This essay by Kerry Byrne, Ph.D. first appeared in GRAND Magazine Winter 2021. Kerry is a care and connections research scientist focused on helping grandparents nurture strong bonds with their grandchildren from a distance. Though she originally intended the piece to be a New Year’s Resolution, it’s a good reminder to remember her 3 “connection resolutions” all year long. Her website is The Long Distance Grandparent.
As we say good-bye to a year that saw many of us separated from the grands in our lives, I’m suggesting we start 2021 with a resolution centered on connection. It will be good for your health and your grandchild’s too — and you can still eat all the chocolate you want!
First, learn something new about one of your grandchildren every single month. Maybe it’s the name of their best friend or their favorite book, television show, website, or restaurant. Finding out this kind of information not only gives you questions to ask your grandchildren, but it also means you can add meaningful details into your conversations, letters, or text messages. Remembering their best friend Hannah was really nervous about a test – and then asking how Hannah did on the test – sends an important message to grandchildren: ‘I am listening and paying attention to you and your life’.
Time and attention are both grandparent superpowers worth slinging around as much as possible! Recording these details in a notebook really helps – especially when nurturing relationships with 4 or 5 grandchildren at the same time.
Second, spend time working on the relationship when you can’t be with them. Do something Behind the Scenes to brighten up their mailbox. If you lived around the corner from your grandchildren, you might have them over for pancakes every Saturday morning. As a long-distance grandparent, you don’t get to spend this kind of face-to-face time together each week, but you can still make it a habit to spend time on your relationship every week.
A few years ago, I spoke to a grandmother with the best of intentions to send more snail mail to her grandchildren. But it didn’t happen regularly, and she always felt she could be doing more to nurture the relationship. She decided to start a monthly coffee date – with herself – to spend time writing letters or cards to her grandchildren. By keeping stamps in her purse, she was able to post letters to them immediately afterward.
Third, write Thinking of You Notes to your grandchildren. Whenever you think about your grandchild, write a note with the date on it and pop it into a jar. It can be as simple as I’m eating chocolate ice-cream and thinking of you because I know it’s your favorite or even just I am really missing you today.
You can send them every few months or keep them as a gift for a special milestone birthday. They might not be old enough to fully appreciate it right now but one day it will mean the world. Think about how much you love coming across a handwritten card from a grandparent.
For more connection tips read my post: 7 Conversation Tips for Connecting with Grandchildren