Tuesday, May 2, 2017

20 Tips For Long Distance Grandparents

Every parent dreams of being a grandparent when their own children are old enough and start families of their own.

But I never dreamed my children, let alone my grandchildren, would live so far away. Three of my grandchildren live over 8,000 miles from me and three others are more than 6,000 miles away. The closest ones live 650 miles away (which is more than a nine hour drive). 

Let's be completely honest, being a long distance grandparent isn't my preference and I bet it's not yours either, but that's the role we've been given. Since this is our role, we need to learn to be the best long distance grandparents possible. I have a bunch of tips to help us embrace our roles the best we can. 

Growing-up both of my grandmothers lived about 800 miles from where I lived. One of them traveled to see us quite often and the other rarely visited. One grandfather died before I was born and the other died when I was two years old. I don't know what it's like to have a grandfather, but I have experience from the perspective of being a long distance grandchild.  We visited my grandmothers quite often and once even took my paternal grandmother to Hawaii with us. It was a very memorable vacation. Luckily, these days we have a much bigger advantage to staying in touch and staying connected, unlike my long distance grandparents from a different generation ago.

I've read and thought a lot about being a long distant grandparent. This post has taken me a while to write and I hope these 20 tips will help any grandparent find ways they can bond with their grandchildren, no matter how far away they may live.

1. Take Trips Together. This will take a lot of planning on your part as well as your child's part, but a trip together can build a lot of precious memories. Plan to go somewhere you've always wanted to go or simply find a place that you can meet in-between where you both live. Early this spring we returned from an amazing trip where we met our son's family. Not only did we get to spend time with our son's family and his sweet children but our daughters also surprised us on this amazing trip! We spent 8 days together exploring, playing games, driving around seeing the sights, eating, playing games, and simply being together.

We've found that to cut down on the cost of trips we stay at Airbnb's. Check them out for your next trip. Make sure you read the reviews before you book. So far, we've stayed at some great places.

One of my dear friends said that they have stopped giving their children Christmas gifts and now give them the gift of getting together. She stated that she and her husband have decided that they want to be the "fun" grandparents and their gift is to give a yearly fun family get together.
2. Save your grandchildren's special dates like their birthday, blessing, confirmation or baptism day, and even anniversary on a calendar. I like to use my iPhone for this and I even set a time I want to be reminded about this date. For my international grandchildren, I set the reminder for 3 weeks out. That way, I have plenty of time to purchase a gift and get to the post office to mail it.

I'll confess that I purchase quite a few things off of Amazon Prime. If you're not an Amazon Prime member, let me let you in on something fantastic: you pay one yearly fee (you can even split it with your kids) and if you're purchasing an "Amazon Prime" item, they'll ship it for you for free and you'll receive it just two days later. Plus, another Amazon Prime feature is all the freebies they offer, like videos and even books for Kindles. I like to be able to borrow a book a month for my Kindle, which I might add, I use a lot for traveling. If this sounds interesting to you, you can try a 30 days free trial. See this link for details: Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial.

3. Send mail at least once a month, like a card, letter or even postcards to your grandchildren. I remember when I would get a rare letter or card from my grandmother in the mail. It was a treasured gift.

One of my friends who travels a lot for her work, said that whenever she goes out of town, she purchases a postcard and sends it home to her grandsons. She said they love getting those postcards. A simple shaped card can provide entertainment for your grandchildren. One of the cards I sent to a granddaughter was in the shape of a dress. (Can you see it in the above photo?) In the card, I told my granddaughter to decorate this dress and ask her Mom to send me a picture of how she decorated it. This is the text message I received:

By sending this basic shaped card, it provided a little fun for both of us.

My brother's oldest grandson, a very responsible 17 year-old, has requested that his grandpa write a letter for each of the important times in his life. To give you an idea why, this kind brother was in the Vietnam War and sprayed agent orange from the helicopters. He's been in bad health for a long time. And just in case his grandpa isn't around for some big moments in his life, he still wanted his grandpa to be part of those moments. He requested a letter to read if he ever has to go to war. Another for when he serves a mission for our church, his college years and when he gets married. The thought makes me want to cry but what a treasure for this young man! Really, think about it. What a treasure for any grandchild.
4. Slip a surprise into a card or letter. It doesn't have to be an expensive item. This year, I purchased a package of 12 "Happy Birthday" balloons for a little over a dollar and have been putting one of these into my grandchildren's birthday cards. You could include a dollar with your card or letter too because who doesn't love receiving their own money? But if your grandchildren live internationally, this could be a little trickier. You can go to your local bank and exchange your currency for the currency they use where they live. (This idea is especially good for older children.) What about including a stick of their favorite gum, a baseball card, a coupon to their favorite fast food restaurant or a favorite quote typed or written in a fun way? Any of these ideas won't cost a lot but will add an element of surprise to a card or letter.
5. FaceTime or video chat. I FaceTime with my daughters and their children at least 3-4 times a week but my son's family calls weekly. My husband and I treasure FaceTiming with our grandchildren. You may need to set up a regular time when you can do this. This is really important when your grandchildren live in a different time zone or different hemisphere for that matter.

