Long-Distance Grandparenting

It’s grand to be a grandparent! The relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren is not only joyful, but also important, offering children unconditional love and a lifetime of wisdom. Unfortunately, opportunities to share those gifts can become challenging when grandchildren live far away. A survey by AARP found that approximately 45 percent of grandparents lived more than 200 miles away from their grandchildren.

Distance doesn’t have to be a deterrent to close family ties. In the modern world, there are a myriad of ways for staying in touch—from incorporating new ideas for staying connected to relying on timehonored traditions.

Creative Ways To Stay In Touch

By Pamela Boaz

Grand Relationships

The bond between a child and grandparent is unmatched and the payoffs are reciprocal. Grandparents give a child a level of support that is different from that of their parents, while being aware and respectful of the parents’ wishes. Time spent with a grandparent is often less hectic, allowing grandparent and child alike to revel in the simple things and create their own special traditions. Without the responsibilities associated with parenthood, grandparents often have more time to give, really listen to, and show personal interest in their grandchildren.

Research suggests that the strongest relationships are created one grandchild at a time: this acknowledges the uniqueness of the child and provides the individual attention that each one needs. Consider inviting each grandchild for his or her own visit—this is a great way to show personal attention and get that valuable one-on-one time. If that’s not feasible, let your grandchildren take turns choosing the activity for the day or rotate fixing their favorite meals—these are simple ways to show them their voices have been heard.

Get Plugged In

Thanks to modern technology, there are more avenues for connecting with grandchildren than ever before. Many cell phone plans don’t include additional charges for long distance, making quick chats affordable. For teenagers, texting may be the surest way to connect. Using email and being on Facebook can open up additional doors for communication.

Often, young children are better able to make connections with relatives who live far away when they frequently see the faces of those family members. Try a video chat like Skype, available via internet download. Skype enables users to make calls anywhere in the world for free, and the premium subscription is less than $10 per month. Anyone on an iPad 2, iPhone 4, iPod touch, or Mac can connect similarly with FaceTime for Mac. After the initial purchase of a phone or computer, there’s no charge for the program.

A fun new way to connect younger kids is Scoot & Doodle, winner of Children’s Technology Review’s 2012 Editor’s Choice Award for Excellence in Design. Scoot & Doodle is an online, shareable doodle pad where you can draw, play games, do homework, etc. while sharing face time. The app was made to use within the Google+ “Hangout” platform which offers ways to use video and audio to hang out with family and friends.

Slow, But Sure

While there’s no doubt that technology offers exciting possibilities for keeping close ties with grandchildren, time-honored traditions also make lasting impressions. Taking the time to send a handwritten note or card is always a great way to make a grandchild feel special. It’s affirming for children to see an envelope addressed to them, and the handwriting of a loved one holds its own value. A short note or personal reference lets a child know he or she has been acknowledged and models for them the value of personal, handwritten greetings. Does your grandchild love your homemade cookies? When you’re together, bake them, and then later send a batch by mail, reminding your grandchild of that shared experience.

Be Creative Together

Long-distance grandparenting offers the opportunity to show some imagination as well. Consider one of these creative ideas for staying in touch.

Round-Robin Letter: Start a roundrobin letter that goes back and forth or even circulates through all your grandchildren. Suddenly, cousins will be connected and you’ll have a chronicle of the grandchildren’s lives as a keepsake.

Postcard: For a quick way to connect, send postcards from your town or ones that feature your grandchild’s interests.

Art or Craft: Create the beginnings of a painting and then send it to your grandchild to complete as co-artist, or create a scrapbook together.

Family Tree: Send a blank family tree, and then as you tell stories about aunts, uncles, parents and yourself, your grandchild can fi ll in the names and add pictures to help them get to know the long-distance members of their family.

Exercise: Be each other’s exercise buddy. Check in with each other on minutes walked or hours of play and keep a chart of progress and goals.

Calendar: Build anticipation for an upcoming visit by sending a calendar for marking off the days until they or you arrive.

Audio Book: Make a tape-recording of a new book and then send the book and recording to the child. Some books come with built-in recording devices, making the process even easier.

Parental Involvement

Parents are a natural and invaluable link between grandparents and grandchildren. They can help children initiate phone conversations or video chats, and can keep long-distance grandparents informed about important soccer matches, recitals, or school projects.

Sometimes, living far away from grandchildren can make gift-buying more challenging. However, this presents a great opportunity to talk with your own children about their children. Asking for your children’s advice, respecting their wishes, and maintaining their boundaries not only shows respect for them as parents, but also helps keep those lines of communication open.

The gift of a grandparent’s love is priceless to a child, and though living far apart can sometimes pose challenges, it also allows for creative and meaningful communication. Being present in a child’s life— whether it’s through phone, video chat, snail mail, or in person—can build a life-affirming bond between child and grandparent that can last a lifetime.

Pamela Boaz, a writer and editor, earned a B.S. degree from the University of North Florida and an M. Ed. from UTC. During her more than 30-year career in education, she has served as faculty advisor for student publications and written curricula for a variety of courses.

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