Becoming an Overseas Grandparent

Becoming a grandparent can be life changing, but how does it feel when your new grandchild lives in another country?  One Nanna tells her story.

When my two daughters were in their teens they both announced that they had no intention of ever having children, or, as one put it, not until they could be chosen from the supermarket shelf. "Fine", I said. "I do not need to be a grandparent. Unlike some other mothers I will never harass you with demands about whether my grandchildren will be making an appearance while I still have the energy and mental capacity to enjoy them. I will make the most of my declining years, spending my pension on travel and leisure, hurrah!"

However, I was unprepared for the fact that, with added years and changing circumstances, both daughters would rethink their earlier decisions and become mothers. Having not given birth to these new babies, I was particularly unprepared for the instant love I felt for both my granddaughter and my grandson. I was even less prepared for the idea of grandparenting from a different country, for, as luck would have it, my elder daughter relocated to Amsterdam, where she and her fiancé were married prior to starting a family. So my delightful grandson was born in Amsterdam and resides there with his parents while my husband and I live across the North Sea in the East of England.

Initially this was a real cause for concern for me but now it simply means that we have a good excuse to make lots of visits to the Netherlands. When my daughter became pregnant she was working in London for a couple of days a week and staying in city centre hotel for the night in between as we live too far away to make commuting on British public transport viable for an expectant mother. However, I was able to travel more easily so we had plenty of opportunities to meet regularly for relaxing dinner and a chat. In this way I was able to listen to any worries my daughter had, use my own past experience - and some life-experience based mother-wisdom - to answer her questions and generally offer support. To my way of thinking, planning childbirth in another country, away from extended family, is a very brave thing to do. Although the opportunity did not arise I certainly would not have done this myself when I was younger so I was very much in awe of my elder daughter’s courage. In late pregnancy some potentially serious health issues arose and she was no longer able to make the weekly journey to the UK so remained in Amsterdam, working from home whenever possible. It was a miserable experience for my daughter and an especially worrying time for me: I found it really hard to be far away when she was so tired, anxious and unwell, as a mother’s natural instinct is to nurture and support her children, yes, even when they are over thirty!

The previous year my younger daughter had given birth ten miles away from our home and I had been delighted to be called as soon as my granddaughter was born and invited to visit the hospital immediately. Bearing gifts, my husband and I hopped into the car and drove hot–foot, although within the speed limit, to the hospital stopping only to buy a gas-filled, celebratory balloon on the way. We met our first grandchild before she was an hour old but when a grandchild is born overseas the experience is very different. This time there was a tremendous amount of anxiety attached, as I knew that I could not get to my daughter quickly had there been an emergency. I remained in England for the birth as she was pretty sure it would be difficult and wanted to lick her wounds (metaphorically speaking) in private so wisely decided not to see visitors until she and the baby were home from hospital. In the event, my daughter rang me when she went into what proved to be quite a long labour and we had a reassuring chat. I then received a text from my son-in-law at 3am announcing the safe arrival of our grandson. This was tremendously exciting, but time dragged as it was several hours before I had any more news: the birth had been difficult for my daughter and the road to recovery was slow. Even though her husband was with her every step of the way I just wanted to be with my daughter to comfort her, so this was another anxious time for me. It is truly amazing what mothers can find to worry about in the absence of first-hand information!

When she and the baby came home from hospital there was much more in-home support than I had experienced on becoming a mother. The Dutch system allows for daily home visits from professionals and this is very reassuring, both for new parents and for their distant families. Nevertheless, when my husband and I arrived a few days later to congratulate our daughter and son-in-law and to meet, and delight in, our week-old grandson there was still plenty for a Nanna and Grandpa to do to help out. Overall, it seemed to work very well; the new family had some time to bond and start to settle into a routine before the relatives descended. From the young family’s perspective, there are definitely pros as well as cons to having overseas grandparents.

The Overseas Grandparent is currently grandparenting across three different countries. Having retired from her career in Special Needs Education to spend more time with her husband, children and grandchildren she now seems to be busier than ever!

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