Thursday, January 22, 2009
Long Distance Grandparenting
(This article first appeared in Mature Living magazine, 2007).
Our daughter, Rachel, and husband, Nathan, sat across from my husband, Chuck, and me at the dinner table. A cozy meal of homemade veggie peanut butter soup ( a Thai delicacy) coated my stomach with a warm wash of comfort. I noticed that Rachel was not eating much, so I asked, “Aren’t you going to have any soup?”
Rachel patted her tummy. “I don’t think it would sit too well with your grandchild,” she replied.
My mind whirled as I looked at Chuck and exclaimed, “Grandchild? What?” We could hardly believe the news! We were going to be grandparents for the first time.
As the days turned into weeks, I realized that Chuck and I would be doing the lion’s share of grandparenting long distance since Rachel and Nathan are missionaries in India. That reality spurred me on to research how to creatively long distance grandparent. As I read and interviewed other long distance grandparents, I realized we were not alone. Others walked where we walked. I discovered helpful tips on how to stay connected with our grandchild even though an ocean separated us.
“Based on an interview by Stephen and Janet Bly, authors of The Power of a Godly Grandparent, the question was asked to over a dozen grandchildren: ‘If you could instantly change one thing about your relationship with your grandparents, what would it be?’ Ninety percent replied, ‘I’d have Grandma and Grandpa live closer so we could spend more time with them.’ Further investigation revealed that the other 10% already live near their grandparents.”(Bly, p. 46) This survey shows how vital grandchildren view participation by their grandparents. So just how do we cultivate a relationship long distance?
MAKE GOOD USE OF THE POSTAL SYSTEM
In her book, Little Things Mean a Lot, Creating Happy Memories with Your Grandchildren, Susan Newman suggests gifting a favorite magazine subscription to your grandchild. She also suggests slipping a dollar or two into a letter or card. Other ideas she recommends are sending postcards from places you have traveled and water bottles with the label right on the bottle. Send a framed picture of yourself for the child’s dresser. Make an audio/video/DVD and send. Read a book on tape and send with the book so that the child can follow along as he listens to your voice. Send a review of a movie the child might like. Send riddles. Videotape family events and identify family members the child may not know or see very often. Send flowers. Send mail in colorful or decorated envelopes. Mail an occasional surprise package equipped with cards, silly putty, stickers, gum, candy, sports cards, jacks, or decorator pencils. Send a SASE with a note requesting information about the child, such as his favorite color, food, holiday, season, etc.
In The Grandmother Principles, Suzette Elgin introduces the family newsletter as a way to stay connected with grandkids. She also suggests keeping a calendar or diary for one year to which you add a few lines a day, then gift to your grandchild. She encourages grandparents to send encouraging notes when grandkids are going through a tough time. Another option is to share favorite family recipes and treat ideas, especially if you are going to be separated over the holidays.
MAKE GOOD USE OF MA BELL.
Sandra Kessler, grandmother of two, calls once a week to read her Canadian grandchildren a story over the phone. Know your grandchild’s schedule and make calls accordingly. Jot down what you want to say so that time on the phone is used wisely. Ask creative questions that require more than a yes or no answer, such as, “What was a favorite thing you did today?” Let them know you love and miss them. Call just to talk with them. You might even set up a regular time to call so that it becomes you and your grandchild’s special time together every week. If your grandchild plays an instrument, request a phone recital, suggests Susan Newman.
MAKE GOOD USE OF YOUR COMPUTER.
Amy Nida, mother of three and daughter of missionaries in the Netherlands, makes good use of the internet through a system called skype.com in conjunction with DSL or light DSL. Both grandparent and grandchild must have DSL for the system to work. Amy reports that her children also send artwork and digital pictures over the computer. Email and e-cards are fun ways to stay connected for free! You can’t beat that, especially when you are communicating clear around the world. In addition, a webcam, a simple camera device that hooks up to your computer, can be purchased for as little as twenty dollars. A webcam allows grandparent and grandchild to view each other while talking over the computer. Your grandchild must also have a webcam hooked up to his/her computer.
Walter and Marilyn Hartt suggest other ideas in their book, The Complete Idiots Guide to Grandparenting. Planting twin gardens, one at your house and one at your grandchild’s house, can be a rewarding endeavor. Every two weeks or so, take a snapshot of the gardens and email or send snail mail to compare growth. Ask your grandchild to start a story to which you add the next episode. Keep the story going as long as possible. This can also be done with artwork. Start a picture in pencil, pen, crayon, water color, or other medium and send back and forth until complete. Design and craft a tee shirt or have one made up with your picture on it to send to your grandchild. Keep a sheet on each grandchild noting his name, age, clothing sizes, colors, styles, favorite foods, hobbies, and favorite school subjects.
Plan your visits with the grandchildren by assessing the situation. Ask yourself: How often can I visit? Is there a time or season that is better than another? How can I help them at this time? What outings might we enjoy together? With some forethought, the visit with grandkids can be enjoyable and rewarding, as well as a help to your grown children.
Now that you have some ideas under your hat, enjoy practicing long distance grandparenting!
The Power of a Godly Grandparent, Leaving a Spiritual Legacy, Stephen and Janet Bly, Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 2003
The Grandmother Principles, Suzette Haden Elgin, New York: Abbeville Press Publishers, 1998
Little Things Mean a Lot, Creating Happy Memories with Your Grandchildren, Susan Newman, New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1996
The Complete Idiots Guide to Grandparenting, Walter and Marilyn Hartt, New York: Alpha Books, 1998