I may have made some fundamental mistakes when I was bringing up my sons in the
’70s and ’80s. These days I wonder whether the fact that I now live in Israel
while my family is scattered untidily over the globe is a result of my misplaced
ideas and ideals.
In the 1970s, a communication revolution was in
In those last years before the digital age, booksellers were
selling psychology books like hotcakes. We read avidly and learned that “the
healthiest position about life… means that I feel good about myself and that I
feel good about others and their competence” (Eric Berne, Transactional
Among other popular topics were bestsellers on effective
parenting. Parents were determined not to repeat the sins of their fathers (and
mothers). Our children would always know they were loved and respected. We
learned that our parents had doubted our competence and spoken down to us. They
had induced guilt and neuroses with commands that began with the words: “What
you should do is…!” and “Why haven’t you…!” and “When are you going to ….!” We
enlightened parents of the new age diligently practiced new ways of talking to
our children, encouraging them to talk back to us so that we could understand
“I’m OK, you’re OK!” Oh, what a joke! My sons were gently guided
rather than tyrannized to achieve their academic potential. They were enrolled
in every available sporting activity until they discovered their own
enthusiasms. (Nevermind those finely tuned rosters of parents slipping out from
meetings at work to ferry their and other people’s offspring to cricket, soccer,
surfing, swimming, ballet, singing, hockey, basketball, bar mitzva classes,
etc.) Naturally, in this welter of psychologically healthy living, their
emerging Jewish identities could not be ignored. Fortunately, in Australian
cities, Maccabi meant Jewish identity, and cricket could be
Australia? What was a nice Jewish girl brought up in a small
community in a south London suburb doing in Perth, Western Australia, in the
’70s? We, a nuclear family of dad, mum and three little boys, had emigrated from
the UK to Australia in 1976 for a brighter future for all of us.
move had definitely not been on my radar screen.
I was infected by the
Zionist bug when I was 10. However, life turned up a few obstacles and I had to
postpone aliya until I was nearly 50. By this time, my sons were self-confident
adults who were prepared to visit Israel and to make up their own minds about
living here. They decided against.
Now my sons and grandchildren live in
Australia and Spain, my siblings live in England and Toronto, and I need to
check the World Time application on my smart phone before I make a family phone
I made two more serious errors.
The first was that I did not
produce a daughter. I muse that had she existed, wherever she now lived, she
would feel obliged to be in contact with me at least twice a month to check that
I was still alive and ambulant. She would, I speculate, feel guilty and torn
about her prosperity in a country where one doesn’t scan the headlines each day
for bad news about enemies on their doorstep.
The second critical error
was a failure to instill in my male offspring that paramount message concerning
the pivotal role of grandparent in the family structure.
sits, wisely surveying the family, a source and a resource with her life
experience. There is grandpa, with his amazing fund of stories of other times,
and places he lived and worked in as a young man. How odd that I never
appreciated this in my own grandmothers.
(My grandfathers passed away
before I was born).
Since acknowledging to myself that my golden years
were not quite what I had hoped, I began speaking to others whose family
planning, in the widest sense, had failed as mine had. I discovered that Long
Distance Grandparents, LDGs, are a sizable proportion of the older generation. I
began to read voraciously anything that had “grandparents” in the title:
magazines, online articles, books, even research projects. There is a lot of
sound information for the “apple pie” type of grandparenting activities:
recipes, how to give advice so that it doesn’t sound like advice, how to share
babysitting hours and say a clear “No” when one longs to reclaim some of one’s
When it comes to LDGs, suggestions are limited. One is
counseled to become computer literate and buy a webcam.
With Skype, one
can watch such milestones as early smiles and first steps. During snatched
moments when the little ones are interested, one can read them stories, play
games or comment on their artwork. One can share the emptiness with other LDGs
in blogs, but pouring out one’s heart is no substitute for a grandchild who pops
in on the way home from school or comes around on Friday evening.
could be worse. There are wretched stories of grandparents who have been written
out of the family script by the spouse of the offspring. His or her family lives
just down the road. Some grandparents have found that they had no legal access
to their grandchildren. In some places, England being one of them, Family Law
has now been amended.
WHAT A SHAME that reincarnation is not part of
Jewish wisdom. If it were, I would do my best to come back next time as a
high-caste Hindu matriarch. I would bring up my sons to know that their brides
would be moving into my house, decisions about their parenting practices and
their children’s education would only be taken after consultation with me, and I
would never have to think for a moment about whether or when I should move to a
The writer is a retired child and family psychiatrist who grew
up in London and worked in the UK, Australia and Israel. When not
traveling to see family, she lives in Jerusalem. Her recently published book of
short stories, Families Once Removed, explores some of the effects of distance
on family relationships.