Moving overseas often means saying goodbye to grandparents. Those children lucky enough to still have a grandma, a grandpa – or older aunts and uncles – in their lives benefit from something called “intergenerational support”. It is a two-way relationship that benefits everyone’s well-being. Our children receive the support of older and (sometimes!) wiser relatives, and those relatives gain emotional benefits from being needed and helping children find their path in life.
One of my earliest memories of growing up in England was visiting my grandparents and watching my Poppa’s slideshows of their annual holiday to visit my cousins in Canada. I remember my grandparents always being so proud, enthusiastic and supportive of the opportunity that my uncle had to work overseas, and the exciting new ways of living and travel opportunities this provided for their daughter, my cousins and for them as grandparents. Yes, they missed them, but it was always a conversation about maximising the quality time they had together.
It was therefore no surprise that when I left England aged 27 years for my first international post to The Philippines that my grandparents were equally excited for me. My Nana and I wrote to each other every month. She would start each letter by responding to all my news with wonderful insights, encouragement and often congratulations for what I was achieving at work, the friendships I was nurturing and the exciting travel opportunities I was having. She would then tell me all about what was growing in their garden, they were big gardeners, news of visits from, and to, family members and friends, what they had been doing since she last wrote and she’d often include a newspaper cutting that connected our lives. I always remember receiving one about Filipinas nurses working in my Nana’s local hospital. She had visited her local hospital and was treated by a Filipina nurse. My Poppa told me that my Nana interrogated this poor woman to learn everything she could about my new home. With every letter, she would also send me throat sweets with the note “a sore throat is a sign you need to rest a bit more” and an air mail letter “so you can keep in touch with your Canadian cousins”. And when I visited England each summer she would say “we would love to see you, if you have time, but we know that your time at home is precious”. Of course, I always visited them. They were my biggest support and fans of my life overseas!
So how can we help our own mobile kids have the same sort of supportive and nurturing relationship with adult relatives in their lives? What can we do to make sure that they remain connected and supported?
First, we need to model this to our kids in our own behaviours. We need to show our kids how we stay meaningfully connected to their adult relatives. That means regular Zoom or Skype calls, or emails, or even a family Instagram account to keep the generations connected to each other.
We need to consciously make time to help our kids nurture these relationships. We need to schedule conversations as we would an after school club. With teenagers we need to time these conversations carefully. Expecting most teenagers to have a meaningful conversation with an adult relative before 11am a Saturday morning is a recipe for poor communication!
Help with Information
We also need to help our kids and their elderly relatives with a few topics they can talk about before each conversation. E.g. “Aunty played in a golf competition on Saturday” “Grandad has a new puppy”, “Sam’s loving Boy Scouts at the moment and he’s working hard on his social studies project on farming in Japan”.
Intentionally Plan Face to Face Time Together
When our kids can physically spend time with adult relatives it needs to be intentionally planned to maximize interests, especially important to engage teenagers, and quality time together.
Don’t Take It Personally
I recognise that my Nana was a unique and very special person who had incredible levels of empathy. Many adult relatives may need help understanding the lives our kids are living. Don’t take it personally when they do not show an interest in something that is important to you and your family. Instead, help them to understand.
Don’t Force Connections
Like with all families, there will be adult family members with whom we naturally connect and want to nurture connections. Whilst our kids are young it is our job to help them nurture connections but as our kids grow, they will figure out who takes a genuine interest in their lives and with whom they want to nurture connections.
Over time, these sorts of intergenerational connections will not only provide our kids with an extra tier of wellbeing support to support us raising them, but it will also develop intergenerational support and communication skills, which will serve them well as they leave home and go into the workplace.