If there’s ever a time we miss our far-flung family members more than usual, it’s during the holidays. Finding ways to maintain long-distance grandparent relationships is a priority to us. We do not live near family and I know we aren’t alone. The past few decades have certainly seen more families separated by substantial geographical distances due to a number of factors: one or both spouse’s career location, proximity to particular educational and/or recreational opportunities, specific healthcare needs, the list goes on.
The saying “it takes a village” was based on the primordial instinct that one’s own community, namely family and friends, was there to help raise and care for the next generation. Many of us have had to learn to cope without that and have an array of resources to assist. But what do we do about actually maintaining the relationships with those who would otherwise be heavily involved in our children’s lives (especially during times of celebration)? We make sure they still are!
Lucky for us, today’s technology makes this possible, and with a little planning, is easy to maintain long-distance grandparent relationships. My parents happen to live almost 5,000 miles away. My husband and I strongly believe in the importance of grandparents’ presence. We regularly reflect on how fortunate we are that all grandparents (and great-grandparents on my side) are able to participate in and follow our son’s life, while he gets to know them and soak up all that love. I myself grew up far away from my grandparents, and can say that those calls and sent gifts meant the world to me. Here are ten other ways to maintain those special bonds between in-person visits:
1. Schedule Regular Calls
The most simple, but the key here is scheduling. I’m terrible at this. I’d rather randomly call my parents throughout the week or whenever my son announces he wants to talk to Lala and Grandpa. Because of our time difference, for us this is usually during B’s lunchtime (which can be too early for my folks), or after his nap/before we are preparing dinner. It has become regular enough that my parents expect that FaceTime jingle around certain times versus others, but it’s not the ideal approach. My parents are living their best retirement era life and have their own activities and friends, so putting something on the calendar for them is just considerate, even though they’ll drop everything just to chat with their only grandchild!
Additionally, toddlers are creatures of routine. If my son knows that on Mondays and Wednesdays he will for sure get to see his grandparents on FaceTime, we can plan exact meal and nap times, and other activities around the calls in advance without going off track.
2. Share Photos and Videos
If you’re reading this, you probably have at least one social media account. If you’re comfortable sharing bits of your life and your kiddos’ lives online, utilize these tools and tailor posts for your family. The majority of my relatives use Facebook and/or Instagram and appreciate my updates there. Even one of my grandmas is on Facebook! Manage your privacy settings actively, as well as your friends list. I’ve done a couple of “purges” to ensure the friends viewing my page are people I still truly know and interact with. I also take advantage of the ability to make certain posts only available to certain groups.
Other options include managing a OneDrive or Google Photo Album that your family can access with a private link. At this point, social media is the easiest way for me to provide a quick and fun glimpse of what we are up to for our folks en masse. They will thank you for these glimpses of your life as you work to maintain long-distance grandparent relationships.
For a gift along these lines, I’m eyeing one of these for the near future: Aura or Skylight
3. Do Activities Virtually Together
Now for the really fun stuff: gather up materials for crafts and keep them on hand for some of those scheduled calls. Ready your child on a craft mat (these are great) or table, and set up your device at an angle where the workspace can be seen, along with your little one. The activity could be as simple as coloring or drawing a picture (you could always send this later in the mail), to a holiday-specific craft (for T-day, we made a paper bag turkey on FaceTime), or even just reading a book together. When he was younger, my mom would sing songs with B. The two of them would do the hand motions and even play little instruments together.
4. Cultivate Ongoing Projects
These ideas might be best for older children, but can result in true keepsakes in addition to the guaranteed fun of doing things together. Examples include:
- Writing a story: The child or family member can start a story with either a line or paragraph, and then the other person continues it. These additions get passed back and forth until the story is complete. You can then have it printed or bound into two copies for a memorable and entertaining treasure!
- Drawing a picture: Have someone start a drawing on a large canvas or paper, and send it to the loved one to add on. Similar to the story, this piece will be sent back and forth until it’s complete (I believe in the magic of snail mail for this type of thing). It would also make a great gift once finished and framed.
- Growing a plant: This one is right up my own Dad’s garden and farm-loving alley! Help your child plant the same thing as your family member, and then have them send one another status updates and share comparisons as it grows.
5. Become Pen Pals
There’s something about a handwritten note or letter that speaks to the heart in full authenticity. This sentiment is felt even more strongly when reading a loved one’s handwriting (even if it can take a little more time to decipher). Encourage your children and parents to write and send one another letters that can be kept in a special box or folder. These could also be bound into a book later!
Another idea around letters: My dad started a tradition of bringing B a special coin and letter whenever he visits for his birthday, and I know those letters will be treasures for him to read when he’s older.
6. Record Memories
Video recordings of stories and memories to maintain grandparent relationships are wonderful. Plus, preserving family history is important! There are also now a few different options to help with preserving these beyond your phone or an electronic file: Storyworth and Legacy Box.
7. Stay Up to Date on Events
New activity? Fun event? An appointment? Knowing what’s up on your loved one’s agenda can help you all stay connected. A quick call or text asking how something went or sending a picture can be all it takes. Do not wait until the next in-person visit to catch up on the little things!
8. Share Recipes
Food is such an integral part of preserving family traditions and culture. Most of us probably have a list of favorite dishes we grew up with. Ask for those recipes from your mom, dad, grandparents, that aunt who loves to cook. Then make it for (or better yet, with!) your kids so that they can experience the same flavors. Next time their grandparents are around, they just might have a favorite and can then make it with them.
9. Have Virtual Mealtimes
Plan to share a virtual meal together to maintain long-distance grandparent relationships. Make it even more fun by serving the same thing. This can obviously be tied to number 3 and/or 8 by cooking together virtually, and making a favorite family recipe.
10. Don’t Forget to Say “I love you”
At the conclusion of any of the above connections, don’t forget to say “I love you.” No matter the distance, this will always go a long way!
Do you have special things you do to create and maintain long-distance grandparent relationships? When grandparents do visit the Washington, DC area, be sure to check out these toddler and grandparent-friendly places!