Taking the Distance Out of Long-Distance Grandparenting

Arlene Uslander
By Arlene Uslander June 15, 2009 09:41

When I found out that my 2-year-old grandson, Eric, was going to move 8,000 miles away from me, with his parents, all the way to Guam, my reaction most closely matched that of a friend who told me, “If my grandchild moved that far away, I would absolutely die!” And I thought I would, from a broken heart.

For months before Eric left, every time I was with him, all I could think about was that soon, I wouldn’t be with him. Yet, when the time finally arrived and he left, I began to realize that there was nothing I could do to change the situation – that the only thing I could change was my reaction to the situation. So I stopped feeling sorry for myself, and started thinking more about my grandchild, and what I could do to make the transition as easy for him as possible.

By comparing notes with other “long-distance grandparents” and by trying my own ideas, I found that there are many things one can do to keep the relationship between you and the grandchildren alive and well. Here are some ideas:

Voice recordings. Whether on audio cassettes or hand-held digital recorders, your grandchildren can play them over and over again. Shortly after Eric moved away, I sent him a cassette, which I called “Eric’s Friends,” on which I recorded the voices of people who were important to him. Some of the people I recorded in person; others I taped over the phone. Each person reminded Eric of special times they had shared with him, and at the end of the message, each would ask, “Do you know who this is?” so it would be like a little game for him. You can read storybooks on the cassette or digital recorder and mail the book, along with the cassette, so your grandchildren can turn the pages and look at the pictures as they hear you read the story.

Videotapes. Shortly after Eric moved to Guam, his sister, Carly, was born. So now there were two little ones for me to connect with. If you can’t see your grandchildren in person, and they can’t see you, the next best thing is seeing each other on video. If you don’t own a video camera, try to borrow or rent one.

Knowing that we couldn’t be with Eric to celebrate his 2nd birthday, or with Carly to celebrate her first, we made a “Happy Birthday” video. We all wore birthday hats, including the two family dogs; we sang to them, and recited their favorite nursery rhymes and stories. You can videotape yourself reading storybooks aloud, and send the children the book along with the videotape or DVD.

Photographs. Photographs are one of the best ways to take away some of the distance. I continued to send Eric photos of the people and things he most enjoyed back in Chicago, where we lived, and where he spent his first two years of life. After he and Carly visited us, I sent them each a small photo album filled with photos of the things they saw in Chicago, and the things we did together. Once digital cameras came out, we found that sharing photos via the computer is a wonderful way to stay in touch and to feel like you are part of your grandchildren’s special occasions and events. Today, using a webcam, you can see and talk to your grandchildren on a computer screen, a really wonderful way to stay in touch.

Gifts. Even if you’re not too handy with crafts (as I’m not), you can make simple things that appeal to children: sock puppets, yarn dolls, and little houses or farms from shoe boxes or other small boxes, for which you can purchase inexpensive animals and figures at discount stores.

Whenever you send your grandchildren a gift, ask their parents to show them your picture, so they know that the gift came from you.

Phone calls. These will be important to you as well as your grandchildren. When you talk to them, mention the names of people and things with which they are familiar. Repeat the child’s name and the name he or she calls you, during the conversation. Even if your grandchild is too young to carry on a real conversation, he or she isn’t too young to listen.

Visits. Nothing can take the place of time spent together. When you do visit with your grandchildren, arrange special times to spend with them without their parents. This will help you and your grandchildren become re-acquainted, and will also give the parents some time to themselves. Take the children to places they especially enjoy, and to places they have never been. Arrange for quiet time to be alone with each child: to read stories, exchange confidences, and to give some extra hugs and kisses.

Email. As the children get older and learn to use a computer, emailing is the best thing ever invented to connect grandparents and grandchildren who live apart. And don’t forget the fax machine. I will never forget the time I received a fax from then 3-year-old Eric (dictated to his parents) that said, “I will sing one hundred songs for you.” I am still waiting!

Arlene Uslander is the author of a number of books, including “That’s What Grandchildren Are For.” She now lives a lot closer to three of her four grandchildren after moving to Sonora last year with her husband, Ira. She is trying to figure out how to get her grandson, Ryan, who still lives in Chicago, to convince his parents that they should move here, too.

© 2009, Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Arlene Uslander
By Arlene Uslander June 15, 2009 09:41
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