How it feels to be a long distance grandparent

This guest post was written by Kerry Byrne, Ph.D., the founder of The Long Distance Grandparent. Every week, Kerry shares practical ideas and inspirations for nurturing strong relationships with your grandchildren.

Recently, I was preparing a presentation for a group of long-distance grandparents. I must admit, this is one of my favorite things to do because I get to share tons of ideas about staying connected – and I can’t help but think about all the meaningful interactions that will occur between grandparents and grandchildren as a result.

Miles don’t matter when it comes to love.

But as I went through my slides, I realized I was missing something critical in my presentation. It’s one of the least discussed aspects of long-distance grandparenting: The emotional complexity of long-distance grandparenting.

A Mix of Joy and Sadness

How can it be a mix of joy and deep sadness all in the same moment?

It can feel like your heart will burst with joy in one moment, only to be reduced to a puddle of tears in the toy section at Walmart in another moment. You can feel bursts of pride about the life your son or daughter has created for themselves and your grandchildren – and at the same time feel your heart breaking in two each time you video chat because it reminds you of how far away they are and how you don’t get to be the grandparent you want to be.

There is no one way to feel about grandparenting from a distance because all your situations are different. For instance, some of you are dealing with major time zone differences, while others aren’t because they only live a few hours away. Still, the parents don’t seem to prioritize the relationship which makes it extra tough to stay connected.

The challenges that exist vary widely and this can all contribute to the complexity.

The emotions ebb and flow and can become particularly intense right before a visit, or right after a visit.  It can feel so good to have spent time together and at the same time feel as though your grandchildren take a piece of your heart with them each time they leave, or you leave them.

Since starting The Long Distance Grandparent, I’ve heard from thousands of long-distance grandparents who share everything from off-the-charts joy to feelings of loss, grief, and irrelevance.

The Long Distance Grandparent

I’ve built The Long Distance Grandparent slowly and steadily, by really listening to long-distance grandparents about what they want and need and how it feels to grandparent from a distance.

The Long Distance Grandparent is a community and a carefully curated source of support that helps grandparents (and their families) embrace the possibilities and manage the realities of grandparenting at a distance.

One of these realities is that grandparenting is likely not going to be what you envisioned or how you want it to be – but what I’ve come to understand is that distance doesn’t have to mean distant.

But you will likely need to work harder to nurture a relationship. It requires planning and preparation and overall, a willingness to immerse yourself in the role with intentionality.

You don’t have the benefit of seeing your grandchild each week so some behind-the-scenes work is necessary to work on the relationship when you can’t be in the relationship.

So, when the chips are down, please remember that each moment makes a difference. Each moment contributes to your grandchild feeling emotionally closer to you.

A moment can be your grandchild opening a piece of mail from you, a quick and silly video sent to them wishing them luck before a job interview, or a text reminding them each Friday about something fantastic about themselves.

And while these moments can feel one-way and sometimes a bit lackluster, especially if you don’t hear back from them (or the parents), it is still a moment.

Through each communication, you make your grandchild feel a certain way – loved, missed, encouraged, supported – and ultimately these moments send the vital message that miles don’t matter when it comes to love.

Note: If you’d like to read more about the grief experienced by long-distance grandparents and a few strategies you can use to cope, you can read Kerry’s blog post: How to cope with the grief and sadness of long-distance grandparenting.

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