Being separated from a grandchild by a significant geographical distance can make being an involved grandparent difficult. As a result of moves by both grandparents and parents, and later by the grandchildren themselves, long distances increasingly separate grandparents and their grandchildren. Two problems that emerge are the scarcity of one-on-one time and the inability to be part of the grandchild’s daily life.
No matter how far a grandparent and grandchild live from one another, three things can help to develop and maintain a strong relationship.
First, the time the grandparent spends alone with a grandchild becomes very special and is often remembered for a long period of time. Second, most parents want and will encourage a close bond between their own parents and child. Third, technological advances make it easier than ever to stay in contact with grandchildren.
According to the Foundation for Grandparents (www.grandparenting.org) and the AARP (www.aarp.org/life/grandparents), several strategies can help to develop and maintain good relationships with grandchildren from a distance:
– Set up a family meeting with children and grandchildren in person or by telephone to identify the potential problems of being geographically apart.
– Develop a tentative schedule for phone calls and e-mails to ensure regular contact.
– Devise a plan to be together in person as much as feasible.
– Dedicate some financial resources to support the plan. For example, parents might pay for the grandparents airfare to visit the grandchild. The grandparent might save money to have a grandchild come for a week or two during summer vacation.
– Allow for as much personal grandparent-grandchild time as possible.
Keeping regular contact and selecting age-appropriate communication techniques is perhaps the key to a strong grandparent-grandchild relationship. Some ideas are:
– Call regularly (ideally at a scheduled time) as it is important for both grandparent and grandchild to hear a live voice. Provide a calling card for grandchildren to call.
– Share pictures through the mail or use e-mail to send digital pictures. Give a grandchild an inexpensive digital camera for their birthday. If you are not technologically comfortable, take a community class. Using technology will most likely impress a grandchild.
– Send a picture with a frame that holds a taped message (these frames have recently become available).
– Exchange videotapes or CD-ROMs of each other, especially of the grandchild doing fun activities such as sports or school plays. Tell a story or share some family history using a videotape. Send a packaged set of videotapes or CD-ROMs to the grandchild to encourage their use.
– Audiotape or write your stories to share.
– Write and send cards, letters, and notes either through normal mail or e-mail. Even with e-mail, it is still nice to use old technology and periodically send a special card with a note.
– Keep up with a grandchild’s changing interests. This shows support and understanding.
– Send small, inexpensive gifts of favorite things, like home-made cookies.
– Try to be present for important events such as a significant family holiday or graduation. Discuss with the parents the best times to schedule such a visit. Tape these events and give a copy to the grandchild.
It is possible to have a close attachment with a grandchild who lives far away, although it does take some effort, creativity and active involvement from the parents. Both grandparents and grandchildren will benefit from the effort.
Additional Healthy Aging articles can be found on the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension website at www.ext.colostate.edu by to Family and Consumer and then selecting Healthy Aging.
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By Kenneth R. Tremblay, Jr., Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Housing Specialist