“I can’t talk right now,” your dear friend says when she answers your phone call. “Maggie just dropped by with the kids and they’re helping me wash the blueberries we just picked. I’ll call you later!”
With a thud, I realize that scene is never going to happen at my house. To see my grandkids, I must plan a trip weeks in advance, come up with big bucks for the airfare, and then do my best to jam my hugs and love and fun and care into an eight-day visit.
Welcome to the world of miles away grandparenting.
The feelings of being separated from a grandchild can be overwhelming as we realize what we’re missing. Spontaneity will never be ours. We can’t be the grandparents who call the adult children to say, “Can I come over this afternoon to take Imani for an ice cream cone?” or have them stop by our house on their way to the mall.
When cross-country grandparents are able to visit or can welcome the grandkids and their folks to their homes, the visit can be overwhelming. We try to cram six months of experiences into a week. In-town grandparents can babysit for three hours and then go home to relax and recharge for the next visit. But for you and me, when visits happen, the interaction is non-stop — and can be a bit much! During these visits, my husband and I often go to bed completely wiped out, yet we want to wake up at sunrise when the little ones start their day.
I get a little sense of panic as my visit time is drawing to a close. “I haven’t taken Charlotte to the art museum like I wanted! Anderson asked me to play a board game with him and we didn’t get to it. On no! I wanted to have a slumber party with Fiona and now that’s going to have to wait until next visit!”
As a long distance grandmother, I also miss the ability to frequently help our adult children in their role as parents. If little ones are testing their parents’ patience, an in-town grandparent can so magnanimously say, “Honey, let me come over and visit with Zackary this afternoon while you go enjoy some Mommy time alone.” Not us.
More importantly, when trouble happens and you’re 300 miles away, you can’t drop what you’re doing to help. If someone in the household gets sick and I was living nearby, I’d swoop over to the house to pitch in faster than you can say Florence Nightingale. Instead, you and I hear about troubles — from teething to a broken furnace — and can do little to offer assistance. This is especially frustrating if you’re a roll-up-your-sleeves kind of person, wanting to help wherever you can.
Feelings of an out-of-town grandparent.
Many of these feelings we have are normal and, if you’re like me, the negative feelings that I experience come and go. If you feel your life is too greatly affected by these feelings, I encourage you to talk to your doctor.
Feelings because you’re so far away may include one or more of these:
Resentment. That little one is living and growing and playing and learning new things and expressing thoughts – and you’re not there. Every day is something new and you’re missing it.
Betrayal. Your adult child knew that being in the same town mattered to you, yet they moved away. Perhaps you stayed in the same town as your own parents, giving your child in-town grandparents, but your own child moved away, robbing you of the chance to be the same sort of grandparent.
Isolation. You feel that everyone is in Atlanta and you’re stuck in Baltimore. Your home used to be the center of family life but now you’re on the outskirts.
Yearning. How you want to hold that baby, rock that toddler to sleep, take a walk with that preschooler, kiss those precious cheeks, tuck that sweet child into bed, sit and hear your new reader share a chapter book. Sometimes you actually ache. This happens to me all the time.
Jealousy. Everyone else gabs about their in-town grandchildren. Why can’t that be you talking about running into your daughter and her kids right at Target, what a surprise! Sure, sometimes you’re fine when hearing their stories; after all, they’re your friends and you want to know about their lives. But when they casually remark that they bought a new DVD for the grandkids to watch when they’re at the house for a sleepover on Saturday, these loving grandparents don’t even realize how their words awaken the green-eyed monster in you.
Helplessness. You want to live in the same town and there’s nothing you can do about it. For all you know, your adult child will move again and again. Helplessness envelops you as you deal with the fact that the decisions of your adult children – the kids you used to decide things for – are profoundly affecting your life and you are powerless.
Depression. Especially after an in-person visit, the longing for your grandchildren can result in a bout of depression. You may find you have withdrawn from your friends, are sleeping more, and not finding the pleasure you normally find in your life.
Panic. In your dark moments as a parent of a little one, you might have imagined what it would feel like to be separated from your child. The horror of those thoughts made you quickly shove them aside. Now, those same feelings rise to the surface as you realize your grandchild is away from you. The situation is not the same but that feeling of panic sure is familiar.
Guilt. If you have in-town grandkids as well as out-of-town ones, you might feel guilty about what you’re able to do with the ones who are close by. The playing field can never be even, but you feel more than occasionally guilty about what you’re doing for the adult children and grandchildren in town.
Easy “fix” for negative feelings: a good Facetime and Skype video chat session or sit and write a note to your grandchild. Also, I find it helps to talk to a friend like my Diane who is also miles away from three of her grandchildren. She knows what I go through! We complain to each other … and soothe each other.
Ready to “make it work” and get the kind of relationship you want with your grandchild? A good place to start is understanding who’s in control.