Big Issues

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Grandparents

Every Sunday we have an appointment to keep. We try to time it around Baby B’s dinner when we know he won’t be too tired and will be kept occupied so he sits still. There is a reason he needs to sit still; he’s on camera. (We all are, but he is the main event and usually we are just out of shot.)

We fire up the Mac and hit the little blue icon. Usually we will hear them before we see them.

Is the camera on? I can hear you but I can’t see you. Yes, the icon with the camera on it. Have you clicked it?

Eventually, they appear. Two beaming faces. Leaning a little too close to the camera. Sometimes speaking too loudly because they’ve turned the speakers down at their end.

Because Sunday is the day we Skype my parents, Baby B’s long distance Grandma and Grandad.

baby, grandparents

Over the hills and far away

Living a long way from your parents isn’t new, people have been moving away to find work for centuries, but until Baby B was born I hadn’t really appreciated the tension of the umbilical cord, stretched across the miles and years.

Like many people I left home the first time to go to university, in Kent, returned for a couple of years while I bounced from one temporary job to another and finally packed up my suitcase for the last time and got on a coach back down south. I said I’d give it six months in London and see how things went; that was in 1998.

Home was a quiet village north of Newcastle upon Tyne and I grew up surrounded by a small but close knit family. With no brothers or sisters I looked to my two cousins to fill the gap; my dad’s brother’s children only one and three years younger than me. They lived a ten minute drive away.

Dad’s parents lived round the corner, and his sister never moved out of the family home. Mum is from Lincolnshire, her dad died when she was a teenager and her mum followed her to Newcastle when she went to college there. Added to these immediate relations were a small cadre of great aunts and uncles and second cousins however many times removed.

Basically, everyone lived in Newcastle or down by the coast or a short drive away in Northumberland.

I took this completely for granted. All my friends had similar set-ups with all the generations living practically down the road from each other. In fact I can’t recall anyone saying they were off to visit family outside the county. My dad had cousins in Edinburgh and they may as well have been in Australia for the amount of times they were seen. It was like in Eastenders when someone leaves the series and moves to Essex or ‘up West’. Never heard of again.

I never imagined I’d ever live anywhere else. No one I knew moved away. They all left school, got a job at a local firm or the council and settled down. There’s nothing wrong with that, I honestly thought I’d do the same. Get a house round the corner from my parents. But then I got a glimpse of another world and I couldn’t go back.

How did my parents feel the day I got on the coach to London? Well, after eighteen plus years of having me around they probably enjoyed a bit of peace and quiet, but I now have some sense of what it must feel like for your children to fledge the nest, because I can’t imagine Baby B not living with us.

However, I don’t think my parents ever thought I’d be a dad (in fact I know they’d given up). So I think they’d got used to the distance, us seeing each other three or four times a year. But when Baby B came along all that changed. Now the distance is like a weight pulling them down the country, tearing at their roots.

Long distance grandparenting challenges

Not having grandparents close by has a multitude of challenges and there’s no easy solution to them. I know a lot of parents rely on help from the grandparents, especially in the early months. Mrs B’s parents are at least within the home counties but still a two hour trek each way to our house. So we learned to muddle through without help on the doorstep. In fact, there were probably times when not having a constant stream of visitors was a relief!

Now there is a cute new bundle to cuddle and play with; I think if my parents did live round the corner they’d be here every weekend, like I was with my grandparents. After so much independence I think I’d find that a bit much. But what I would appreciate is the afternoon visit rather than the full on two or three day weekend stay, which can be quite intense.

There’s also the question of where they stay, which used to be with us before we had a baby, but there is now literally nowhere to put them in our two up two down Victorian terrace. We did consider getting a sofa bed, but to be honest it’s more about the added stress of trying to look after a very active toddler while having now quite elderly guests in our house. I know we’d get under each other’s feet and it wouldn’t make for a pleasant weekend.

So unfortunately this means an added cost of finding a local B&B for them. On this score Air BnB has been a revelation. After the initial confusion whereby my parents thought they were staying with some friends of ours, the convenience and money saved on a traditional accommodation has meant they can stay nearby and come to see us more often.

