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Tips for long distance grandparenting

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

A survey, conducted by the charity Care for the Family, found that nearly half of the respondents used to see their own grandparents daily or weekly when they were children. However, grandparents today are more likely to see their grandchildren only once every three-months. That is not because grandparents are viewed as less important today - quite the opposite - but because grandparents nowadays tend to live further away from their children than they did in the past.

Verity Gill, founding director of Grannynet, a social network website for grandmothers, says that 'long-distance grandparenting' is a hot topic of conversation among its members.

"Frequently, we have people coming on the Grannynet forum who are really upset that their daughter or son is moving abroad," says Verity, "but the response is often, 'You should be so proud that they've got the confidence to do that. You've brought up children that aren't afraid to go places'."

The rise of long-distance grandparenting

Why do families live so far apart nowadays?

"We're a generation that is much more comfortable with travel," says Verity. "It's not something that worries us or scares us. We've been travelling since we were very little, which may not be the case for today's grandparents when they were kids."

Companies also tend to be more global, which gives people the chance to work abroad, and during an economic downturn, people are more willing to relocate to countries where job prospects are better, or where the quality of life is seen to be better.

"Our generation has been brought up with the view that independence is very important," says Verity. "We've been told to go out there and get it!"

Primary concern

However, while the children "go out there and get it", the grandparents are left worrying that their grandchildren will grow up without really knowing them.

Nearly three-quarters of grandparents who live more than one-hour away from their grandchildren believe that distance gets in the way of them developing a closer bond, according to a survey conducted by Care for the Family.

"This is the biggest concern about long-distance grandparenting," says Verity. "It's the lack of really being involved with their grandchildren and picking up on the small things that mum might not mention on the phone."

Grandparents' role in the early years

So how important is this bond between grandparent and grandchild?

There’s a whole field of research on the importance of the bond between a child and their primary caregiver, called attachment theory. However, Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist, says there is "pitifully little research" on the importance of the bond between children and their grandparents.

However, experience tells us that grandparents have a lot to offer.

"Firstly, grandparents are experienced parents," says Linda. "They aren't learning on the grandchild. The second thing they offer is the experience of having lived longer than the parents, and time gives us greater peace and greater wisdom, so most of their responses are measured. And, on top of that, they give the unconditional love that parents can give too, but they give it with icing on the cake."

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