Today, millions of families around the globe are separated by distances that are too vast to make a day-to-day relationship possible. Think of the people you know or work with - how many of your friends, neighbours or colleagues live in families with two or three generations living nearby?
Whether in search of new pastures, to heed the call of adventure or to further their careers, people have been on the move for centuries. But whatever the reasons, we know that distance adversely affects family closeness and especially the grandparent-grandchild relationship.
Many expat families hope that the old saying "out of sight, out of mind" doesn't hold true and grandparents ask, "How can we keep our grandchildren better connected with us?"
One of the great joys of growing older is the arrival of grandchildren and the mutual adoration that so often develops between the youngest and oldest members of a family. Relationships with children grow through constant care. When you are living close, this type of care comes easily through the time you are able to spend together.
However, when you're living thousands of miles apart, this becomes more difficult to accomplish. There are a variety of fun activities that expat grandparents can do with their grandchildren overseas (or vice versa) which will help to maintain and strengthen their special bond:
Create an audiotape of yourself reading a bedtime story and send it to your grandchild with a copy of the book.
Send a plastic jar in the mail that contains the exact number of small sweeties (nothing that will melt though) as days that are left until your next visit. Attach a little note asking your grandchild to eat one a day until you are together again.
Play hide and seek from a distance. Have the parent hide the treats you sent in certain predetermined "hiding places". Give your grandchild clues over the phone, by email, or in a letter, about where the treats are hidden.
Send a package containing all the things your grandchild will need if he or she becomes ill. For example, you could send a packet of chicken noodle soup mix, crossword puzzles, colouring books, fuzzy felt board, a stuffed animal, etc.
Start a family history project. Ask your grandchild which relatives he or she would like to get to know better and together research stories and information about them.
One UK based grandmother regularly telephones her granddaughter in the UAE on a Saturday morning and they take turns to read books or poems to each other.
If your grandchildren have never visited the country in which you live, take photos of your home, your friends, your street, your pets, so that they can begin to get a sense of your life. If you have a video camera, make a home movie in which you specifically talk to the children.
Play Internet games together like Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune, both of which can be found at http://sony.com. Organise what time and day you will meet online and remember to take into account time differences.
Using an Internet based crossword puzzle program such as the one at http://puzzlemaker.school.discovery.com, make a personalized crossword puzzle for your grandchild. Clues could include special times together, memories, names of family members or pets or each other's favourite activities.
If you have access to the Internet, seriously consider installing a web cam to your PC and downloading MSN Messenger or Skype so you can make free PC to PC videocalls. If your family overseas does the same, you can both connect and thus see and speak with each other live online. The software is completely free so all you pay for is your time online.
Children thrive in environments where they are nurtured and loved. They learn about the world around them when those closest to them - and those further away - join in their play, interests and share in their activities. Whether grandparents live near or far, they have a vital role in child development. It's crucial to actively promote this intergenerational bond and consider the positive impact it holds on your child's future.