As someone who never lived close to either of my grandparents (and whose children won’t either for the foreseeable future) this is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. Many of my cousins lived within 5 minutes of my grandparents growing up. They had weekly Sunday dinner, or other family gatherings, and my grandparents were their usual babysitters and a daily part of their lives. Living in such close proximity is not in the cards for some of us, however, so how can you still develop close relationships with those that are far from home?
1. Make visits special
Make an effort to take time away from your usual friends, activities, and work to really spend quality time with your grandchildren when they come to visit, or so you can take time to go visit them. Something that one of my uncles does with his grandkids is a special “grandkids” day during each family reunion they have, where he and grandma take all the little ones and spend a full day out and about doing kid stuff. Ice cream, the zoo, visits to fun parks, bowling–you get the idea. Also consider developing special traditions with your grandkids, activities you only do with them. Almost every summer, my grandpa would take all the grandchildren golf ball hunting, and pay us $0.25 per golf ball. We felt like we were helping grandpa, as well as getting to spend quality time with him. A little friendly competition with one another kept things exciting too. Take them out to dinner. Go see a movie. Go to the beach. Have a game night. The sky is the limit.
2. Have a Project
Take advantage of the time you are together to occasionally work, as well as play together, and transfer some of those classic life skills through the generations. One of my grandmas is very good at crafting, so we’d always do beading, or card making, or painting while we were at her house. An activity like that brought us all together at a big table working, laughing, and creating, and it forms a special kind of bond. You can get actual work done with grandkids around too, just use them as little helpers. I remember making applesauce with my grandma one year and enjoying both the time I got to spend with her and the fruit of our labors.
3. Stay in Touch and Up-To-Date
Technology makes this a lot easier than it once was. Skype, FaceTime, texts, and phone calls can all keep you in the loop and up-to-date on what is going on in your grandchildren’s lives. This becomes even more meaningful if in your communication you follow up on previous discussions (i.e. How was your soccer game on Tuesday?) rather than just always asking generics (i.e. How is soccer? What grade are you in again?).
4. Send Love and Spoil
This is one of a grandparent’s most fun jobs, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. My grandma would always have freshly baked chocolate chip cookies ready for us when we flew in late at night (even though at home we wouldn’t normally get cookies right before bed!). It was simple, but we knew when we were at grandma’s house, we were going to get some special treatment. Send your grandkids a postcard if you go on a trip somewhere letting them know that you’re thinking about them, and, when you’re at home, send care packages either on a regular basis or as a fun impulse. A word to the wise, if you’re going to send a package, you get brownie points from mom for sending substance rather than little throwaway trinkets (although the kids might not necessarily know the difference)–consider sending things that will stay around and remind your grandchildren of you every time they use them. We would obviously suggest books! Not sure what the hottest new titles are? We’d love to help you be “Grandparent Of The Year” by taking care of sending your grandchildren monthly care packages with individually wrapped books delivered right to their door. We’ve got you covered.
Whatever you decide is “your thing” as a long-distance grandparent, go for it! Your grandchildren already hold you in a special place in their hearts, just as you do them, and every effort you make will be reciprocated with a return of affection and appreciation (even though if they’re teenage boys it might not show externally!)