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Global Grandparenting - the challenge

The unexpected challenges of being a "global grandparents" as seen by Peter Gosling, who shares his knowledge and soon will publish a book about Global Grandparenting, a collection of Grandparents stories from all over the world.

Being a grandparent at any time can always be a challenge, but in today's world new and unexpected challenges have arisen. More families are living abroad than ever before. Some leave their homeland by choice and others are sent to another country because of the husband's work. For most of the 20th Century families tended to stay close together. The children grew up, went to work in the same town as their parents and their children in turn followed the same pattern. At that time when a family went to work abroad the separation must have been intolerable. The post was slow. Telephoning was expensive and unreliable and sea travel took weeks. But things have changed and now we live in the jet age with fast travel and instant communication becoming accepted facts of life. Distances have shrunk dramatically.

So does this make life any easier for the grandparents who are left with grandchildren half the world away? Not a bit of it. It presents them with not only a new set of problems but also a new set of opportunities.

The problems arise from the need to make use of all the latest electronic gadgets that will be familiar to sons, daughters and grandchildren out there. Getting to grips with all the latest technology is essential if you are going to keep in touch and strengthen the family ties. The options are all there. What you need is for you, as the grandparents, to be able to use them to everyone's advantage. Many of us oldies take to it, but others cry "but we're too old to learn new ways." They should try. Help is out there.

Looking on the bright side, having a family that lives in a land that you would never in your wildest dreams have considered visiting opens up a wonderful new world of opportunities.

So you are going to have the chance to visit your global family in their lair and therein lies another challenge. You are going to live again as a family for one, two or three weeks (rarely longer), have a whole new culture to explore and you should make the most of it. So a few suggestions will not come amiss.

* Agree the length of your stay before arrival.
* Be prepared for a culture shock.
* Pay for your hosts if they accompany you somewhere, don’t expect them to pay for it all.
* Contribute to household goods or just replace basic items you see them using from local shops or markets. Tea, coffee, sugar, herbs, spices are always welcome.
* Offer to help. Don’t show up empty handed if they’re expats missing their Marmite!  What a welcome you’ll receive when accompanied by a much-missed favourite!  Before you travel, ask your hosts if they’d like you to bring anything specific from “home”.
* Go with the flow – you are not at a hotel with service provided.
* Remember the Golden Rule: Never outstay your welcome or abuse your invitation and keep your sense of humour.
* Don't expect to be taken out and about all the time. Just because you were invited to stay, doesn’t mean your hosts expect to be with you 24/7 or act as your personal taxi service.
* Remember they will have their own friends to visit them as well as you. Also, their other half's parents will want to come too. 
* Be a good house guest. Give them a break sometimes by getting to grips with local transport - buses and trains. Try to be as independent as you can be and use your free time (you'll have plenty of it) to explore or hire a car. If you are in a large country, such as the USA or Australia, you might like to use the internal airlines to see some more of the country. It gives them a break. Remember that they have to work and live their normal lives as well as entertain you.
* Depending on the age of the children, use your visit to spend quality time with them. This would allow a working mum the chance for some quality time for herself. It also gives you the opportunity to create and strengthen those essential bonds between you and your grandchildren.
* Good low maintenance visitors, confronted with cramped sleeping conditions, have been known to spend several nights in a nearby hotel or to take off in a hire car to explore other parts of the country. Much as your hosts love you, and you love them, this cuts both ways as it gives your hosts a chance to get their breath back. High maintenance visitors find situations such as these hard to cope with.
* The food available in the far-flung corners of the globe can prove to be a problem when you first visit. There are still folk who hanker after the meat and two veg diet even when away from home. The low maintenance visitors should be able to take to feasts of noodles in Thailand, American cholesterol-full meals, barbies (BBQ) on the Australian beaches or roast goat in the Emirates in their stride, but high maintenance visitors might be more difficult to please.