Between the state of the economy and increasing complications with health care coverage, it is no wonder that millions of Baby Boomers are choosing to stretch their retirement dollars further and improve the quality of life that is available to them in their golden years by moving overseas. But as alluring as a warmer climate or more relaxed way of life may be, many also wonder how they could possibly leave their beloved grandchildren behind.
One of the most anticipated joys of growing older is the arrival of grandchildren and the priceless bond that so often develops between the two generations. Relationships with children flourish through constant care and attention. When you are living in the same country, this type of care comes easily through the time you are able to spend together. However, when you move overseas, this obviously becomes more difficult to accomplish. But do not fret. There are endless opportunities for expat grandparents to maintain and strengthen their special relationship. Use some of the following ideas, and then brainstorm a few of your own to make sure that you stay a central part of your grandchild´s life after you move abroad.
Get on board with technology
Do not be intimidated. Enlist the help of friends and family to teach you some basics. Hire a teenager from church or the neighborhood if necessary. A few basics you should start with are skype, instant messaging (also known as IM), Facebook, texting, and blogging.
Skype is a program that you can download to your computer for free. With a webcam, which can be picked up very inexpensively, you can video chat with someone at another computer, no matter where in the world they are, for free, for however long you want. It is like talking on the telephone, but you can also see them and they can see you. If they do not have a computer, you can pay a small fee, usually only a couple of dollars per month, to be able to call a landline. They will give you an unlimited amount of minutes per month to call overseas…so please do not buy calling cards anymore if you do not have to!
With the webcam, you have the ability to read them bedtime stories, share in birthday celebrations, or see how they look after they lose their first tooth. You never have to miss out on the everyday moments, and they will feel like you were really there throughout all of the everyday moments of their childhood.
Instant Messaging can usually be done through your email service provider, for example Hotmail has Messenger. You type a message to them, and they receive it immediately and can type back instantly. It is much more conversational than email, in which you have to wait for their reply, and open each email.
Facebook is a social networking site in which you build a profile telling a little about yourself. You can download pictures and video to it to instantly share with your friends. You can share thoughts, feelings, important dates, and will also receive this information from any of your other friends with Facebook. If you have grandkids over the age of 12, I can almost guarantee they either have a Facebook profile or want one!
Texting is a short written message (also called a SMS) that goes directly to your grandchild´s cell phone. There are many websites, if you search the internet for “free SMS” or “free texting” that will offer this service for free. You can write a short hello or offer words of encouragement and it will instantly pop up on their phone letting them know that you are thinking of them.
Blogging is like having your own personal website. It is free. The one that I find easiest to use is blogspot.com, but there are many others to choose from. You can download photos, videos, write short or long updates about living overseas, and others can comment and write you back through it. It is often an easier way to stay in touch with a lot of people, instead of having to email them all separately.
Interactive Internet Games
This is fun, and I guarantee that you will be thought of as a super cool, tech savvy grandparent if you try this. If you go to a site such as http://sony.com, you can set up a time and day when you and your grandchild are both online and you can play games together such as Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune.
Another fun site is http://puzzlemaker.school.discovery.com. You can create personalized, custom crossword puzzles for your grandchild to complete. You can use clues that refer back to places you have visited together, your favorite recipes, or your special nicknames for each other.
For Those who Prefer to Stay in the 20th Century
Never underestimate the smile on your grandchild´s face when they receive a handwritten letter or care package from a foreign country.
Some ideas for a care package are to create an audiotape or CD of yourself reading a special book to them, and include a copy of the book so that they can read along with you.
Send a special package to be saved and unopened until they catch a cold or do not feel good…exactly when they need Grandma and Grandpa love the most! Fill it with their favorite sweet, a new book or DVD, some simple art supplies or a small stuffed animal to cuddle.
When all else fails, overnight cookies!!! This is always appreciated!
To make the Time Between Visits Easier to Comprehend
Let´s say that you plan on visiting once per year. How on earth, especially if your grandchild is young, are they expected to understand exactly what this means? One idea is to fill a clear jar with 365 small treats, such as tootsie rolls or Smarties. Instruct them that they get (as long as Mom or Dad agree!) one per day, and when they see the bounty dwindling, they know that the time is near when they get to see you. It is a visual that they can easily understand.
Begin New Traditions
Something that kids can do with their grandparents to make the world seem a little smaller after a big move overseas is to focus on a point that you have in common, such as the moon. For example, tell your grandchild that the same moon that they see is the same moon that you see. If they are having a hard time in school, or just had a bad day, they can send a special “heart message” through “moon mail”. The moon can deliver the message, and they know that when you look up and see the moon you will always, automatically think of them and send your love back through “moon mail”. As silly as this may seem, you may be surprised that traditions like this are often the ones that get passed down to their kids and grandkids!
Kids do need to feel the attention and support of their loved ones to thrive. But just because you choose to retire abroad, it does not mean that you can not share in the joy of your grandchild´s life. It may not be in “traditional” ways, but they can still grow up knowing the pleasure of playing a game with Grandpa, or the love that goes into Grandma´s special cookies. They will understand that physical distance does nothing to diminish the unconditional love that grandparents are so good at providing.