Click here to print this page

Planning Retirement Online

Grandparents do make a difference - 4

September 2009



Each month we bring you this special column on grandparenting written by our expert contributor Jeanne Davis.

Her subject this month is on discipline and adapting. Future subjects that Jeanne will be covering include long distance grandparenting and separated parents. If you have a subject you would like covered by Jeanne, please email us at:



By Jeanne Davis


Five-year-old Daniel is sitting up in bed, a laptop computer on his lap. His Nana is reading a bedtime story. “Nana,” Daniel says, “You missed that bit.” She has skipped a line or two of his favourite Roald Dahl story. But Nana is not sitting next to him. She is in Spain and Daniel is in his house in North London. Her face on the screen in front of him and her clear voice are as comforting as though she were in the same room.

“I think it’s marvellous,” says Nana Deborah. The marvellous technology is SKYPE, a two way communication system that is free and not too difficult to set up. (See Resources at end of story for information.)

Deborah is one of many grandparents who live a long distance from their grandchildren, unlike our grandparents’ generation when most families and extended families lived in close proximity. Today, our children may live on the other side of the world or even at the other end of the UK. The grandchildren won’t be able to drop in after school to tell you their latest news or ask if they can please stay for supper. Even a Sunday visit weekly or monthly is not on. Still, there’s that irresistible urge to connect with them and love them.

How do you nurture the closeness when you are miles away? Like Deborah you may go hi-tech and read the bedtime story via a video-conferencing system like SKYPE. “Not just bedtime stories but daily chat,” Deborah says. “I can see what they look like and they do change fast, if they’ve lost a tooth or had a haircut trim. I even do a bit of babysitting. If my son is on his own I will occupy the five- year -old while he tends to the nineteen-month old, changing his nappy and giving him his bottle.”

Julie is not into hi-tech or even low- tech. She keeps in touch with three grandchildren in California from her home base in London by frequent phone calls (look into signing up with one of the low-cost telephone companies) and by writing letters . She is an artist and always includes a drawing she has done especially for them or written a birthday wish in the calligraphy she is learning.

Phone calls can initially be disappointing or difficult. Small children don’t easily respond when you ask them what they’re doing. They may ask you what you are doing and you’ll get a few words, then a bye bye. But send a kiss and say I love you. Later on the older children will tell you much more. I make a weekly call to my daughter in South Africa and in addition to catching up on her news ask what 10- year-old David has been doing and 11- year-old Molly. Then I can ask the children about the swim meet they’ve just participated in or the last Saturday’s rugby match.

You can of course mix the new and the old. Many of us use email and the grandchildren are good at that. Make it a habit though and not just from time to time. It’s amazing the bond that will develop and what you discover about them. But children of all ages, even grown-ups, love getting letters. Hand-written letters in the post bring such joy in this age of texts and emails.

When Surrey-resident Jennifer travels she sends postcards to each grandchild from the places she has seen. They love it and I know a grandchild, now 30 years old, who still has every card her much travelled grandfather sent her. She keeps them in a flowered box and from time to time takes them out show to friends and family.


Depending on their financial situation and the time available, many grandparents schedule a visit to the families whose homes are now in New Zealand, the United States, South Africa and other faraway places. Some may stay for a month or more to maximise the cost or if closer two weeks or so.

When Alex retired he and his wife decided they would spend three months in Perth, Australia where their daughter, her Australian husband and the two children lived. They bought a little house about a half- hour drive from the grandchildren, a boy now 8 and a girl age 6.

“To maximise the ability to be the traditional grandparent,” Alex says, “it is important to plan the time you will spend with them and the activities. We go down to the river and take the boat out and have morning tea. We all love swimming, we visit local museums. The boy is sports crazy. Every weekend we gather at the local Oval to watch all the kids play cricket.” During school holidays, Alex and Sheila would go to stay in their daughter’s house to help out. She is a working mother. “We are ‘in loco parentis’", says Alex.

Alex is now widowed. He has sold the little house. He will go to Australia every other year; his daughter will come to England alternate years. In Australia he will stay with her for a few weeks and then stay with one or two of the many friends he had made.

The length of time you stay and where you stay is a critical factor for enjoyable visits. Julie, who goes to San Francisco for two to three weeks says, “The key is how close you are to the parents.” Julie is close to her daughter and gets along famously with her son- in- law, but she advises that when you stay with them: be tactful, don’t interfere in their lives and go and do things by yourself. And when the parents and children come to stay with her in London in her house, her key advice is to be relaxed, and to have as few rules as possible.

It may sound overwhelming, but Jennifer tells me about her friends in Scotland, who once a year rent a holiday house. All seven grandchildren, from toddler to teenager, come to stay without their parents for two weeks. Relationships are re-established and new friendships made. For the grandparents it’s a joy to be with all of them, and for the grandchildren the joyous opportunity to be loved and admired by Granny and Grandpa.


Skype: On the internet go to Click on the 'Use Skype' tab. Scroll to free video calls to find out more. With the free Skype software plus a webcam you can see your grandchildren while you talk and they can see you.

Previous articles in the series:

1. Grandparents do make a difference
2. When Grandparents are on duty
3. To Discipline or not
4. The long Distance Grandparent


Want to comment on this article or ask other laterlife visitors a question?

Then click on the link below to visit the comment section of the Later Lifestyle Network, click on the 'Discussion Tab' (you can't see this until you are logged in) and Create a new topic or add your views to an existing one

Don't forget you need to login before you can make a comment.



Advertise on

LaterLife Travel Insurance in Association with Avanti