Lifestyle & Culture

Jackie Harding: An expat’s guide to staying connected to my children and grandchildren

Living the expat life with kids can be challenging and comes with its own problems and benefits for your children. They grow up, from my experience, with a greater global perspective, often a great education experience due to the international private schools they attend, are consummate friendship expeditors and seem confident in the world.

Of course, there are downsides too with “homesickness” and missing out on their own country’s cultural experiences, less time with the older members of the extended family such as grandparents and also the sense of not really belonging anywhere … where is home?

It also seems that expat kids often become expat adults, adding a new generation to the cycle.

When I moved to the United States from the United Kingdom, I was aware, of course, of the sadness that my parents and parents-in-law felt at their grandchildren moving thousands of kilometers away. This is not just an expat issue of course; US families, for example, can live thousands of kilometeters from grandparents and still be in the same country! 

Dealing with distance

Well, now I am experiencing karma as my two children, who live in Austria, have both given me grandsons recently.

I hear my parents smirking and saying, “How do you like them apples?”

Okay, so the distance is less than the transatlantic divide but as I am discovering it doesn’t really matter how far away your grandchildren live, you still have a huge awareness of missing out.

The fact that there is a dedicated website, Long Distant Grandparent, speaks to the many grandparents coping with this situation. I myself have numerous friends who are learning to adapt to this state of affairs, so I know I am not alone.

So, how to deal with this, other than packing up your belongings and greeting your kids one morning on their doorstep with a smile and a suitcase?

There are many creative ways I am sure to maintain and nurture a relationship with your grandchildren from a distance, such as letters, videos of their school events so you can feel involved, little gifts that connect you to occasions in their lives, and of course emails and video chats.

Granny goes virtual

Thankfully we all have access to video chats these days, unlike the parents from yesteryear. My parents relied on missives back and forth via the fax machine, before email took over, but imagine UK parents waving off their grandkids to Australia in the 1950’s and only having brief expensive phone calls or worse the parents of family emigrating from Europe to the US in the 1800’s when you waited for months, if not years, for a letter.

So, Zoom, Skype and WhatsApp have a very important role to play here and, despite the fact that my oldest grandson is only eight months old we frequently video chat. Well, he gurgles, and I coo, but for a few minutes he is in my life and as he gets older I will be in his.

Another idea I have discovered recently, and remember someone doing for my son in the days of cassette tapes, is to video yourself reading books and stories for your grandchild to enjoy with you. I can’t wait until mine are old enough to share some of the chapter books that myself as a child and my kids enjoyed.

For now, maybe I’ll share my own recently published children’s book, “The Harbour Cat” and some of my kids favorite beginner books.

Sharing anecdotes and old photos of your grandchild’s parents childhood is a fun idea of a way to connect with pre-teens and teens.

We all love those cute, or slightly embarrassing, stories about our parents!

Keep it simple

• Becoming a pen pal with your grandchild sounds like a fun rewarding activity and a way to stay connected. I personally love to get mail (Who doesn’t get excited when a letter drops on the doormat?) and am an absolute fan of letter writing and sending postcards, either from a trip or just because the card made me smile. 

• The website Adventures in NanaLand has many fun activities to do with your long distance child such as online Mad Libs, or using apps like Words With Friends. You can even play games via video chat once the child is old enough.

• Being a keen photographer I have the idea that, when my grandkids are old enough, we start a photography project together. I currently have something similar with my long-distance family which we call “Photo on The Fifteenth” where we all share a random photo of our day on the 15th of each month. It’s an easy way to stay connected these days with smartphones and apps like WhatsApp.

All of these ideas are simple to begin with and hopefully will inspire other creative ideas both from you, and your grandchild.

 Who knows where this will go as I am just starting the journey and, maybe, the journey will take me closer in kilometers eventually. But I hold close the knowledge that my parents maintained a loving and close relationship with my kids by reaching out through letters and fax and they were an integral part of each other’s lives without video chat.

If they could do it the old fashioned way, then so can I.


Read more about expat life here in Dispatches’ archives.

See more from Jackie here.

+ posts

Photographer/writer Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a long-time expat, she lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past 10 years.

Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.

Contributing to Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.

She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.

She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.

You can read more of Jackie’s work for Dispatches here

Most Popular

To Top

Subscribe to our newsletter

Receive the latest news and updates from Dispatches Europe. Get lifestyle & culture, startup & tech, jobs and travel news dispatched to your inbox each week.

You have Successfully Subscribed!