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Grandparents can be present every day in their grandchildren’s lives – even when living in a different country

9.5.2021

Esa Hämäläinen starts every day by having a two-hour play session with his grandchildren. Einari, 4, and Alvar, 11 months, live in Leuven, Belgium, Ella-Rose, 7, and Aurora, 3, in Scotland. Grandparents Esa and Elmi Hämäläinen live in Oulu, but the distance in between is no problem at all. Video connections are easy to use and, most importantly, they provide the possibility to be connected daily for the Hämäläinen family.

“Hola, ¿qué tal? Good Morning!”, greets Esa Hämäläinen his son-in-law briefly when the video connection to Belgium turns on. There is not time to chat with the son-in-law, as Esa has a more important discussion to have.

“Good morning, Einari! Did you sleep well?”

It is 8 am and, like every morning, Esa’s full attention focuses on Einari, his grandson. Vivid conversation starts between the two. Esa and Einari’s one-hour play session is about to start, before Einari must go to his daycare.

“Sometimes we play with the train track or build with Legos. Einari plays with his own toys in Belgium and I with my own set in Oulu. We both might build something similar while we chat. Lately we have only played with cars”, Hämäläinen explains.

“Video connections have saved a lot. The distance in between disappears and we can be present in our grandchildren’s lives every day. Since they live abroad, it is impossible for us to see each other that often and now, due to the Covid pandemic, we have not been able to travel either. Still, we can see each other daily, thanks to technology. There are so many things we have come up with, what to do during our calls – we can even play hide and seek through WhatsApp", Hämäläinen adds.

Some mornings grandpa has things of his own to do. Then the grandma is in charge of the video call – or the call will be postponed to the afternoon.

“Thanks to different time zones, I’m able to start at 8 am from Belgium and have a one-hour play session with Einari, before he must take off to the daycare. When I finish with him, it’s 8 am in Scotland and I can play with Ella-Rosa and Aurora, before they must go to daycare and school. I have two hours of playtime every morning”, Hämäläinen laughs.

Esa and Einari have their own, private and intense discussions while Einari gets full paid attention from his grandpa.

Reading supports linguistic development in bilingual families

The Hämäläinen families are bilingual in Belgium and Scotland, and learning the Finnish language is dependent on one parent. Therefore, the grandparents also read children’s books in Finnish during the video calls to support their grandchildren's linguistic development.

“Naturally the Finnish language skills improve when the kids can visit us in Finland, but it has not been possible lately. Our daily discussions and us reading books for them play an important role in building up their Finnish vocabulary”, Hämäläinen explains.

Grandparents help families get through the morning hassle

For Susanna Hämäläinen, Einari’s mom, daily video calls with grandpa are an essential help. Einari gets unconditional attention from his grandfather and no one, not even his little brother, can interrupt Einari’s call with Esa.

“It’s really great that our boys can build up a close relationship with the grandparents despite the physical distance. Einari wants to present all his new things to Esa immediately and wants to share all the exciting things that have happened to him as well. While the two talk, I have free hands to do things of my own”, Susanna tells.

“I appreciate that Einari gets to use the Finnish language with someone else than me too. It’s also lovely that they have their own things to share. If Einari calls grandpa from his little hut, Esa will build a hut for himself in Oulu, too. This way they can whisper their secrets to each other from their huts”, laughs Susanna.

Indeed, it seems that Einari and Esa have a very special relationship that has developed through the enjoyable moments of play.
“A lot of grandparents live at a distance from their grandchildren – ours happen to be abroad. I encourage grandparents to spend time and build their relationship with their grandchildren through video calls. One can even throw oneself into play, sing, or tell a fairy tale –  I’m sure everyone can find their own way to do this”, Esa Hämäläinen says.


Mun Oulu is an online media that is out and about Oulu and its people. We publish stories that interest the expat community in Oulu in English. Mun Oulu is published by the city of Oulu.

Esa Hämäläinen throws himself to play every morning for two hours with his grandchildren. Sometimes he might wear a fez or take a tour in museum to have a good set up for the play. Fotos: Anne Laurila

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