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A virtual red lollipop for my grandchild

Jul 21, 2021

Dr. Sulette Ferreira

“… you get a grandchild and I can tell you its the greatest benefit of them all. You do not love your grandchild more than your children; you love your grandchild in an indescribable way because you know this child is a part of your child, and all you want to give is love. This is why grandparents are supposed to be there, because they give the lollipop even though mommy says its bad for your teeth. This is the role, the lollipop – and it has been taken away from me.”

This is how a transnational grandmother describes her role as granny. A grandparent is born when a grandchild is born. Getting the honourary title of Grandmother or Grandfather is seen by many grandparents as one of the most significant emotional events of their lives. However, the remarkable announcement that you are going to be a grandparent is dampened by sadness when the expectant parents – your children – live continents and even timezones away from you.

A grandparent’s close involvement with a grandchild is positively associated with the emotional welfare of both the grandparent and the grandchild. Looking after the grandchild gives the grandparent, especially the grandmother, the opportunity to enjoy a realtionship that  is very unique.

The possibility of experiencing a meaningful relationship with a grandchild will to a great extent be determined by continuous contact between these three generations: the  grandparents who are staying behind, the adult child who have emigrated, and the grandchild. To let the grandmother  feel part of the family, it is important that the children regularly send photos of the children and share their daily activities and milestones with her. This way the grandparents will still be a part of their grandchildren’s lives. The children therefore forms an important link between the grandparent and the grandchild and have a responsibility to maintain the relationship, especially if the grandchildren are very young.

How do you as a granny give your grandchild a lollipop if you are continents apart?

There is of course no substitute for being in each others’ company to fully enjoy the benefits of loving relationships with grandchildren. If possible, visits 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 surroundings and to create new memories.

The other alternative is internet communication such as email, Skype, WhatsApp and FaceTime. It is very important that grandparents familiarise themselves with digital communication technology and acquire the necessary skills 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 by for instance using her laptop to virtually teach the grandchildren old family recipes, for example. Make appointments with your grandchild to share special activities, such as reading them a story at a set time every week or playing a board game. By doing this, continuity will be established in the grandparent/grandchild relationship.

Find your unique way to strengthen the bond with your grandchild. Tackle the challenge with enthusiasm so you can express your love to your grandchild, despite being separated by continents and time zones.

Dr. Sulette Ferreira
Counselling Therapist | Family Mediator | Emigration Therapist

About the author

Dr. Sulette Ferreira

Dr Sulette Ferreira (PhD), a social science researcher in private practice in South Africa, specialises in the emotional effect of emigration. In the last decade, many adult South African children have emigrated, while their parents still live here . As a result, many of these parents experience an ambiguous loss – a type of loss that is often not acknowledged. Emigration is a complex psychological and socio-cultural phenomenon that has an immense impact, not only on the emigrant, but also on those left behind that have to deal with the aftermath of this phenomenon. As a registered health care professional, she does grief bereavement with a focus on post-emigration counselling. She is passionately researching transnationalism and the effect thereof on intergenerational relationships in families. In sharing this knowledge via articles and workshops, she is creating awareness among the general public about this ever increasing phenomenon.


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