This guest post from a mom’s perspective is by Kerry Byrne, Ph.D. who is an aging, care and connection research scientist and Founder of The Long Distance Grandparent. She helps grandparents nurture strong bonds with their grandchildren from a distance.
When my family and I decided to leave Canada for Dubai four years ago, I will never forget the look on my father’s face as we said goodbye at the airport. Moving was emotional for all of us – but it was especially hard for the grandparents.
The experience reinforced in me a very personal need to make sure my son’s relationship with his grandparents remained strong.
I’m happy to report that four years later – with another grandchild in the mix – we have created a strong and fun connection with the grandparents.
This will probably resonate for many of you: it took effort and a new kind of partnership between the parents and the grandparents to make this happen.
At the same time, they could not have kept the connection going without my help. As the parent, I had to make time for it and make sure my children knew the importance of connecting with their grandparents.
As Founder of The Long Distance Grandparent, I help grandparents all over the world stay connected to their grandchildren. Here are three things about creating strong partnerships we’ve learned along the way.
Timing (and time) Is Everything
Timing is really everything when grandparenting from a distance. Find out good times to call – but also ask about bad times to call.
Maybe bedtime works for some families, but for others (like us), we are on our last legs and just focused on getting the kids to the finish line: asleep! An exciting call from a grandparent 15 minutes before bedtime is actually not the best time for us. Dinner time? Excellent. Both kids are seated in one place and I’m happy to have them distracted with a video chat.
Also, think quality, not quantity. Sometimes kids are just not into chatting for very long. This does not mean they are not into you. They might not want to chat because mom just said no to a third cookie. If kids don’t feel like talking, keep this reminder on a sticky note somewhere: I like listening to you. Can we talk more another time? It gives everyone a loving way out of the conversation while at the same time letting them know how much you love your time with them.
I like listening to you. Can we talk more another time?
Prepare for Connection
I hear from grandparents who feel scheduling a time to chat is challenging.
But I also hear from parents who tell me that when they do make time for a chat, grandparents don’t have anything to say to the grandchildren. This creates extra work for the parent who must then guide the conversation.
Of course, with very small children, parent participation will be necessary. But no matter the ages of your grandchildren, prepare something fun and short to play once you do have them on the call. You can find several suggestions in my Ultimate Video Chat Cheat Sheet for Grandparents. I’m also a big believer that any household item can double as video-chat entertainment.
For younger grandchildren, you can take a sharpie marker and add a funny face to just about any fruit or vegetable, and voila you have instant puppets!
For older grandchildren, there are hundreds of conversation starters, jokes, and “would you rather” questions available online. A quick Google search using the terms “conversation starters for a 10-year-old boy” or “jokes about gymnastics for a 9-year-old girl” will produce tons of useful suggestions.
Be the Encourager in Chief
Specifically nurturing the connection with the parents from a distance is key too. Even though we aren’t as cute as your grandchildren, we still need you and depend on you to encourage and support us as best you can.
In a true partnership, all parties need to feel supported and valued. But there are also times when one of us needs to take on more because the other one cannot. Right now, this might mean accepting that the video chats are going to be few and far between while parents cope with the stresses of pandemic parenting.
If you can’t get them to commit to a live video chat with the grandchildren or a phone call with you, send a letter of encouragement or a gift card for their favorite coffee shop. There are so many small ways you can reach out and let your own children know you are there when they need you.
Ultimately, we all have to work on these relationships together. It can take a lot of time and emotion, but every time my children ask to speak to one of their grandparents, I know we are doing something right!
For more ideas about how to stay connected to your grandchildren, you can sign-up for Kerry’s weekly ideas and inspirations on her website The Long Distance Grandparent