When FaceTiming or video chatting, younger grandchildren love it when you read them a story. If you do this, you'll soon master reading up-side-down. For more tips on reading via FaceTime or video chatting, see "How to be the best long-distant grandmother." When my friend, Cali, began having grandchildren who lived 2,000 plus miles away from her, she took FaceTime to new levels by putting on puppet shows, playing hide-n-go-seek and letting them watch her bake cookies for them. 

Yesterday I was FaceTiming with my grandchildren that live more than 6,000 miles from me. I started walking around the room I was in and asking them to identify who the people were in the photo frames around the room. It was a fun way to get them to interact and make sure they know the names of all their family members. My daughter and I laughed a few times as they confused their aunts, which is understandable since they are identical twins.
6. Phone calls are equally important. Need some phone calling tips, see this post. You don't always have to see each other. Sometimes you just need to hear your grandchildren's voices and vice versa.
7. Share recipes. An easy way to share your recipes with a grandchild is to post them to a blog. Anyone can set-up a free blog on Blogger. If you can't figure it out, have that grandchild of yours set up a recipe blog and then explain to you how to add recipes to the blog (since they are obviously more technologically advanced than us). This is a perfect project for older grandchildren who are interested in cooking. When you're together you can help grandchildren learn to prepare their favorite family recipes.

My daughters set up a recipe blog for our family years ago so we could all benefit from each other's culinary delights. We refer to it often.

I know a long distant grandmother that taught her youngest grandson to make her special Christmas candy. She flies this grandson to where she lives and together they spend a long weekend making candy for all his friends and family. They even have special labels they add to those boxes of homemade candy.

When a grandchild graduates from college, make them a collection of all your family recipes. Make sure to add notes to tell them where the recipe came from and how your grandchild is related to that person. Especially include recipes from your parents and grandparents.
8. Play online games together. There are several games you can play online like "Words with Friends" or "Scrabble with Friends." I have to admit, I have not taken the time to play one of these, but I know many who do. This would be a fun way to keep connected to older grandchildren.

I have however played made-up games via FaceTime. These are by no means internet-based or even high tech in the slightest. But games are games, right? Let me tell you about a few of those games. When one of our grandchildren was almost 2, he made up a game called "Go to Sleep." For this game, the child says, "Go to sleep." You close your eyes and a few seconds later, the child yells, "Wake-up!" The grandparent(s) act all surprised and startled. It makes this grandson laugh every time. 

Another made-up game my husband plays is called, "Don't Smile. He'll say to our grandchildren, "I don't want to see you smile, no, no, no, DON'T SMILE!" Of course the grandchildren start to giggle and eventually smile. Often times when we're talking to these grandchildren, they say to my husband, "Grandpa, tell us not to smile." Children love to play silly games like these. These examples, may seem silly and simple, but I know for a fact that our grandchildren love them. Maybe yours will too. Try these simple games and let me know what reactions you get. 

9. Arrange activities when you're together. While on a trip this spring to New Zealand to visit family, I met a wonderful woman named Pooha Goldburg of New York. She grew up in Israel and trained to be a seamstress in London. She was hand embroidering a tablecloth while on the same overnight cruise as us. This darling grandmother told me that she purchased this tablecloth so that when her granddaughters come to her house, she could teach them how to embroider and share her skills with them. I was so touched by this little gesture. 

While on this same trip, my son arranged for me to take my two youngest grandchildren to a jewelry making class (this was so he and his wife could do something by themselves). I'll admit, I thought the three year old was a little young for this activity but he had fun making a necklace with a pom pom in the center of all his beads. I tried to persuade him to choose something else but he kept saying, "Mommy will like it." You know what, I totally believe that she loved that necklace! I'm also positive that she loved her time together with my son as they went on a mountain bike ride without their children.

10. Plan regular visits and take surprises with you. One of my friends says she visits all her out of state grandchildren at least twice a year.

If you're like me, six of my grandchildren live in places that are very expensive to fly. Plus the time involved to get to their international homes usually takes us two days. We feel lucky to visit yearly to those locations. Last December, my husband found an airfare special from one of the major airlines where they were offering a round trip ticket to anywhere in Asia for 48,000 SkyMiles. This special was going on for two days only. My thoughtful husband gave me his SkyMiles so I could fly to our youngest daughter's home and help her with her three children ages 10 months to 4 1/2 years. My total cost for a round trip international ticket was only $52.48! Moral of the story, watch for specials on the airlines that fly to where your grandchildren live. You can set email alerts with certain airlines to let you know when they are offering specials to the places you most frequent... which I'm guessing are the places your grandchildren live.

