When my first grandson was born nearly 16 years ago, I was busy with my work and my own life. His parents lived an hour away from my house, which made two hours travelling if I did the round trip on the same day.
I told my daughter early on that I would not be one of those grandmothers who were ready to be a babysitter at a moment’s notice. We would love to see the baby as often as we could but did not want to be pressed into regular service.
She is a very nice and responsive person and never did press us to sit, although she left him at our house on one or two occasions which was never a problem.
But oh dear, how very wrong I was.
Being a grandmother is like many other things in life – the more you put into it, the more you get out.
I didn’t have involved grandparents, so I had no example at first hand. I therefore had to learn this lesson the hard way.
When my second grandson was born over three years later, I still had the same view. But not so long afterwards, my daughter-in-law was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer and not helping out was not an option.
We acquired a cot (crib), bedding, clothes, highchair and all the other accoutrements of having a baby in the house. And by necessity that grandson came to our house frequently, although other relatives and paid help were also called on.
Now, you won’t be surprised to learn that we soon discovered the absolute joy of having a baby around the house.
Plus the toddler he soon became. Not to mention the child who the toddler grew into. He is now 12.
My daughter-in-law’s treatment took a long time, but she slowly recovered (and is now fine). And in the process, we learned so much about ourselves and the nature of being grandparents.
At the same time as I was doing all that childcare, I was compiling a book based on about their lives. I was fascinated to learn about the different experiences of women as grannies and how they coped.
One of the sadder sets of stories were those of women who lived a long way from their grandchildren and could not see them often. They felt they missed out the chance to get to know them well.
It happens so often these days, because everyone is on the move for work or other reasons. Young people move across the country, or they move to a new continent. It is great on many counts, but not completely.
Inevitably, these women were much less close to their grandchildren. They talked about the complexities of visiting from time to time. They said that seeing grandchildren on Skype was not remotely the same.
They certainly found it difficult to be so distant from their grandchildren.
And I began to understand how lucky people are when they live in the same place. You can play with the grandchildren on the floor when they are small. You can talk to them. You can listen to them.
And you gain so much.
My Distant Grandchildren
And then it happened to me.
Grandson number one, although living in the same city (London) had remained an hour’s travel away. We saw him when we could, at his house or ours, but visits became less frequent as my daughter went back to work and he went to nursery and then school.
And when he was not at school, he was busy with friends and afterschool activities, like swimming and running. And he didn’t like talking on the phone. And Covid restrictions didn’t help.
He was, in effect, a distant grandchild, albeit not so very distant by location.
Meanwhile, grandson number two moved out of the country with his family and I learned about long-distance relationships.
The first time I had arranged a zoom call, he had to stop playing with his friends to come in to talk to granny. Not surprisingly, he was not very responsive. He had other things on his mind.
After that, I arranged such calls with him at the last minute, so he was in the right frame of mind.
But talking on zoom is not the same as sitting with a child, hugging him and feeling his presence. It lacks all the joy of touch. It is better than nothing but very frustrating.
I, too, felt I was missing out on the day-to-day changes in his life.
I rarely give people advice, because I think people are different and need to make their own choices.
But I do advise not following my example. If you have grandchildren, do your best to get to see them as often as possible. Talk to them, listen to them, joke with them. You will gain so much.
Because you never know when it will come to an end.
And you will never regret it.
A version of this article was published on SixtyandMe.com