How I Became a Long-Distance Grandparent
"The world is waiting for you." When I said this to my seven little kids, I didn't realize how quickly they'd respond. College and career opportunities took them to far-flung places. We now have twenty grandkids spread across the country in Philadelphia, St. Louis, Denver, Idaho Falls, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City.
How I Reacted And How I Coped
I feel blessed that our kids and grandkids get to live in beautiful towns, visit historic places and meet great people. While I miss having them close enough to visit regularly, I try not to dwell on it.
Our oldest grandchild is 13 and our youngest grand baby is 6 months. To help them get acquainted I created The Cousins Club. The kids all have membership cards, I wrote a club song that includes everybody's name and we have a quarterly newsletter. Each newsletter has a front page article about what each family is doing that season (vacations, sports, lessons, awards, etc.) Another article tells a story from our family history about something funny that happened when our kids were little (the time the boys tried to make a swimming pool in the bathroom, the time the dog got run over, etc.) The grandkids love stories about their parents' antics. I include a family recipe that's easy to make for a family activity, plus a picture and article about Oma and Opa (us) and how much we love them. Inside are some activity pages. Matching games with one list of grandkids and another list of interests help them find out about each other. I've gone online and created crossword puzzles and word searches, using their names and interests as the answers. I call and interview each kid to find out what they're excited about at the moment. I try to include knock-knock jokes, an idea for a craft or game and a page of family photos for coloring. I print the newsletters in black and white so it's cheap enough to send each child their own copy. I always include some lollipops in the package.
As president of The Cousins Club, I send a fun email to everybody announcing birthdays, anniversaries, etc. I forward articles or pictures of things they're interested in that I find in the newspaper or online, and email questions or contests that they have to respond to.
Our Christmas and birthday gifts are always books. I have little round stickers with a photo of Oma and Opa reading a story, with the words "For your collection." That way the kids remember what we look like!
We call every week and try to talk to each grandkid. Even if they just tell us they lost a tooth, or they're watching Dora, it makes us feel connected. I've written stories, made care packages, had an on-line Halloween parade, sent balloons with messages inside and put together craft supplies with a book of ideas for what to make. CD mixes, coded messages, and cards cut up into puzzles are all easy to mail.
- Look outward. Whenever I feel homesick for grandkids, I get busy with an Oma project—anything that would be a fun little token of my love.
- Take a positive approach. We don't demand visits, or get our feelings hurt when they take a vacation to somewhere else. It builds our relationships when we support the families with encouraging words.
- Use technology. I read books into a digital recorder and send it along with the book. I take tons of pictures to email, just to keep our faces in their minds.
- Pray. I tell my grandkids that we pray for each of them every single night.
- Have fun!
Susan Adcox, About.com Grandparents, says:
I love the idea of a Cousins Club. One of a grandparent's proper functions, I believe, is providing venues for cousins to build lifelong friendships. That is more challenging when they are separated by significant distances, but TravelinOma has some worthwhile and workable ideas, although they require a commitment of time and effort. I liked her comment that when she gets a little blue about not getting to see her grandchildren, she channels that emotion positively by creating Oma projects. How could a grandchild not feel connected to such creative and devoted grandparents, no matter what distance away?
For more tips and stories from TravelinOma, visit her blog. She's been blogging since 2006, and she blogs almost every day, so there's a lot to explore.