A six-year old was asked where his grandma lived. “Oh,” he said, “She lives at the airport, and when we want her we just go get her. Then when we’re done having her visit, we take her back to the airport.”
Such is the life of the long distance grandparent. In this ever-changing, mobile society families are often scattered throughout the world. It’s more of a challenge financially and emotionally to bond with grandchildren who are thousands of miles away. But it can be done.
1. Phone Calls – Voice and Video
Do not fear technology. Skype is free software easily downloaded to your home computer, which allows you to video conference with family anywhere. You will need a computer and either a built-in or separate web camera. You see the kids in living color and they see you. My two year old granddaughter in Oregon loves to “talk” to my parrot on Skype, and he always talks back.
Regular phone calls are just as welcome, especially when you call specifically for your grandchild and not as an afterthought to a call to their parents. You have the time and patience to really listen to what’s important to the kids when other adults often don’t.
All children love to receive mail and some love to send it. Send them postcards, greeting cards, notes, pictures, treats and treasures. Don’t let a holiday go by without mail from you. Bake a special treat and send it to them. Send them magazine articles or newspaper clippings and use commemorative stamps and stickers to brighten up the envelope. Send them fancy stationary and stamped envelopes addressed to you – you might get an answer. Most kids are computer savvy at a young age and will enjoy exchanging emails with you.
If you sew, make a special outfit or a blanket or quilt. If you’re a woodworker, make a birdhouse or toy and paint their name on it. If you are a crafty person, create a special gift just for them, like a box to keep their treasures in or stained glass to hang in their window. Ship them off and these will become heirlooms they’ll pass down to their own kids.
4. Family Mementos and Scrapbooks
When he or she is old enough, send a precious family memento like a Christmas ornament, doll, or piece of jewelry that’s been in the family for years. Write the story behind it. These items will give them a sense of history and belonging to a family. Scrapbooks with old family pictures of great great grandparents and aunts and uncles are another way to connect and give them a sense of family history.
5. TV (Yes, TV)
Find out which TV shows are their favorites and watch some episodes yourself. My grandson loves to discuss his favorite shows with me on the phone and loves that I watch them (occasionally) too. We’ve had deep discussions about Sponge Bob and Squidward.
The most obvious solution to missing grandchildren is to visit them or help them to visit you. No matter where they live in the world there will at some point be a deal on airfare to get there. Become an expert on air travel. There are days, seasons, and small windows of opportunity to score a reasonable airfare anywhere in the world. Become an expert by reading travel sections in newspapers and magazines for the latest tips and tricks to budget travel.
7. Making Visits Count
I vividly remember a visit to my grandchildren in Memphis TN. The two older girls were beside themselves when they saw my car turn the corner and into their driveway. They jumped up and down and yelling “grandma,” “grandma,” and ran to the car. Their three year old brother had not seen me for more than a year. He got caught up in the frenzy and joined in the joyous celebration. When I got out of the car, he looked at me very seriously and asked, “Who are you?”
Things have changed. On our last, visit he hid my suitcase so I couldn’t leave. Never arrive for a visit empty-handed. Play games inside and out, draw, paint, sculpt with Playdough, watch the night sky for fairies (fireflies), Take walks, tell each other funny stories, fly kites, watch movies, sightsee, and read to each other. Hunt for lizards, butterflies and frogs, plant flowers, beach comb, and walk the dog. “Research” interesting subjects on the internet and sometimes just look at the moon. Make up silly songs. Their interests may range from mudpies to high fashion or high tech. Connect with them by a genuine interest in their interests.
Although I live more than 1,000 miles from one set of grandchildren and 5,000 miles from the other, we are very close. Visits are eagerly anticipated for months and filled with excitement, love and forever memories for all of us. I believe that absence truly does make the heart grow fonder and that it’s possible to build and maintain a bond with distant grandchildren as strong and close as if they lived next door.