How many of your friends, colleagues, or neighbors live in families with three generations present? How many grandparents in their locale live near their children and grandchildren? How many parents have their own parents nearby?
Distance adversely affects family closeness—especially the grandparent/grandchild relationship. We’ve heard the laments of grandparents, grandchildren, and parents in these circumstances for over twenty years. People of all ages continually call and write asking for suggestions on how to overcome the difficulties distance imposes on their relationships.
Many long-distance grandparents want to know if the axiom “out of sigh, out of mind” holds true. They ask, “does living a long-distance away from a grandchild inevitably relegate me to play only a token role in my grandchild’ life?” Concerned about becoming obsolete as a grandfather, another asks, “When this situation is unavoidable is there anything I can do to offset the results of not having frequent contact with my grandchildren? Must we be strangers? How do I minimize the negative effects of distance?”
How Distance Hurts To answer these questions, grandparents first must understand two emotional and spiritual ingredients of the vital connection between grandparents and grandchildren.
The first ingredient is one-on-one time alone with a grandchild. Giving a grandchild undivided attention is difficult when grandparents and grandchildren live long distances from one another.
The second is day-to-day contact. For the bond to flourish, grandparents and grandchildren need to be a part of one another’s daily life, especially in the child’s early years. Living far apart, grandparent and grandchild don’t come to know each other because there’s little one-to-one contact and even less time for loving attention.
But no matter how far apart grandparents and grandchildren live, some things can help keep their bond alive.
Time and Technology Young children have the grand ability to expand time. Most grandparents remember that when they were younger time moved more slowly, the streets seemed wider, and the buildings seemed bigger. Because children don’t understand the value of time as well as grandparents do, the time grandparents spend along with a grandchild is savored by the children and can nourish the grandchild for a long time.
Second, believe it or not, technology is a blessing. Ti is a great asset in helping foster emotional relations over distance. Technology can’t help a grandparent sooth a fevered brown, go fishing with a grandchild, or assist a harried parent, but it can be a boon to foster ongoing communications. This is the most indispensable factor in keeping grandparents and grandchildren as close as possible.
Following are some basic principles and practical ideas for long-distance grandparents to keep a strong attachment over distance.
1. Maintain continuity and communication
2. Devise an action plan to be together as often as possible
3. Discuss the issues, pitfalls, and problems of being geographically apart
4. Convene a family conference with children and grandchildren included
5. Pledge to minimize the potential damage to the fabric of family by keeping in constant communication
6. Pledge family financial resources to support the plan. Allocate resource to specific activities. For example, pay Grandma’s airfare to visit while Mom and Dad go on vacation. Other grandparents save all year and pay for themselves and their grandchildren to attend the Grandparenting Foundation’s Grandparent/Grandchild Summer Camp.
7. Allow for as much grandparent/grandchild “alone” time as possible. Coordinate this with visits, parent vacations, and so forth. Plan “alone” outings for when you’re together.
8. Be creative in becoming as much a part of your grandchild’s everyday life as possible. Then, when you get together in person, you’ll lose little time becoming reacquainted. Young children grow and change quickly. Many tell us that when they don’t talk with their long-distance grandparents or send them pictures regularly, they fear that when they meet, their grandparents won’t really know them. Be sure to spend enough time with the grandchild, and not just the parents.
9. Keep the connection going. Technology makes it easy to maintain daily, spontaneous contact.
Technology, Technology, Technology Technology is a blessing to long-distance grandparents. Use computers, faxes, or regular mail to keep in touch with your grandchild. Most kids are computer literate. For the sake of easy communication, grandparents must become computer literate too. Happily, buying a computer costs significantly less than it did just a few years ago. Here are some ideas.
On the Web E-mail, computer games, and the ability to instantly send notes back and forth (including recipes, jokes, or love letters) can keep your contact loving, interested, vibrant, and relevant. Grandparents can even get their own home page on the World Wide Web.
Fax Faxes are great for family communication. One grandmother we know gave all her grandchildren fax machines so they could keep in touch on a daily basis. She faxes her grandchildren a little note of encouragement several mornings a week. Children can fax jokes, report card, drawings, and other such correspondence to their grandparents and grandparents can do the same for their grandchildren.
Mail If you don’t have a fax machine or computer, regular mail works just as well. Grandchildren love to receive love notes and small tokens in the mail. Grandparents should encourage their grandchildren to send pictures, report card, and anything else a grandparent is interested in. Just a note with a piece of chewing gum is okay to begin with. Simply receiving a letter is more important than what it contains.
Telephone Telephone calls are still a mainstay for communication. But be sure you call each grandchild and talk with him or her alone. Grandchildren want to feel special and important. Time your call when your grandchild isn’t being rushed, or a parent isn’t rushing to get a meal on the table.
Audio and Video Cameras and tape recorders provide excellent ways to keep in contact with grandchildren. Your grandchildren will treasure videotape or audiotape of you talking about family history, singing a song, or simply telling a story. Send photos. Give your grandchild his or her own camera to take pictures for you.
In Person Try to be there when a grandchild is born—then be there for the other important events that your family values highly. This may include religious passages, recitals, holidays, graduations and other personal and family milestones.
Worth the Effort
Use ingenuity to keep a grandchild emotionally close. Experience shows when grandparents make the effort to love and care for grandchildren living far away, the grandchildren know it, and it means the world to them. When they’re older and able to travel by themselves, they’ll be eager to visit grandparents who live far away.
“My grandmother really loves and misses me,” ten-year-old Louella wrote. “Even though she lives a thousand miles away. I hear from her almost every day. She calls and write and sends me wool for knitting. And I spend two weeks with he every summer. When I get older I am going to go to college near where she lives so I can see her a lot.”