Becoming a grandparent is one of the most anticipated joys of getting older. There is nothing more exciting than watching the next generation grow and being a part of their lives.
But for some grandparents, geography limits fostering this long-awaited relationship. Their grandchildren live in other states or even other countries. Some grandparents, who have established close-knit relationships with their local grandchildren, are saddened when their children and grandchildren move away. Being “distant grandparents” can be an emotionally difficult role—for grandparents and grandchildren.
According to a March 2012 study published on the AARP website (www.aarp.org), 43 precent of grandparents had to travel more than 200 miles to see the distant offspring.
You may find it is more difficult to bond with grandchildren who live far away. Visiting them often is one of the best solutions although this may not always be possible. You may still have a career and may not have the time and money to travel frequently. Health issues, unwillingness to travel, or an aversion to other climates may also hinder you.
If you are fortunate to be financially and physically able to travel, schedule your trips well in advance to attend school events, plan special outings, and to celebrate birthdays and holidays. Visiting your young grandchild’s school on Grandparent’s Day is often a highlight. They love to introduce you to classmates and teachers and brag that you travelled from a far-away state or country to visit them. Be prepared: the teacher may ask you to enlighten the class about your childhood, livelihood, or state. Or, if you have travelled from another country the class may be especially interested about the culture, customs and lifestyle.
Even from a distance, you can be your grandchild’s chief cheerleader and encourager. If he is participating in a sport you aren’t familiar with, read up on it or phone him and have him explain the sport and his role on the team. If possible, plan to attend at least one match/game a season. Get a schedule and call or text her after each event to get an update on how she and the team did. Subscribe to the local newspaper if it is sports-centered or get it online. Grandchildren love to hear that you read about them or their team in the newspaper.
Understand your grandchild’s hobbies and his changing interests. If your grandchild is going through the dinosaur or critter phase, take photos of lizards or other creatures around your neighborhood and share them. A grandson who is big into heavy equipment might enjoy pictures or a video of local construction or earth-moving equipment in action. Including a “thought you would enjoy this,” or “look what I found,” note tells them you care.
Younger children may enjoy Skype or talking to you on the phone. Even in today’s instant messaging world, children (and teens) enjoy getting snail mail. Send cards with encouraging notes, motivational quotes, stickers, jokes, a small gift, a $2 bill, or photos. Help build their reading skills by sending age-appropriate books or magazines periodically.
Many grandkids old enough to have their own smartphones enjoy a daily or occasional text from you—just know when to end the conversation—teens, especially, don’t have the time to carry on a lasting dialogue with Grandma or Grandpa.
Be aware that as your grandchildren grow up, interactions and visits with them may be of a different nature and more limited.
A grandmother of four, Donna Mattson of Minnesota, states, “We are finding that as our teen and pre-teen grandchildren are getting older, being with their friends trumps being with their Grandma and Grandpa.”
On an ongoing basis, let your children and grandchildren know how much it means to you to be part of their lives. But, also understand that they have their own lives to live. Together, discover your best methods of keeping in touch, and encourage the grandchildren to visit you. When your grandkids visit, expose them to new experiences and activities they may not get at home. Plan outings that are important to them and savor the multi-generational experiences.
For some, the world may be getting smaller—but when you’re a distant grandparent, the world seems way too large.
Ideas for Staying Connected with Far-away Grands
- Mail his favorite homemade cookies.
- Send a box of her favorite non-perishable treats.
- Send postcards with brief notes.
- Exchange hand-drawn pictures—sometimes, the sillier, the better.
- Send a small gift—a shell from the beach, a favorite book or movie from your childhood, or a picture of an activity you are doing.
- Invite them to your house for a vacation (without parents if they’re old enough).
- Take a trip alone with each grandchild to form a one-on-one bond.
- Text, Skype or trade digital photos. Read books, play games, sing songs over Skype.
- Ask for class schedules and some of their school papers.
- Have your grandchildren send you goofy pictures of them with their friends.
Elizabeth Willson, The Image of Grace
Her nick name “Ma” (short “a”, like map without the P). She was a loving, graceful woman. Never did I ever see her not in a dress .( and not a fancy one ) most summer nights I stayed at her house. It was my wonderful summer vacation. She read to me every night, after dinner and before bed, then rubbed my back as I drifted into slumber. Her eyes were poor as a result of scarlet fever but her love of books and poetry transcended the difficulty. She would write original poems in my favorite books. Her name for me was “ma bug.” She was a devoted wife to a remarkable man, my grandfather , for 75 years. I, too, am now a grandmother of an amazing 6-month-old boy. We already have established an extraordinary relationship. Although he resides on the West Coast , I am committed to seeing him every four weeks. Even if it means standing on the runway at Hartsfield with my thumb out! I pray I will leave the imprint on his heart that my beloved “Ma” left on mine!
Ironically, after work everyday, I come home and put on my house dress! Her imprint on my daily life! – Mimi Gentilini