Grandparenting from a Distance

By Robin Ellis

Grandparents have a reputation for providing wonderful stories, unconditional love, far too much candy, and giving grandchildren ideas on how to get into mild mischief, much to their parents’ dismay. A parent will look on in shock as the same people who made them earn their money are suddenly digging into pockets to find bills and coins for their grandchildren. Children always know that no matter how much trouble they may get into, rescue and comfort is unfailingly available at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house.

But what if that house is far away? Unfortunately, it is no longer as simple as “over the river and through the woods” to a grandparent’s home. These days, many families must maintain long-distance familial relationships. There are many reasons for this, including job transfers, military families, young adults choosing to settle in their college towns, the global business economy, and even the weather. Many elderly people have difficulties with extreme heat and cold, and relocate to milder climates.

Most would acknowledge that there are important benefits of multi-generational family relationships. It gives children a link to their cultural and family histories. Children who can rarely sit still will sit on a grandparent’s knee for hours, listening to stories about their pasts. And frankly, being spoiled by a grandparent makes a child feel special and valued.

Thankfully, there are many ways to maintain contact. Phone calls, letters, e-mail, weekend and summer trips are great ways to do this. However, thinking outside of the box can excite a child and further the relationship even more. It is important that a grandparent keep up with technology. You can be sure that growing children will do so! How many times have parents and grandparents had to ask a child how to work a certain program, system, or even a cell phone? Kids are tech-savvy, and in order to maintain contact, it should be a priority for grandparents to learn a few tricks themselves. Luckily, there are scads of easy ways to do this.

Texting, for example, is a great way to keep in contact with teenagers. You will rarely find a teenager without their phone plastered to them. Short texts asking about their day or sending a joke are favorable ways to keep grandparents in the front of the teen’s mind. Another example is learning how to video chat. Of course, it is a nice way to speak to a teenager, but even younger children get excited to see Grandma and Grandpa on the screen. A grandparent can make video chatting extra special by reading books, singing songs and playing games with a child.

If technology is not your speed, children adore receiving letters. Be sure to include pictures, a stick of gum, or cartoons clipped from the newspaper. Care packages are also an excellent way to make a child feel special, particularly if you include things that the child is interested in and enjoys. It is essential that a grandparent know what television show or movie is their grandchild’s favorite. This may involve suffering through a few episodes of Elmo’s World or Dora the Explorer, but trust that having knowledge of these things will make a grandchild consider you “cool” and “super fun!” For a pre-teen or teenager, knowing about their favorite songs, bands, school groups and talents will make them feel that the grandparent is interested in their daily lives and give them more to talk about during phone calls.

There are countless unique ways to show love across the miles. Plant a bush or a tree at your home when each grandchild is born. Take pictures of it each year to send at the child’s birthday to show how it has grown with them. Invent simple, secret word codes and send letters in code. Keep up with pop culture (as much as possible without pulling out your hair) and chat with them about it. This may all sound like a lot of work, but it will be worth it in the end, both for the grandparent and the grandchild. Rudy Giuliani put it best when he said, “What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, comfort, lessons in life. And, most importantly, cookies.”

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