Spend Quality Time With the Grandkids Overseas

Living overseas, expats can let their grandchildren experience and learn about new cultures. ©Ann Kuffner

“It’s like being inside an aquarium,” my grandchildren kept saying, as we made our way back to shore from their first snorkeling trip in the Caribbean.

I had been ecstatic about introducing them to my favorite activity since we moved to Belize. As we boarded the boat, their anticipation was palpable. Then, as we reached our snorkeling spot and slid beneath the Caribbean’s gentle waves, the splendor of Belize’s barrier reef opened up before us. We lingered over mustard-yellow and fire-orange coral. Soon a pair of elegant gray angelfish glided beneath us. But the star of the show was a friendly sea turtle, rising from the deep to act as our family’s chaperone.

When we returned to the boat, the grandchildren didn’t want to leave their newfound friend. Now, many months later, they keep asking, “When can we come visit and go snorkeling again?” They have learned one of many reasons why we choose to live on an island off the Belizean coast.

My husband Mike and I are convinced that we’ve spent more quality time with our family and grandchildren since we moved overseas. That may sound counterintuitive, but it’s true. On their visits to our new home, we’ve enjoyed unforgettable experiences that we could never have had back in the U.S. And with more free time and money to spend, thanks to our affordable life overseas, we’ve been able to spend more time—both in Belize and back home—with the people who mean the most to us.

Mike and I knew we wouldn’t be traditional grandparents. We’ve always been young for our age, and we’ve looked forward to filling our golden years with adventure. So our goal has been to share some adventures with the grandchildren. At times that’s meant special vacations, or pictures and souvenirs from our trips. Through our trips and expat experiences, we’ve been able to teach them about this great big world we call home.

Many expats fret about losing contact with the grandchildren. They shouldn’t. Staying in touch with family back home is easier now than ever before. And through living abroad, you can enrich your grandchildren’s lives with experiences and adventures they’d never have had otherwise.

One of our most gratifying experiences has been sharing our world on Ambergris Caye with our grandchildren. This spring our daughter, son-in-law, and two grandkids visited us in Belize. And snorkeling proved only one of the eye-opening experiences we could offer them.

Another day, for instance, we walked into town and stopped at Ramon’s Village, a beach resort, for refreshments. While we were sipping our cold drinks and viewing the waves crashing on the offshore reef, a local wood carver stopped to show us his work. He placed several lovingly carved turtles, sting rays, fish, and carved bowls on the deck. He explained how he and his wife make these pieces of art from local woods like mahogany, zericote, or rosewood. He told us about his family, his art, and his faith…opening a window into his life. The experience opened our grandchildren’s eyes. They got a chance to share in a completely different culture.

We spend focused time together with the kids and grandkids every year. Each summer we spend a month in the U.S. when the grandkids are on summer vacation. After a few visits back to the States, we realized that their busy schedules didn’t guarantee that we’d get quality time with them just by showing up. So now we plan vacations “away” from their home. That allows us more “one-on-one” time with them. To date we’ve vacationed with them in several Colorado resorts. Last year we spent a week in Washington, D.C., exploring the capital together.

We don’t feel that living in Belize makes us any less likely to see them than if we’d stayed in the States. After all, there’s no guarantee children and grandchildren will stay put. Our daughter and her family moved from California to Colorado. Our son’s family currently lives in Washington. But first they moved to Oklahoma, Colorado, and Idaho. If we were still living back in the States, chances are we’d see them less, since we would have had to work many more years before retiring. And we certainly wouldn’t be able to take them on the kinds of adventures they’ve enjoyed with us here in Belize.

Fortunately, no matter where they are, it’s easy to stay in touch these days through video calls. Almost everyone has a smartphone, computer, or iPad now. We use Skype, or FaceTime on our iPad, to video call family regularly. And it’s free. It’s the next best thing to being there. We can catch up as often as we like, and share in experiences from their day-to-day lives. Most every country you read about in the pages of International Living has decent internet coverage these days.

For us, the quality time we spend with our grandchildren makes up for the large distance between us. When we really miss them, we call via Skype or FaceTime to catch up. And because we are aware of the distance, whenever we are together, we’re motivated to make it count. That’s what makes our time together truly special.

It’s always a delight to help broaden our grandchildren’s horizons and expose them to different cultures, countries, and experiences. That’s just what comes with being a grandparent abroad.