Is your family geographically scattered? Has globalisation made your family a Distance Family? This book tells the candid story of how Distance Parents and Distance Grandparents learn to adapt to their new reality. This isn't family life as they had imagined it.
If you are a Distance Parent or Distance Grandparent, all those how, why, and what-if questions will find answers in these pages. You will realise, perhaps for the first time, that you are not alone on your journey. Helen Ellis examines everything from smart ways of tweaking your communication routines to tips for nourishing precious family relationships. These moving stories will soothe and inspire you, and, more importantly, help you to embrace your ever-changing Distance Family role.
Are you a Distance Family daughter, son, or grandchild living a globalised life? Do you worry about the folks back home? Is that you? Taking time to learn about Distance Familying from your parent's or grandparent's perspective is a heartfelt act of love.
My own family pattern would have fitted very well into the intention of this book! The author, Helen Ellis, has set out to examine the difficulties of being a "Distance Grandparent", particularly in the context of today's unprecedented travel challenges. "Distance Familying", as Ellis describes it, was no stranger to me. One set of my grandparents lived in the UK; the other set in New Zealand. However, my New Zealand grandfather had left his parents in Austria and never saw them again once he had left home. Communications and international travel were not so accessible in those days. Moving forward in time, my own children had one set of grandparents in Ireland and the other in New Zealand. And if we look further afield, my children have cousins and aunts and uncles all over the world - Australia, Israel, USA, Russia, Poland, and Italy, to name just a few.
The difference between the world of my grandfather's times and the modern, pre-COVID era of globalisation and electronic communications is immense. People used to leave their families to travel with little expectation of ever seeing their parents again. Grandparents were resigned to never meeting their grandchildren; a photograph enclosed with a handwritten letter was all they could expect. In modern times, however, air travel made it possible for family members to visit other countries whenever they wished. Although the COVID pandemic has put a stop to this freedom, the world is gradually moving to a new normal and hopefully borders will open once more.
Ellis has encapsulated all these details in her book, tracing the history of intergenerational relationships where family members are separated geographically and trying to maintain relationships through any means possible. She outlines the various programmes available (Skype, FaceTime, Messenger, Zoom, etc) - making the valid observation that constant updates and improvements mean that no one system is preferable to another; it depends on what suits the individual using it. At the same time, she makes allowances for those (usually older) people who are not au fait with electronic systems, preferring instead to phone or send letters via snail mail. The vital point she emphasizes is that the means is unimportant as long as contact is being made.
Prior to 2020, many of these relationships were fostered in person. Grandparents would travel to visit their children and grandchildren, and these visits were reciprocated. When COVID caused things to close down globally, however, the internet came into its own and enabled families to stay in touch. Ellis states that, although this arrangement did not allow for hugs or physical play, it was better than anything earlier generations had access to.
I enjoyed the personal anecdotes from various grandparents. They make the book very easy to read - Ellis does emphasise, right at the start, that although the information has been researched as an academic project, her aim was to present it in a form that would be accessible to everyone. The amount of research entailed is manifest in the reference works listed at the end of the text proper. I like the way the entries have been organised under topic headings to make further reading easy to select - too often, bibliographies and works consulted consist of alphabetised entries with no clue as to the relevance of the contents. Some of the publications cited have appeared since March 2020, and contain direct references to the effects of Lockdown on intergenerational relationships.
One of my two favourite parts of the book was the list of items that should be left in the bedroom of the grandparent (or other family member) who has travelled to stay. Top of the list was the essential memo - the Wi-Fi access code and password for the house! When someone may have travelled for two or more days to meet up with family, and possibly to meet a new grandchild for the first time, internet access is a given. It enables the grandparent to share the visit with other family back home, and - more practically - to check return travel plans regularly in case they change. And my other favourite part? The cover design, which depicts a heart shape with the world enclosed inside it. For me, this sums up the message of the book: the love of a grandparent for his or her grandchildren which transcends political boundaries and the constraints of distance.
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"Computer games don't affect kids. I mean if Pac-Man affected us as kids, we'd all be running around in darkened rooms, munching magic pills and listening to repetitive electronic music."
Kristian Wilson, Nintendo, Inc, 1989