Grandparents have long represented love, security, comfort, and calm. I was blessed to have two very loving grandmothers. They both had a strong impact on my life. I now realize it was so powerful because they were always teaching me. That is the beauty of grandparents — they teach life lessons.
It’s not always easy. These days grandchildren often live in different cities or states from their grandparents. Is it possible for a grandparent to have a close, active role in the life of a grandchild they rarely see? Yes. With planning and effort, a long-distance grandparent/grandchild relationship can thrive.
How? First, create memories. When I take my grandson on daytrips, I take lots of pictures of ordinary moments to capture the experience, starting with driving there and ending with grandson’s sleeping face in the backseat as we’re headed home. Afterward I often create a photo album. featuring pictures of his favorite moments along with ordinary bits, and photos of us together. Sometimes we go over the books together and laugh and relive our fun. He’ll have those books long after I’m gone, and I love knowing that.
Here’s a tip: Photo books are a wonderful way to communicate with words, too. Add a few sentences next to certain photos to completely capture the moment. Your grandchild will “hear” your words, so be thoughtful. This is a beautiful way to share important thoughts. Let your grandchild know what the book represents and why it’s so special. Each time you visit, a wonderful memory/photo book can follow. I often get my books the same day, from Walgreens for under $20. This is one easy way to create both quality time and powerful, happy memories.
High-impact quality time is important, but I’ve found that quantity time is equally important. These are the little ordinary moments you spend with your grandchild — such as driving to the store, helping with homework or walking the dog that add up to create familiarity, comfort, intimacy and trust.
How does a long-distance grandparent find a way to gain quantity time? By being creative. The simplest is frequent phone calls. Schedule calls, like visits, but be flexible if changes are sometimes needed. Make the calls fun, which doesn't mean dragging out old "knock knock" jokes you thought were hilarious as a child (yes, I did that). Fun refers to something instantly engaging to your grandchild. Use your phone time to get to know her. Ask about his video games. Make sure part of the call includes something you share together on an ongoing basis. You might complete a family tree together or play chess. Or write a story, taking turns making up the next paragraph. My grandson and I have been reading books from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.
Get to know them. What is her favorite meal? His best friend? Her fears? Listen deeply. Take notes so you don't forget. The next time you speak, you can follow up on things that came up before. Keep calls somewhat brief but very interesting.
Technology can really support the bond. There’s nothing you can’t learn by watching instructional videos on YouTube. Find out how to use Facetime, Skype, web cams, and other options to speak with (and see) your grandchild.
Occasionally, send things your grandchild will use. I bought my grandson an electric pencil sharpener for his ninth birthday. He loves it and uses it a lot. I still remember the delight I felt after my grandmother gave me a new, plump pillow. I felt the presence of her love and thoughtfulness every time I lay on it. Consider what simple item might represent your presence every day.
The item doesn’t have to be purchased. It can come from your heart. You might send jokes, text words of encouragement, family stories, pictures, cards, questions, feathers, rocks, or cookies. The point is to have a presence. The challenge is to not overdo it. Treasure can become clutter if there's too much of it. The other challenge is to make it special. Not expensive, just meaningful.
Don’t forget that another basic way to bond is to enjoy conversations on a regular basis. Your grandchild wants to know you, too! Share details about your childhood and your life now. Talk about what makes you happy and what you regret. Be transparent about your evolution into who you are now, if appropriate. Let her know that you have overcome some things, and how.
Likewise, ask about his daily life, thoughts, friends. Learn how she cheers herself up, his greatest victory so far, his goals. Talk to her, but more importantly, listen, and remember what she shares. Be curious when you disagree, rather than judgmental. Let her know you love her unconditionally. We all need someone like that.
A long-distance relationship doesn't have to be distant. With planning and effort, you can be truly close with your grandchild. I would love to hear your ideas on the subject. How do you bond with your grandchild long distance?