than with me. Not so. Children are people with memories who reserve a special place in their hearts for grandparents. (We may feel competitive with the other grandparents, but kids are geniuses at making room for everybody, if given the chance.) During visits, I spend as much time as possible alone with each girl, then keep things going on Skype when I get home. (Needless to say, parental cooperation is also important.)
5. Life outside of grandchildren is essential to mental health.
Even if you live next door to the grandkids and are an integral part of their daily lives, someday you are bound to feel like chopped liver if you make them the single, central focus of your life. They will start school, make friends, and get involved in all sorts of activities. This is the natural course of things, and at a certain point even their parents will be left in the dust. (Remember?) Love the kids, dote on them, be there for them to the degree that you can, but in the meantime don’t forget to get a life.
That said, I am slaving away over a hot stove learning to make the perfect croissant.