One hot topic among parents with whom I work, is the struggle of leaving their children’s grandparents behind. Moving overseas requires significant sacrifice and as missionaries, those sacrifices are made knowing that you have been called by God to life in cross-cultural ministry. However, the people who you leave behind are required to sacrifice by no choice of their own. This struggle is particularly difficult in regards to grandparents. My friend, Amy Medina writes beautifully about this struggle in her blog, here. From the grandparent’s perspective, you are taking their grandchild/ren away from them to some far off place, depriving them of being actively involved in their grandchild/ren’s life. If you are blessed enough to have Christian parents, they may be more understanding of your choice, but that doesn’t make it easy by any means. If your parents are not believers, the concept may be even more difficult to grasp and accept.
So how do you deal with this?
Often this struggle is not addressed and remains as the elephant in the room, so to speak. It bubbles out in insensitive comments or unspoken tension. This is why you need to have “the talk”, preferably before you move overseas. Here is what I suggest “the talk” should consist of:
- Acknowledge how difficult it is for them to have you leave with their grandchild/ren. Express that it is incredibly difficult for you as well. Talk about the specific events you are sad that they will miss.
- Talk about why you feel God has called your family to this. Whether or not your child/ren’s grandparents parents are believers, it is important that they know why you are willing to make this sacrifice.
- Talk about ways that they can stay actively involved in their grandchild/ren’s lives. With technology today, there are many ways your children’s grandparents can remain a significant part of their life. See below for specific ideas.
- Ask for their blessing and for them to be praying for your family. Share how important it is to you for them to give their blessing, to be supportive of your decision, and to remain involved in your child/ren’s lives. Unfortunately, some will not give their blessing. At this point, you have done what you can on your end and the ball is in their court. Pray that the Lord will work on their heart and will open their eyes to see why you are making the decision that you are.
As I said, there are many GREAT for ways for grandparents to stay involved while you are living overseas. Here are some practical ideas. Many come from the book, “Long Distance Grandma“, which is packed full of good, practical ideas for long-distance grandparenting.
Share a meal together regularly. Perhaps begin a Saturday tradition of “breakfast with grandma and grandpa”. Skype them in and share a meal together. Talk about the week. Depending on the time difference, it may be dinner at grandma’s house and breakfast at yours, but that is ok! Maybe they can eat breakfast for dinner that night.
Share pictures. Have the grandparents ask the children for pictures of their new home, friends, school, etc. This is valuable for a multitude of reasons. The grandparent can be “in the know” when the child talks about a certain place or person, the child is excited that the grandparent wants to know about his/her life, it gives the grandparent questions to ask and conversation topics, and gives the grandparent a little window into their grandchild’s new world.
Twin stuffed animals. The grandparent can buy two stuffed animals to gift the child/ren one of them and keep the other. They can tell the child/ren that when they hug the stuffed animal, they are getting a big hug from grandma/grandpa. For older children, they can each take pictures of their stuffed animal in different places or during different events and send the pictures back and forth.
Storytime. The grandparent can read the children a story and show them the pictures in the book via Skype or another instant video service.
Visit. Perhaps the very best way for grandparents to be a significant part of their grandchild/ren’s life is to visit them while they are overseas. Their grandchild/ren have begun a new life in a new culture and it will be very difficult for them to connect with their grandparents if they have not experienced their life. By visiting, grandparents communicate that they want to see and experience the child/ren’s new world.
Read about TCKs. I can not express how strongly I feel about grandparents and other family members and friends who are significant in the child/ren’s life, reading the book: “Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds“. It is often hard for family and friends to understand how much your child has changed because of their experience living overseas, especially if you move when they are a bit older. However, from the moment they began their new life overseas, they became a Third Culture Kid (TCK) and have changed in ways that even they probably don’t realize. This book will open grandparent’s eyes to how their grandchild/ren may have changed during their time living overseas.
Making the decision to move overseas, doesn’t mean that the grandparents can’t be involved in and play a significant role in their grandchild’s life. With some effort on your part as parents and on their part as long-distance grandparents, that relationship can grow despite living worlds apart, and can even be deeper because of the intentionality it requires.