How to Be a Long-Distance Grandparent

I live in Massachusetts with my husband and our two year-old son. My parents live 876 miles away in Michigan.

It is important to me that my son has a strong relationship with his grandparents, but it is not always easy to arrange time to spend together. Flights are expensive and our vacation time is limited. So, we make it work using the communication tools available to us.

Luckily, we live in an age when there are lots of fun and easy ways to keep grandparents involved, even if you (or they) are not particularly tech-savvy. Here’s a list of ideas:

SKYPE:  This is the lynchpin that holds together our long-distance family communication strategy. Easy, fun, and of course, free. We talk several times a week on video chat. “Talking” usually involves singing songs together, showing off new toys, waving at the dog, and playing peek-a-boo. Sometimes a play session will last ten or fifteen minutes, and sometimes it is closer to two. But I love seeing my son’s bright face when he hears that distinctive ring and eagerly yells “Meemers!” (my mother’s unusual moniker) and “Grandpa!”

TEXTING: Once or twice a week, when I am doing a fun activity with my son such as apple picking, swinging at the park, or even putting together a neat puzzle, I will pause for a moment to take a photo with my phone. Then I send it on via text to my parents. It takes just a second, but it brings them into his daily life.

GREETING CARDS: Birthdays and holidays are a great occasion to send traditional greeting cards, and they can be a lot of fun for a kid to receive. My toddler loves to tear open an envelopes and peek inside. He will carry his card around the house, show it off, and carefully store it in his backpack. Animated e-cards with music provide great entertainment as well.

PHOTOS: My son has a little book with a few printed family photos, but he also loves to scroll through the photos on our phone. It’s a great way to keep him occupied in the car or waiting at the doctor’s office. He enjoys identifying all the members of his family and sharing his recollections and memories in his little cave man speech – “Meemers more pasta! Grandpa airplane!”

TRAVEL: The suggestions above are not really a substitute for spending real time together. You can’t cuddle up and read a book together via Skype and you can’t play ball in the park through the cell phone.  Skype can help you feel connected in-between visits, but eventually, you will want to actually gather somewhere together. We have found that it is cheaper to fly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when it fits with our schedule, and we also try to meet in the middle. Last March, instead of driving the full distance to visit us in Salem, my parents rented a cabin in the Berkshires. We spent a long weekend discovering a fun, new place together, and my parents knocked 150 miles off their drive.

Let me know your long-distance grandparenting ideas and experiences in the comments!

-Marta

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