Welcome to the September newsletter. Between newsletters New Zealand went back into lock down again, masks have become mandatory and a new social norms have emerged. Like most folk we haven't been anywhere for ages and had to cancel a weekend with friends who live only an hour away. Anyway, we are trying again next month and let's hope the world will allow this to happen. Right now I am crafting the text of 'Being a distance grandparent' — a slow, but worthwhile task. Here are some snippets from August.
An article with impact: 'With borders closed our lifelines to family overseas have been cut.'
If you haven't seen this, Daisy Dumas is spot on.
My key reason for writing three books about the three generations of distance familying is to offer us all a chance to read and understand ‘how it is’ for the ‘other’.
Bridget Romanes, a NZ relocation expert, once said ‘Empathy costs nothing, but gives a lot.’
In this COVID time, it is very easy to assume we understand how other generations feel and think, as we each navigate the new playing field of distance familying.
Ageist attitudes and ageism can easily appear in both directions. This article provides food for thought about intergenerational interaction.
Distance families, Covid-19 and Ambiguous Loss
Penning some thoughts from my research.
Welcome to the August 2020 Distance Families News. As each month passes in this new COVID world the internal dialogue says "adjust, adjust, adjust". I am grateful for the distraction of my writing projects and spend a lot of time at my desk. Here are some snippets from the last month.
Hoping readers are safe and well.
A taste of home
There is probably no more iconic a New Zealand taste and smell sensation than the vegetable extract product Marmite. On our last U.S. visit we carried eight large jars. I suspect the reason that a particular suitcase missed a flight connection at Houston was perhaps the dense jars of Marmite which attracted the attention of the U.S. biodiversity officers
After already travelling 19 hours we had to wait at the airport for another hour or so, for the next flight to arrive delivering the missing bag and suspicious contents.
Please remember back. What is on YOUR shopping list when you visit your distance family? I would love to add a global flavour (excuse the pun) to my books.
The distance family thinking pie
Each generation of a distance family thinks about each other at lesser or greater degrees. Thinking and pondering involve effort and can be incredibly useful. It makes us creative. It helps us reflect outside the square and problem solve. It can also make us worry, ruminate and fester. Yesterday a distance grandparent said to me … “I can’t even bear to think about my family overseas – I’ll be in tears in moment”.
I maintain that distance grandparents consume the biggest slice of the ‘Distance Family Thinking Pie’. They think about their distance children the most — closely followed by thinking of their distance grandchildren. When they wake up each morning, one of their first thoughts will be “are there any messages overnight from the kids?”.
Distance sons and daughters think about their distance parents quite often, but they are not necessarily uppermost in their minds. Their lives are full and their first responsibility is to their immediate family. Distance grandchildren do the least thinking, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care.
The purpose of talking about the ‘Distance Family Thinking Pie’ is in no way to critique each generation’s effort. It is there for one purpose only: to highlight the reality that the quantity of distance family thinking varies between generations.
Thoughts on isolation
Here is a reflective article.....'Thanks to Covid-19, the great global experiment that, in recent years, invited so many of us to call so many distant shores our homes has lost a little of its sheen.'
The comfort of stuff
Daniel Miller is an anthropologist at the University College of London and has written a couple of leftfield books called Stuff and The Comfort of Things. He is interested in the relationship of humans to their things.
Amongst the stuff at my house is an assorted stash of kiddie gear and toys. A stair barrier resides under the guests’ bed, board games live at the top of a wardrobe and a port-a-cot, retro highchair (bought for me!), ride on bike, bashed about plastic table & chairs and other toys reside, off and on, in our attic roof space.
I find this stuff comforting and what’s better I can share it with local friends when their distance family visit. A car seat is currently next door with visiting family who haven’t been able to return to Europe due to COVID-19. Another friend had family ‘escape’ from the U.K. and with little notice she converted her home from an adults-only, single woman peaceful oasis to a kiddie-friendly, toy filled playground. She borrowed a bunch of toys and gear from me.
Once the family moved on this week she arrived at my door with the bag of miscellaneous toy stuff: the dregs after the clean-up. “Please can we spread this lot over your carpet and figure out what’s yours, and what belong elsewhere”. Sitting on the floor we sorted through ancient matchbox cars, odd bits of Duplo, plastic animals and rubbishy children junk directing the odd item to its rightful home.
Despite the desire in latter years to declutter and downsize (which I am all for) there is still comfort in some stuff — especially right now.
Here's a catch up on some snippets and comments.
I am often asked whether I have a publisher for my books. The answer is “yes” and there is a charming and coincidental back story.
First it started with my ordering from overseas the meagre number of existing books about distance grandparenting.
Second, as I became more familiar with the world of expat/migration research and their associated social media platforms, Summertime Publishing kept popping up and in time, I realized they supported many authors in this arena.
When I approached Jo Parfitt, the Managing Director, her response to my proposal blew me away.
‘Funnily enough my father (Peter Gosling), Anne Huscroft and I wrote a book on this topic called How to be a Global Grandparent for Zodiac several years ago.’
I couldn’t believe it. Sitting on my shelf was a copy of this 2009 publication with Jo’s name on the front. How had I not noticed that?
Furthermore, in my research archives were articles written by Peter.
Peter has since passed. ‘My dear father would be chuffed to know you saved his articles’.
Jo agreed the market needed updated books about distance familying and enthusiastically supported my book series project.