Travel is the other major expense. The hassle of getting a train up north with our son – aka Mr Wrigglesticks – means we now prefer Grandma and Grandpa to come to us the majority of the time. We’re more than happy to help with the fares and because they’re both over 60 they also get a third off rail fares. When they are in London they can use their bus pass too, although this does mean some VERY LONG journeys! Hopefully we will be able to afford a car soon and have days out with less hassle.

I think the main challenge is one we can’t overcome and that’s the sad fact that as babies and children change so fast my parents do miss out on a lot between visits. I also appreciate that children’s short term memory is very limited – I even used to worry if he remembered who I was when I didn’t see him all week – and I want Baby B to know who his northern grandparents are.

Which is why every Sunday we get into position and fire up the Skype. Technology is amazing, I am so glad we have this option to connect with my family like this. But it will always be second best.

I can’t see us moving back up north anytime soon however so for now Baby B will have to get used to the special TV programme which doesn’t have many characters or set changes, only the two funny people who wave at him and sing and chatter and blow kisses. My mum and dad. His lovely northern Grandma and Grandad. 🙂

I’d love to hear your experiences of being near or far from your children’s grandparents and how it affects family dynamics – do leave a comment below!

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9 replies »

  1. We are in a similar (although more complicated) situation! we have one set of grandparents /aunties etc in Thailand and another in the UK and currently live in Prague. No one was particularly fussed about us before our twins came along, and now there are two very strong pulls in either direction and loads of skyping. Nice to come across your blog through the linkup 🙂


  2. well we are the opposite, we live in the same village as my Oh’s Parents, it is handy as they have a large freezer so I can store food at theirs! My Husband speaks to them nearly every night on the phone. They sometimes pop by but rarely come in and visaversa, If we need them they are their but they are only 45/50 so have full time jobs themselves, if they have an afternoon off they will do the school run. It didn’t used to be like that, at one point we were there every weekend for chicken& chips on Saturday then Sunday roast BUT My SIL has moved back in whilst she returns to uni and my other SIL and her children are very dependent on them so we avoid going round to avoid seeing them, in fact to spend time with them we travel 500+miles to an island off skye once or twice a year. As for my family, they live 10 mins drive away and we have nothing to do with them except birthday cards! My Husbands Gran lives 10mins away in the other direction and visits us once a week and I speak all the time to her on the phone, she has taught me a lot about being a housewife and mum, in many ways she has replaced the role of my mum in my life.


  3. This post made me feel so sad because it made me think of my own parents. They live on a small island in the inner Hebrides – a three hour drive followed by a 2.5 hour ferry journey. The ferry runs three times a week in winter. We actually moved over to the island for a couple of years when no.2 was first born. My mum got to enjoy having her grandchildren at the bottom of the field. I missed the city though and we moved away. We’re lucky to have help – My husband’s mum is in Edinburgh but I miss my parents. They are a young 60 though so when they come they help out and on Sunday my mum is coming to take the girls away for a week of the school holidays. The internet where they live isn’t fast enough for Skype but we see them almost every month – they can’t stay away!


  4. My parents live 4 miles away from us and we see them around 3 times a week. They are always happy to babysit if we fancy a night out and never mind if we pop in for dinner at the weekend. I can’t imagine not living so close to them! My son has such a special bond with them and he treats their house like a second home which is lovely to see. One of my best friends has a similar situation to yours where she lives here on the South Coast and her parents live in Scotland – they use facetime alot to keep in touch! Great post though, thanks for sharing and I love the pic of your parents with your baby 🙂 xx


    • That sounds brilliant. We’d love some more nights out together! Currently in a hotel trying to work out how to get our baby to sleep and be able to watch a film. Eek. Glad you liked the post and thanks for commenting.


  5. The locations of grandparents has a big impact on us. My parents are just over an hour’s drive away – close enough that they can come to visit pretty much every other weekend (which is brilliant) – but far enough away that they can’t be our default babysitters if we want an evening out or just need to pop to the shops for half an hour.

    On my wife’s side the situation is trickier. Her mum is 1.5 hours’ drive away but has MS and is now in a nursing home since her partner died three years ago, which makes visits from three young children problematic. And her dad is literally half a world away in Australia – even our oldest Isaac, who is seven, has seen them only three times. We should probably make more of an effort to Skype with them, but so often the best of intentions don’t necessarily lead to action, and there isn’t really much of a foundation to build on at this point. A shame.