Long-distance grandparents: Bridging the gap

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

"It's difficult living far away from our grandchildren," said Terrie Minneman of northern Ohio. "So, even though we live a few hours [away] from our grandchildren, we try to see them at least every other month." She added, "Depending on the situation, we may see them more often, but it's never enough for me!"

Between visits, Minneman sends special greeting cards to her grandchildren. "My hobby is making greeting cards, so I try to keep in touch with them by making them cards with their personal interests and hobbies in mind." Minneman's son, Mark, and his wife, Michelle, also do their part to nuture the relationship. Michelle explained, "We pray for all the grandparents every day and allow [the children] to spend occasional weekends with Mark's parents. A lot of my memories growing up are with my grandparents. It's important to me that our children have these same types of memories."

Willma Willis Gore, author of Long-Distance Grandparenting--Connecting with your Grandchild from Afar, said, "It's important for grandparents to understand that there is no one right way to connect with their grandchildren. Rewarding and productive grandparent-grandchild relationships evolve in as many different ways as there are grandparents and grandchildren. Whether you're more comfortable with traditional methods of communication or opt for a more modern approach, the important aspect is that you establish on-going communication," Gore said.

For technologically-wise grand- parents, connecting has never been easier. E-mail, web cams, digital pictures, cell phones and other gadgets can make it effortless to instantly connect with family. But old-fashioned communication still works just as well. "In our technology-savvy world, our kids are still thrilled to see a letter in the mail addressed just to them," said Jennifer Beck of Lima. "At one point, my parents lived in another state over eight hours away from us, but the distance didn't matter when (the kids) consistently received the message that Grandma and Grandpa loved them." She added, "My dad would borrow one of the girls' storybooks and record himself reading it. The girls could listen to his voice at any moment. It was his way to read to them before they went to bed."

According to the Foundation for Grandparenting (www.grandparenting.org), it can be helpful to develop some basic principles and practical ideas, such as:

  • Maintain continuity and communication.
  • Convene a family conference with children and grandchildren.
  • Identify the issues and discuss the pitfalls and problems of being apart.
  • Keep in constant communication and try to be physically together as much as possible.
  • Pledge family financial resources to support visits. For example, pay Grandma's airfare to visit while Mom and Dad go on vacation.
  • Allow for as much grandparent-grandchild alone time as possible and coordinate this with visits, parent vacations, etc.

Web exclusive:

Are you a long-distance grandparent?

Connecting with your grandchildren from afar doesn't have to be difficult. In fact, with a little creativity, it's possible to consistently stay in touch. Try one of these suggestions:

  • Record a special bedtime story on tape or CD for your grandchildren.
  • Along with e-mail, send notes the old-fashioned way through the post office. Children love to receive mail addressed just to them.
  • Use technology. E-mail, send pictures and even set up web cams to stay close.
  • Have regular phone conversations with your grandchildren. Although younger children may not be able to sustain long conversations, they will be thrilled to hear your voice.
  • Send care packages. Your grandchild will love receiving special items from you.

Rosanna Scott, mother of two, is a writer specializing in family/parenting issues and travel. She is the author of the children's book, Peter and Friends at Camp.