Long Distance Grandparenting in the 21st Century

posted in: Childcare, CYJ Blog, Lifeskills

(Best of Celebrating Your Journey – Sept 21, 2007)

To all my readers: With 2019, the 14th year of my Celebrating Your Journey blog articles, “From the Heart” byline, I will be offering the “Best of the Best” articles you found helpful through the years. Many thanks to everyone who have given input and followed along w/ each month’s lifeskill—Relationships/Core Values, Time Mgt, Career/Money Mgt, Recordkeeping, Possessions, Housekeeping, Wellness, Meals, Childcare, Recreation/ Entertainment, Reflection, and Celebration. For my new readers, may these lifeskill articles offer you encouragement, insight, and commitment to seek, reach, and achieve your life dreams and goals in synergy.

“A 6 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.”

It is something we can’t deny. Most of our children and grandchildren live all over the nation. If you are one who has your family down the street, treasure every moment. It is very unusual in the 21st century. Although there are not too many stats out there to measure this, all we have to do is look around us to know it is true—at work and in our neighborhood.

Living long distances from our grandbabies make day-to-day grandparenting almost impossible. The Foundation for Grandparenting (2019 updated source: Long Distance Grandparenting, June 16, 2012 by Christine Crosby, Grand Magazine) posed these questions:

  • How many of your friends, colleagues or neighbors live in families with three generations present?
  • How many grandparents in your locale live near their children and grandchildren?
  • How many parents have their own parents nearby?

Why do we move so much? There are a variety of reasons—based on need, job, health, personal choice, retirement, a new life adventure. Whatever the reasons, it definitely makes it hard to sustain close relationships and foster a grandparent-grandchild relationship.

The Chris Crowley, Grand Magazine (former source 2009: Foundation for Grandparenting), gets continuous calls asking for help in long distance grandparenting. “Many long-distance grandparents want to know if the axiom ‘out of sight, 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’s life?’ A grandfather wanted answers, ‘When such situations are unavoidable is there is anything I can do to countermand the results of not having frequent contact with my grandchildren? Do we have to be strangers? How do I minimize the negative effects of distance? I don’t want to become obsolete as a grandfather.’ This is a serious issue with no easy answers.”

There are a number of negative effects from living far from each other. Yet, we need to first understand the emotional and spiritual “Vital Connection” between grandparents and grandchildren. First, “time alone in a one-to-one situation. Undivided attention between grandparents and grandchildren is difficult to achieve when grandparents and grandchildren live a long distance from one another.” Then, there is the loss of day to day contact. We all know we need to be part of their daily lives in order for the bond to grow, especially in the early years.

The Grand Magazine article does offer us some comforting perspective. First, time typically moves more slowly for young children and the time you spend alone with your grandchild is savored by the child and is remembered for a very long time. Second, you have the great advantage in the 21st century of technology via the internet, email, phone calls, faxes, text messaging, picture forwarding, videoconferencing in real time/face-to-face, shared computer games, your own family home page!

The Grand Magazine article does offer us some comforting perspective. First, time typically moves more slowly for young children and the time you spend alone with your grandchild is savored by the child and is remembered for a very long time. Second, you have the great advantage in the 21st century of technology via the internet, email, phone calls, faxes, text messaging, picture forwarding, videoconferencing in real time/face-to-face, shared computer games, your own family home page!

Then there is video and audio taping. You can send loving and fun notes back and forth that keeps your contact filled with love, adoring interest that is lively and relevant. And, of course, document special events in their lives. Be there when your grandchild is born and at important events like graduations, confirmations, recitals, holidays—whatever events your family highly values. All these tech options will definitely foster emotional relations over distance. Although we all know being physically together is the preferred, technology can boost ongoing communication and make all the difference.

Here are some of the additional long distance tips for us grandparents to ease the emotions and sadness that periodically show up:

  • Primary principle = maintain continuity and communication
  • Convene a family conference with children and grandchildren.
  • Identify the issues and discuss the pitfalls and problems of being geographically apart.
  • Pledge to minimize the damage to the fabric of the family by keeping in constant communication and being physically together as much as possible. The kids will love to hear this.
  • Devise a step-by-step action plan to be together as much as possible. Kids will love this too.
  • Pledge family financial resources to support the plan. Allocate resources to specific activities. (Ex. Pay Grandma’s airfare to visit while Mom and Dad go on vacation. Grandparents save all year and pay for themselves and their grandchildren to attend our Grandparent-Grandchild Summer Camp.)
  • Allow for as much grandparent-grandchild “alone” time as possible and coordinate this with visits, parent vacations, etc. Plan “alone” outings when together.

Start being creative in all kinds of ways to keep the connection growing. Use spontaneous contact whenever possible on a weekly basis if at all possible. For you older grandmas and grandpas, don’t let the word, technology, technology, technology, throw you off. Take classes to learn how to get with the 21st century where your grandkids are already savvy. You will never regret it, and your grandchildren will know how important their lives are to you.

Just think about it! That precious grandchild will grow up so fast. They will soon be old enough to travel to see you, even to spend the summer! And they will want to! You never can tell, they just may say, “When I get older I am going to go to college in the city where Grandma lives so I can see her all the time.” That’s my dream.