When you visit, take surprises with you. The photo above shows a few of the things I took on my last trip. Some were requested things like the frosted animal cookies by my oldest grandson, while others were surprises. I found that old joke book, which was my son's when he was a kid. My oldest grandson had a good time reading through the jokes aloud as we traveled around in the car on our most recent trip. The funniest part was seeing which person in the car could guess the punch line. That other item in that photo up there, in the blue bag, is whistle candy. I found the whistle candy and the rocket balloons in what I call the 100 yen store. It's a store in Japan similar to a dollar store in the states. Both items are lots of fun for grandchildren - goodness, I even like the whistle candy!

I always offer to go to my children's homes to help when new grandchildren arrive. I help by making meals while I'm visiting and leave several meals in their freezer before I leave. I also try to do at least one job around the house, like laundry, to help with the work load. Offering to help at this important time means everything, because there's nothing like snuggling with a new grandchild!
11. Research the places where your grandchildren live and when FaceTiming or talking on the phone, ask them intelligent questions about their home, school and the things they have done that week. It helps your grandchildren feel like you know their little corner of the world. Bonding is important when you're far away. 
12. Make a family card game. Children love playing games. Here's a great idea from Crafty Chicks to make a deck of family images on "Go Fish" cards. This is a fun way to help your grandchildren learn the names of all the people in your family.
13. Host an online contest like a paper airplane flying contest. For this contest, see who can make a paper airplane and fly it the furthest. Create a spreadsheet with each grandchild's name and ask the parent to supply the length each child's plane flew. All entries must include photos of the airplanes sent to Instagram or Facebook so the whole family can see the entries. The winner will be announced by the grandparent and a fun prize can be awarded. 

My son-in-law's extended family has a March Madness basketball tournament. My three year old granddaughter's bracket won the contest last year (you can watch her acceptance video here, it's pretty funny). Which made a really proud bragging moment for her Dad and grandfather.
14. Send packages with homemade gifts for your grandchildren. I recently met a darling lady from Ireland. Her daughter is expecting her first grandchild. She said she's so excited that she's already knit a hat for this grandchild and the baby isn't due until October. Another of my friends has grandchildren that live more than 2,000 miles away so she made a beautiful quilt for this granddaughter and shipped it to her.

I think giving gifts is such a natural way to show we care and giving a handmade gift shows we care enough to spend our time for those we love. Your grandchild may not understand that now but as they grow older and wiser, your gifts should help them feel the love you have for them.

Okay, so not all your gifts need to be handmade. A niece told me her maternal grandmother lived in Germany and would send her German candy and she loved getting her packages! 

Another nice gift could be a magazine subscription. Consider the age of the child and their interests and find a magazine that would be appropriate, like Ranger Rick for instance. Hopefully, your grandchild will think of you whenever they get their monthly magazine.

15. Keep photos of your grandchildren in your home. Request updated photos as gifts from your children. Yes, these darling photos may make you want to cry now and again but just seeing their darling faces helps us think often about them.

16.  Send photos of you to your grandchildren, especially ones of you doing something memorable with them. They will cherish those photos forever. 

17. Create a photo book for a grandchild. When my children were expecting their first child, I made an alphabet photo book for them. I included things like: "A" is for aunt (with photos of their aunts), "G" is for grandparents (with pictures of my husband and myself). My daughters have told me that this has been one of their children's favorite books and they love naming everyone throughout the book.

I've since sent each of our children's families a book with three stories about their grandpa when he was a little boy. The following year, I made another book with stories about myself when I was a little girl. I use Shutterfly to create those books.
18.  Record yourself reading a book and then upload that recording to YouTube so your grandchild can hear your voice and see you reading them a story. After you've got your recorded story online, mail the book to your grandchild so they can follow along while they watch your video.
19.  Host parties for them when your grandchildren visit or you go to their home. Celebrate big by having an un-birthday party for them or some other themed party. What child doesn't like a party? My children often tease me for my over the top themed parties I host for their children every year. They're so much fun to plan, I just can't help myself! 
20.  Pray daily for each grandchild by name. Also pray for their parents to make good choices for your grandchildren. Prayer goes a long way. 
If you'd like a weekly e-mail of additional ideas to do for your long distance grandchildren, there's even a site that can help called Grandparenting From a Distance

How far away are your grandchildren? What things have you done to bridge the distance between you and that grandchild? I'd love to hear your ideas. xoxo Grandma

Books devoted to building relationships with grandchildren:
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