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Sulette Ferreira
Sulette Ferreira
Emigration Counseling Therapist
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A virtual red lollipop for my grandchild

A grandparent is born when a grandchild is born. Acquiring the honorary title: Grandma or Grandpa, is seen by many grandparents as one of the most meaningful emotional events in their lives. Yet the remarkable announcement that you are going to be a grandparent can be tempered by sadness, especially when the expectant parents - your children - live continents and even time zones far away from you. Maintaining intergenerational relationships after emigration is a challenge, as emigration has a strong tendency to weaken family ties and can overturn those relationships.

In today's internet-connected world, emigration has increased significantly. South Africa is no exception and has lost many citizens to emigration, especially over the last two decades. According to Buckham (2019), roughly 23 people emigrate from South Africa each year. According to these statistics, it can be inferred that a large number of parents and grandparents are affected by the emigration of their adult children and grandchildren. Parents and grandparents immediately become transnational parents and grandparents resulting in various changes and challenges.

A grandparent's close involvement with a grandchild is positively associated with the emotional well-being of both the grandparent and the grandchild. Taking care of the grandchild provides the grandparent, especially the grandmother, with an opportunity to delight herself in a relationship that is very unique in nature. A grandmother described her role as:

"... you get a grandchild who I can tell you is the biggest plus of all. You are no more fond of your grandchild than of your children; you love your grandchild in an indescribable way because you know this child is part of your child, and all you want to give is love. That's why grandparents are supposed to be there, because they give the lollipop even though mom says it's bad for your teeth. This is the roll, the lollipop - and it was taken away from me. "

The quality of the grandparent-grandchild relationship relies on regular contact. Geographical distance, one of the strongest determining factors of contact between grandparents and grandchildren, affects the emotional involvement between these generations. If your grandchildren have stayed close to you and their parents decide to emigrate, that leaves a huge gap. So an attachment bond had already been formed with the grandchild and their physical departure is a painful reminder of what was. Feelings of loss are experienced on several levels. As a grandparent, you are worried that you will miss out on the everyday events and also the important life stages of the grandchild. Your grandchildren and children are ripped out of your life and you become the grandmother who lives far, far away.

The possibility of experiencing a meaningful relationship with a grandchild is hardly associated with constant contact between these three generations: the grandparents who are left behind, the adult child who has emigrated, and the grandchild. To make the grandmother still feel part of the family, it is essential that the children who have emigrated send photos of the grandchildren and to share with them their daily activities and important milestones. That way, the grandparents remain a part of their grandchildren's lives. The children therefore form an important link between the grandparent and the grandchild and have a responsibility to maintain the relationship, especially when the grandchildren are still very young.

As a grandmother, how do you give your grandchild a lollipop if you live continents far apart?

To fully enjoy the pluses of loving relationships with grandchildren, there is no substitute for physical closeness. Visits, if possible, are the best way to get to know and experience your grandchild's new world. It allows you to be part of your grandchild's new environment and to create new memories. It also helps you to form an image in your world of thought of your grandchildren's new environment. However, visits are not affordable or practically possible for everyone but there are other forms of contact.

The other alternative is internet communication such as email, Skype, WhatsApp and FaceTime. It is crucial that grandparents become familiar with digital communication technology and to learn the necessary skills to be able to communicate with their grandchildren on these platforms. A grandmother who wants to stay involved in her grandchild's life can be innovative and creative, for example by using her laptop to virtually teach the grandchildren how to master old family recipes. The grandchild in America can therefore learn to bake pancakes with the guidance of the grandparent. All the ingredients are purchased by the parent and the grandparent forms part of the kitchen and thus the life of the grandchild in this creative way. Make appointments with the grandchild to do special activities, such as reading a story aloud at a certain time each week or playing a board game. Continuity is thus created in the grandparent-grandchild relationship.

Find your unique way to strengthen the bond with your grandchild. Take on the challenge with enthusiasm in order to live out your love as a grandparent for your grandchild, even across continents and time zones.