“Being a grandmother is the greatest relationship in all the world,” I readily respond to anyone who asks about our three granddaughters. There are simply no negatives, except. . . being a LONG-DISTANCE grandmother has some significant challenges. Living on the field, in Europe, means that I’m a great distance from all three of our precious grand-girls who live on each side of the U.S. continent. What can be done to bridge that VERY big chasm and build the kind of relationship we all desire?
Prior to our leaving the U.S. for ministry in Europe, a missions executive expressed that he believed the person who sacrifices the most for the cause of global work may be grandmothers. I readily agreed with him as I witnessed the pain of my mother and mother-in-law as we prepared to take their grandchildren to the field. BUT—the reality of that statement didn’t really impact me until I became a grandmother! I believe in the God-ordained role of the grandparent to express God’s unconditional love and acceptance for these little lives, as well as the Godly heritage to be instilled in them as they grow. I want to be a demonstration of His unconditional love, forgiveness and demonstration of God’s grace for my grandchildren. I also want to instill in them a love for beauty and creativity. How can that be accomplished when we see each so seldom, and usually for relatively short periods of time? The past seven years have been a quest to find the answers to this dilemma.
Obviously, global work today isn’t nearly as devastating to family relationships and interactions as in past times. Travel, communications, and various media have increased hundred-fold. But, it remains a task of intentional and creative preparations to accomplish this task. I’ve worked hard at this effort—and would benefit from other’s experiences in furthering this goal.
The individual situations within an extended family may require a different approach in building a meaningful and long-lasting relationship with the grandchild. I’m confident that my daughter and son-in-law consistently reinforce our love for their two little girls, Kendra and Fiona, and build that relationship between visits. But, our eldest granddaughter was born two days after her father’s (our son) murder and the relationship with her mother is now almost non-existent. Building a legacy of love and involvement with Alexandria is much more demanding. I’ve attempted to bridge the gap of this long-distance relationship in many ways. I’ll offer just a few.
- Regular communication: I send a postcard or letter weekly to our oldest granddaughter, monthly to the younger ones. Sometimes I enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope to encourage the eldest to respond with pictures or some sort of a message.
- Tapes/videos: Reading books on tape, singing silly songs and showing where we live have been a hit with our grandchildren.
- Souvenirs: We travel constantly in our ministry, and we started a collection of “ethnic” dolls for the oldest grandchild. Unfortunately, this can become quite expensive if you have many grandchildren!
- Family histories/albums: Each of our granddaughters have been given a “memory album” about our family history, and one about my husband and myself, as well as a picture album of their parents.
- Globe/map: Because we travel so much, we’ve given the girls a globe and suggested that they find (or be shown) where we are whenever we write them.
- Written prayers and blessings: Without a doubt, the greatest gift we can give to our grandchildren is our consistent prayers for them, but it is helpful if they know how we are praying for them, as well as our desires for their spiritual growth.
- There are some challenges when we do get to visit with our grandchildren. Necessary for consideration with every visit are:
- How many and what kind of gifts are appropriate? We obviously want to be valued for ourselves, not our gifts, but there is also a tendency to give too much because we aren’t able to give little things throughout the year.
- How do we reinforce the parents’ rules and not “spoil” the child when we have so little time with them?
- What are realistic expectations for the visit and how do we “demand” attention when the child doesn’t express the same level of need—and we have so little time to be with them?
- What is our response in light of problems within the parent/child relationship? How do we support the role of the parent and also support the grandchild? How do we express support for the parent to the child when our relationship with that parent may be strained?
God is the author of families. He is also the author of our call to work in intercultural missions. Both are important to Him. Surely He can lead us in ways of fulfilling our desire and responsibility as grandparents. . .while serving Him on the field. I have to believe that by His grace and power, it is possible to be an effective long-distance grandmother.