Growing up, my relationship with my grandparents was complicated. Let’s just say I didn’t see either side very often and we’ll leave it at that. Inevitably, my parents began making their own family traditions for holidays, vacations, and birthdays. I don’t remember consciously thinking about it, but I always assumed that when I had kids we would continue those traditions alongside my parents and siblings. However, reality is not quite as I had imagined.
About 10 years ago my parents sold my childhood home in southeast Iowa and moved across the country to pursue their dream of living and retiring on a mountain in Montana. I remember my mom talking about how there was nothing keeping them in Iowa anymore. She would say, “You all have your own lives now.” I didn’t really think anything of it at the time. It was true. We were all out living our own lives. I felt comfortable with the fact that this was their chance to live a dream. It wasn’t until I had children of my own that I really thought about what it meant to have my parents to live halfway across the country.
My dad recently came to stay for a few days. On the first morning of his visit, my middle son (who is 2 years old) came downstairs to wake us and asked, “Who is that guy?” My son didn’t even know that ‘that guy’ asleep in the other room was his grandfather. I know that part of this is because of his age. After all, he was probably only one year old when he saw him last. I also understand that as he gets older he will more easily be able to remember my parents from year to year. But for this year, it stung. I don’t think it stung for my dad because he was fully prepared for it. But it hit me square between the eyes.
Maybe it hit home because of my own experience with little-to-no grandparents in my life. Or maybe it was just a shattering of what I thought sharing life with my immediate family would look like. It could also have stung because I can see the stark difference between the relationship my boys have with my parents, compared to my husband’s parents. My in-laws live ten minutes away for us. They see the boys several times a week. In fact, every Wednesday is ‘Grandma and Grandpa day’ at their house. My boys love going there and I love that they get to go. Still, it makes me sad to think how different their relationships will be with grandparents near and far.
I think all of this boils down to the fact that I treasure closeness and quality time. While I don’t really have a solution to my conundrum, I have come to realized something – proximity is not only the factor that creates close grandparent relationships. After all, lots of people have family that live far away. Sure, living nearby is helpful, but as long as I provide my children with opportunities to bond with their grandparents, they can still make meaningful memories – no matter where they live. I’m going to work on that.