expat life

Creating moments with grandparents

5 Comments 23 October 2012

patchwork pillow

The amazing patchwork pillow made by my daughter and her grandma.

How does your child build a bond with grandparents who live thousands of miles away?

Grandparent time for children of expats isn’t Saturday afternoon at the allotment with grandad or helping grandma make cakes for a couple of hours while mum does the shopping. There isn’t much of staying in dad’s old room or rebuilding mum’s fort in the hedge over the summer. And as for stopping by for a cuppa, or watching school plays or being present at the Christmas table, none of these are likely to be regular occurrences.

My parents visit once a year or so, and we visit them when we can, and although they’re now retired and able to stay for a month when they come to us, if my daughter is to bond with them we need to be more proactive in our approach–ideas don’t just develop organically over time as children grow and new interests are discovered when everyone is forced to bond in an intense four week period. To make the most of that time we try to think of ways we can be relaxed and enjoy each others’ company, but we also like to Do Things that leave tangible memories of time spent together.

My mom has a special talent with a sewing machine in that she can make about anything you can think of including cuddly toys, elaborate pageant costumes (not for me, I hasten to add), jeans and wedding dresses. So she thought she’d dust off the brand new sewing machine sitting in my cupboard and teach my daughter how to use it by making something together.

You already now what they made, that cool pillow up there! It involved a lot of discussion then cutting up and measuring out and planning and more measuring and more cutting and lots of sewing and more planning and more sewing and finally several of my husband’s old work shirts rescued from the charity bag turned into my new reading pillow! I love it. I especially love the clever use of the buttons on the back a the pillow case fastener.

patchwork pillow with buttons

The button panel is straight from the shirts!

And now my daughter will have yet another cool thing to share with her American grandma, remembering this most recent visit every time she sees the pillow.

What do you do to help your children bond with their overseas grandparents?


Your Comments

5 Comments so far

  1. Kaitlin says:

    We Skype regularly with our seven month old’s grandparents in the States. We pop the laptop on the floor and let her chatter away to them a few times a week. She knows who they are and they get to develop their own special relationship, (almost) the same way they would if they were together more often! Thank goodness for technology.

  2. Iota says:


    We did a weekly Skype when we were in the States, and phone calls. And then tried to do special things when we were over here visiting. Lots of photos too.

    As you say, it’s not the same as having grandparents nearby, though that isn’t the norm for many non-ex-pats either. Even a few hours’ drive makes the relationship a bit “long distance”, ie staying for week-ends, rather than being involved in each other’s daily rounds.

  3. Katherine says:

    Thanks for this post Michelle and what a great experience to share. I struggle with this issue so much as my little man sees my parents mostly just through Skype. And I feel so guilty that they don’t really have much of a relationship with him. Thank goodness there is at least Skype these days!

  4. Expat Mum says:

    Well, as it happens, my mother has just arrived for a month and… we have a werewolf costume that the 9 year old needs. My mum is a dab hand at this sort of stuff so it will be good project for them to do together.

  5. MsCaroline says:

    We have always lived quite a distance from our families, so our kids have grown up only seeing their grandparents on a weekend/holiday basis. Back home, though, it was much easier (and cheaper) for grandparents to fly or drive in for special occasions. We’ve had to be more creative since moving to Korea – lots of Skypeing, phone calls,etc. When I was growing up in Asia as a kid, my parents did the best they could with photos and lots of family stories: I think they worked, because I did feel that I ‘knew’my grandparents when we returned, even though it had been more than 6 years since I’d last seen them.

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An American writer in the UK for over 20 years. Lives in Essex. A pretend extrovert.

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