What a serendipitous outcome.
When I asked my distance grandparent research participants, “How is distance grandparenting for you?”, one of my findings was that the answer is a package of factors. One of those factors was their ‘in-country family’. Did they have children and grandchildren nearby? What were their relationships? Did they contribute to a lessening of distance loss?
‘In-country family’ matter to Distance Grandparents as it is through them that the tank of ‘day to day, hands on grandparenting’ can be topped up in a concrete fashion.
We have one granddaughter in New Zealand. She is 18 years old and it has been a long time since we babysat, took her to the zoo, mini golf etc. Last week she asked if I would enjoy to accompany her to an open day at a university she is considering attending. My recent experience with academia might be helpful. What a lovely day of learning about a degree a world apart from my own. We included a visit to the art gallery, a potter about town and great chats in the car.
My ‘day to day, hands on grandparenting tank’ was nicely topped up and I appreciate her presence in my world.
Grandparent Zoom chats
I have been meeting distance grandparents online from all corners of the globe. Our chats have been fantastic. Please join me for the last of these sessions on Sunday 5 July. (London 9am, Singapore 3pm, Auckland 8pm). Don't worry if you aren't super familiar with Zoom. To register and receive instructions please click below.
Book Review: This Messy Mobile Life
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss.
There is no shortage of diverse topics out there to learn about Distance Families.
Here is a review of a recent release. 'This Messy Mobile Life' is an insightful read to gain an appreciation of mobile multicultural marriages and families.
If you prefer to receive updates via email this newsletter/blog is for you.
If you prefer Facebook you have two choices:
Distance Families Facebook - for anyone and everyone!
Being a distance grandparent private Facebook group - just for distance grandparents
Click below for links:
There are literally dozens of social media platforms for expat/migrant daughters and sons: the middle generation of distance familying. Every day they share their issues, celebrate their successes, all the while extending their ‘tribe’.
There are few similar groups for distance grandparents. I want to change that.
I have created a private Facebook group for Distance Grandparents (& parents). It's time for this generation to create their own ‘tribe’ and build a global community. This is not so much a 'how to do it' group, but a 'how it is' group.
Do you know distance grandparents or parents who might be interested?
Thank you Sundae Schneider-Bean and your Expat Happy Hour podcast for the opportunity to share my message. I love your incredible enthusiasm for life and your big heart.
COVID-19 has led me to observe a new intergenerational behaviour: many adult children, some close and some from far away, are panicking about the welfare of their parents in a manner their parents have never experienced before.
Advice, even insistent ‘demands’ are relayed about 'stay home', 'don't go to the supermarket' and 'don’t mix'.
I am the first to admit that I live in a country that has so far, navigated COVID-19 reasonably successfully, and we are gingerly taking baby steps to find a new normal. I also acknowledge that other parts of the world are seriously alarming, and I totally understand that everyone needs to be exceedingly cautious. It is completely natural for family members to be anxious about one another.
My concern, however, is that seniors, everywhere have acquired a new label they never asked for: ‘Handle with care’.
My question is: will they ever lose it? Will seniors be allowed to go back to making their own decisions, and not being dictated to? Will their children give them slack and allow them to be independent again?
I was amused to read an article about a senior New Zealander who is currently ‘trapped’ in New Zealand, and for logistical reasons still unable to repatriate to his home in Vanuatu. He is safe, in good hands and accepting of his current lot. His most animated comment was:
"The only thing that really gets me annoyed, is the reference to the elderly, I'm 73 years old. And when I hear people talking about the elderly as if we're an infirm group I really get p***ed off, sorry about the language. I work all the time."
I am blessed that my mother lives 10 minutes’ drive away in a retirement village. Pre-COVID-19 we would chat by phone, maybe once a week and we often joked about families who rang each other every day. We both said we were too busy for that. However, with lockdown I video called Mum every day. She would relay the comings and goings of the village and she commented that many residents were ‘dealing with’ panicking children - for them, as much a challenge as COVID-19. One day Mum said to me "Thank you for not telling me what to do".
The word 'journey' is so overused. Thesaurus.com offers adventure, odyssey, wandering and campaign. They all have a place as I write my first ever blog, but somehow' journey' still surfaces to the top.
I would love to break this narrative mould but it has been a journey and I never would have imagined, even a few years ago that I would one day naively and boldly announce I am writing three books, when I have never published anything before.
Initially, I intended to write only about Distance Grandparenting, because that is what I intimately know. But there are two sides to every story and distance familying is an inter-generational global phenomenon. Each generation has their way of viewing life and experiencing their worlds, and I passionately believe these understandings need to be shared. It can only do good. Thus the reason for a three-book series. The books will not be How to publications. They will talk about How it is.
And just to add an unexpected roadblock to this journey COVID-19 has made itself an unwelcome hitchhiker. It was neither part of your plans, nor mine and distance familying is hugely impacted. Right now, none of us knows when we will next be in the physical presence of our distance family. Now more than ever, distance families deserve a voice.
Please join me in this project and share your stories now. Story examples are available here.
Lastly, "what's with the fruit photo?" you ask. A lasting and grateful memory of lockdown has been the autumnal bountiful giving of our Southern Hemisphere-friendly feijoa tree. Every day, without fail, a handful of its green, oval-shaped fruit has fallen to the ground saying “pick me up”.
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