16 Nov 2015

11+ ways to improve the grandparent grandchild relationship part 1

“I must have been crazy. I’ve taken my parents away from my children!” Jessica
“I was really close to my grandparents when I was growing up, it is such a different sort of relationship to [the one you have with] your parents. I am sad my children aren’t going to have that.” Rebecca
 Quotes from my book, The Emotional Challenges of Immigration, Strategies and stories of those who stayed.

Grandparents and grandchildren have a unique relationship, however when you are a migrant, this unique relationship is challenged by distance.

What are some of the challenges? 

1.Keeping in contact enough.

2.Remembering that communication is a two-way act.
4.Virtual grandparents.
5.Accents can hinder the ease of communication. 
6.New cultural and behavioural norms.
8.Environmental differences.
9.Visits there or here.
10.Quantity v quality.
11.Talking it up

How can the challenges be overcome?

1.Keeping in contact enough. Children change so quickly, it is hard for the grandparent to keep up with what they are doing. It is an effort to keep in contact, especially if there are numerous grandchildren or grandparents.

Solution: Internet offers instant contact through Instagram, Viber, Skype, email. Then there are the slower, but effective, letters, presents and visits. More information on keeping in contact in my book.

2.Remembering that communication is a two-way act. Technology is evolving so quickly that it is difficult to keep up with every form of communication, let alone know how to use it. While you as a parent may be savvy with the latest technology, your parent may not be or may be uncomfortable using it. For example, when emails were the hip new form of communication a traveler in London wanted to keep her grandmother up to date with email. 
The grandmother preferred letters. Who gets to choose which way to communicate? My mother has avoided using Skype as she feels she has to make herself presentable for the screen. Perhaps this is where respect for elders comes in. Be understanding. You may be just as challenged when you get to their stage of life. Your right way to communicate may not be right for them. Your elders may not see the need for Instagram or Skype. Allow them the privilege of sticking with what they know.   

Solution: Agree on a form of communication which makes it easy for your parent and realistic for you. Vary your forms of communication. My adult children write letters to my mother. My mother is a proficient emailer, but the letters are a special form of contact. 

3.Language. If you and your children live in a country that speaks a different language to the one you were brought up with, you have to choose whether your children become bilingual or not. If you chose for and your children not to be bilingual, your children may not be able to speak easily to your parents. As an immigrant from Russia to an English speaking country said, 

“You come here. You learn English. You let English be your main language at home so that your children will get the best out of school. Then when your parents come over, your children can’t communicate with their grandparents because they don’t have the same first language."

Even when you are living with your grandparents, if the language is different, there is limited communication. As Yowie Shaw found out, Help! I can't communicate with my Mandarin-speaking grandpa. Another second generation immigrant on speaking two languages, a post reply from Carolina Sanchez on the blog Why do some immigrant children that are raised in America refuse to speak their mother tongue.

“I was born in the US, but my first languages are Spanish and English. My parents taught me Spanish before English, and I was speaking both by the time I was 3. I always spoke Spanish at home, and English at school. But then when I started getting older, like pre-teen/teen years I was sometimes ashamed to be heard speaking Spanish in public because I wanted to 'fit in' and I didn't want people to think I was different. But then, a few years later, I realized that was silly and I am so thankful today to my parents for instilling the Spanish language and culture in me and always speaking to me in Spanish, reading to me in Spanish since I was little, etc. It opened my mind to other languages and cultures, and I discovered my passion for languages. I went on to learn 3 more languages (Italian, Portuguese, and Russian), and now I am a professional translator and share my knowledge with others. So many of my friends tell me they wish they spoke another language, and that when they have kids they're going to raise them bilingual. It really opens so many doors.”

Solution: Keep your children bilingual. If they learn the language before they are five, they will be able to communicate with their grandparents when they are young. If your children want to dismiss the second language at adolescence, having learnt it once they are likely to be able to understand their grandparents,  and maybe the grown children will relearn the language.  

4.Virtual grandparents. There are limitations to the two-dimensional contact. As one parent said, “You can’t snuggle up and read a book together on Skype.” And you can’t smell the smell of a newborn. 

Solution. When you can,  make face-to-face visits happen. As one new grandparent said, “My granddaughter was surprised to see us not full-screen size. She was used to seeing us on screen. It suddenly became a three-dimensional relationship.”

5.Accents can hinder the ease of communication. A quote from my book illustrates an example,

“Grandparents may find the difference in accents a challenge. The accents not only remind them that their grandchildren are different, but that they are distant, too. Monica's parents struggled with her being away from them: 'My parents say they don't understand the children. It's not that difficult. Perhaps they don't try very hard.' From Monica's parents' point of view, they may feel it should not be an effort to listen to their grandchildren. The grandparents were not the ones that moved.”

Solution: Give your parents time and allow them to misunderstand the children. They will tune in after a while if the children continue to make contact with them. When you visit each other, make sure the grandparents and children spend some time together without you. They will probably find their ways to communicate. Alternatively or additionally, use snail mail, voice recordings (the grandparents can replay the tapes many times to decipher what is being said.)

The second part of my blog on improving the grandparent-grandchild relationship is here. It is part of the free newsletter. Signup for the free newsletter here. As well as the remainder of this article, you will receive for free, Ten Tips to Become a More Settled Immigrant.

If you have any wisdom or experiences to share, comment below. I would love to hear from you.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent advice for immigrants on ways to build the relationships between their children and their parents. Useful tips on overcoming the problem of kids who speak a different language from their grandparents.