If your parents are coming to the UAE to visit their grandchildren, how can you ensure the trip goes well for all concerned?
Invasion of the grandparents: how to make it a family success
For expatriate families, February means one thing if you're lucky: grandparents. A move to the UAE guarantees non-stop sunshine, tax-free living and amazing beaches, but it also means removing yourself from family.
Come February, however, grandparents arrive in the UAE in their droves to catch up with their nearest and dearest and escape cold winters in Europe and North America. Dubai Modern High School even holds its own Grandparents Day every February - giving children a chance to show off their classrooms and schoolwork to Grandma and Grandad. Some grandparents fly to Dubai especially for the event.
So, if you've got grandparents coming to stay, how can you make sure the trip goes well? Everyone has high expectations and the pressure of what is probably an annual event means success is essential. For this reason, it is worth talking through the details of the trip with your children in advance. Grandma, for example, might expect a kiss when she gets off the plane, but your six-year-old might not be so keen to kiss a "stranger". In this case, it's worth encouraging your child to be responsive ahead of time.
"Parents should say to the child that greeting grandparents as family is expected, but let the relationship between the two work its way through the natural bonding process," advises Dr Raymond Hamden, a psychologist at the Human Relations Institute, Dubai (hridubai.com).
Plan some fun trips together that everyone can enjoy, such as days out to the zoo, the beach, a museum or the movies. "These experiences can be remembered by your children as positive, loving and warm, so that they look forward to their grandparents visiting again," says Naeema Jiwani, a child development psychologist at the HRI. And make sure there's time at home, too, so grandparents don't get worn out.
Most of all, ensure each of your children has some one-to-one time with their grandparents, because this is when bonds are really formed, even if it just means popping out to the supermarket together.
It's worth keeping in mind that grandparents will be very excited and enthusiastic about meeting their grandchildren. "It is important not to take their over-enthusiasm as annoying, but rather as a sign that they are genuinely interested in the development and bond they form with their grandchildren," says Jiwani. Try to relax your household rules and let your parents help out as much as possible; even if that means later bedtimes or extra treats, it's only for a short while.
Inevitably, grandparents will have to leave and there will be tears. Hamden says you should let your children cry, but reassure them with plans for future visits and the possibility of going to visit grandparents abroad. In the meantime, there are many ways of staying in touch, thanks to advances in technology:
With slightly older children, grandparents can keep in touch via texting or sending pictures. Children enjoy hearing about the routine of their life - whether it's a picture of the dog having its dinner, or Granddad in muddy boots in the garden. If your parents aren't sure how to do anything other than make a call, let your children enjoy teaching them how to use their phone when they visit.
Online photo album
Consider building an online photo album on a website such as Myfamily.com or Flickr.com. This will enable grandchildren, parents and grandparents to add pictures whenever they want and to share them with everyone. If your child has won an award at school or your parents have been on holiday, it is easy to put up images of the occasion online and is certainly faster than waiting for the post to arrive.
it doesn't take long for grandchildren to overtake their grandparents in terms of technical know-how. So encourage your children to write emails to their grandparents, or try instant messaging.
Social networking sites
if you have older children and they belong to a site such as Facebook, they might be happy to "friend" their grandparents and then they'll be able to see what they've been up to. If your children aren't keen on the idea of sharing everything with Granny, think about setting up a family social group on Myfamily.com which provides a secure space where all members can share photos, videos, stories and events.
It might be old-school, but children love receiving letters and packages, so encourage your parents to keep in touch this way. They could send postcards of their hometown, or when they go on trips. They could even send packages with little treats for the children to open.
In spite of the copious new ways of keeping in touch, you probably still feel sad, and maybe guilty, about the fact that your parents are so far away. Children benefit hugely from contact with grandparents, but take heart in the fact that they don't need to be around the corner.
"Grandparents are an integral part of growing up, whether the older folks are near or far in proximity, because they are usually consistent," says Hamden. "They have time for the little ones while parents are managing the 'changes of the world' and grandparents have a more relaxed and content attitude about life and living. They are available unconditionally."
While it might have been your decision to move overseas, be reassured that making an effort to keep in touch will make all the difference. "The most important thing is communication. As long as grandchildren know their grandparents are thinking about them, it doesn't matter how they do it," says Jiwani. "Whether it's an occasional email, a regular Skype conversation or even letters in the post, the power of love, fun and shared experiences is much more powerful than being physically distant from one another."
Even if your parents are whizzes at techno-communication and could rival Mark Zuckerberg when it comes to time spent on Facebook, it still might not be enough. If your daughter simply misses making flapjacks with grandma, or you're a first-time mother and need a helping hand, there is a solution.
The British expatriate and mother-of-two Andrea Alan came up with the idea after a series of sleepless nights when her daughter had chickenpox and she was missing the support relatives can offer. While searching a Dubai forum, Alan saw a post from an older woman who was missing her own children and grandchildren and that's when she dreamt up surrogate grandparents - something both parties could benefit from. Alan holds weekly meetings to give mothers and "fairy godmothers" a chance to meet up and see if they click. She has more than 170 mothers and godmothers involved, as well as a busy Facebook group.
To get involved with the club, search for "the Fairy Godmother Club (Dubai)" on Facebook.
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