(Editor’s note: This content is sponsored by Acts Retirement-Life Communities.)
If you’re longing for the days before families were as mobile and spread out as they are now, you’re not alone. Kids used to stick around more, and when they had kids, grandchildren grew up in close proximity to their grandparents.
Today’s reality is that families are very often spread across state borders. You may only get to see your grandchildren on holidays or summer vacations. but that doesn’t mean you have to be relegated to the sidelines. In fact, many long-distance grandparents play an important role in their grandchildren’s lives. All it takes is a little thought and a bit of light preparation.
Ways Long-Distance Grandparents Can Reach Out and Connect
As a long-distance grandparent, you have plenty of options when it comes to developing that wonderful bond with your grandkids. Here are a few ideas for becoming a super grandparent even when miles separate you from the kids you love.
Rediscover the art of letter writing. Even in the digitally-connected world we live in, kids still love getting letters in the mail. The same goes for cards, and — yes — packages are especially appreciated!
If you want to make a game out of letter-writing, there’s a whole world of fun things to try:
• “Did you know…?” Send them fun facts on postcards about something they’re particularly interested in.
• Challenges. Ask them in a postcard to write you back with a list of 10 animals that have white fur. Or 10 people whose names begin with “R”. Or 10 types of birds that live in their area. There are endless possibilities with this one so give your mind some room to be creative.
• Joke of the week. Are you a jokester? Jot down a joke on a postcard and send it. Make it a weekly routine for an even better effect and more laughs. When you video chat (and you should definitely video chat, see below), ask your grandchild which joke was the funniest.
Book club. Send your grandchild a book, give it a few weeks, then call and talk to them about the characters, what they liked best and how it made them feel. You could send them a book every month. A nice touch would be a homemade bookmark, especially if it holds a picture of grandparents or anything that symbolizes your bond.
Get creative with technology. These days, video chatting is a given for long-distance families. To maximize your face time with your grandkids, however, it’s helpful to be a little creative. In other words, don’t just call up and wait for something to happen. Kids can easily run out of things to say, leaving grandparents struggling to keep the conversation going.
A better way to video chat is to put in a little preparation time so that when you’re online, you can simulate the kinds of activities you might do if your grandkids were visiting. Here’s a couple of ideas:
• Read-along. This works for younger children. Find a good children’s book and buy two copies. Mail one of them to your grandchild and keep the other. When you’re together on video chat, you can read the book aloud while they follow along in their own copy. The wonderful bonus is, of course, that you’re helping them learn to read.
• You’re getting warmer. Why just mail a gift when you can also make a fun video-chatting game out of the experience? Secretly mail a gift and have a parent hide the gift somewhere in their home. During your next video chat, bring up the fact that there’s a special surprise hidden somewhere in the house. Give them a clue, then have them carry the device around as you nudge them toward the hiding spot. Use the classic “you’re getting colder/warmer” system of hints to help them edge closer to the hiding spot.
• Keepsakes from your life. Are you thinking about downsizing? Send your grandchildren little trinkets from your house, then watch their eyes light up as you tell them the story behind the item. They will find joy in an item that only collected dust in your home, and you will feel relief that a once treasured item has been passed down to another generation to enjoy. Click here to read five additional tips on keeping your cool while downsizing.
Connect the dots with yummy treats. Do you have a food memory that’s associated with a particular relative? Maybe your great aunt Julie always made the best holiday sugar cookies. Or maybe your uncle Brad cooked up the best chili. Food, comfort and love go together like nothing else, so creating a special dish for your grandchild can shorten the miles like few other acts do.
The connection occurs when you prepare the special dish with them in your kitchen. Making something delicious together forms a strong memory. Then, a few months later, you can prepare the dish again on your own. This time, mail it to your grandchild. They’ll remember your time together cooking and love getting a treat in the mail. Keep the mailings going over the years and the dish may become symbolic of your special bond, which they’ll hold dear for a lifetime.
Start a project together. There’s nothing like working together on a simple project to keep the lines of communication wide open. If you have a chance while visiting, start a small garden together, then stay in touch long distance with updates on the progress. If you can’t visit, send a pre-packaged window garden kit and have a parent help them set it up.
The “garden” can be a simple pot of herbs or a bucket of tomatoes. It can be a window box or a corner of their parents’ large backyard garden in summer. Size, shape and crop don’t matter. What matters is that you start it together and stress the importance of getting regular updates on how it’s going.
It may surprise you, but there is more overlap in activities that interest grandchildren and grandparents than you may think. Try teaching your grandchild a new language. It will feel like a fun secret and help to form a unique, heartfelt bond. Want more ideas? Check out this list of retirement hobbies and see how you can involve your grandchildren.
Memories Last a Lifetime — No Matter Where They’re Made
Children remember good times with grandparents throughout their adult lives, even if much of that time was spent with many miles between them. It’s the quality of the time you spend together, not the number of hours you’re physically in the same room with one another. The bonds you create with these techniques and others like them have the potential to keep you and your grandchildren on the same page no matter what the future may bring. Have fun!
Want more tips on how to be a super grandparent? Click here to read our article about inter-generational bonding activities for grandchildren and grandparents.
Acts Retirement-Life Communities is the largest not-for-profit owner, operator and developer of continuing care retirement communities in the United States. Headquartered in suburban Philadelphia, Acts has a family of 23 retirement communities that serve approximately 8,500 residents and employ 6,200 in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Florida. For more information about Acts visit actsretirement.org.
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