Long Distance Grandparenting

Most grandparents agree that grandparenting is one of the most enjoyable aspects of their lives. And for many, being in close proximity to grandkids is one of the most important reasons why. Yet, for millions of grandparents, the reality is that their grandchildren live quite a distance away. Research indicates that more than 50% of grandparents live more than two hundred miles from their grandchildren. Alison Bryant, AARP’s senior vice president of research, notes that “a whopping 89 percent of grandparents think that engaging with their grandkids improves their mental well-being.”

A lack of meaningful contact can result in grandparents feeling like their grandkids will never really know them. Others grandparents feel like they are missing out on the best part of their lives and still others harbor mixed feelings in that they want their adult kids to be happy and successful but feel they are missing out, too.

Some grandparents have opted to move closer to their grandchildren. But for most that choice doesn’t fit their needs. Many have some of their grandchildren living nearby while others have grandchildren spread out across the nation or even the globe. So what’s a grandparent whose relationship with all of the grandchildren is of importance to do? Here are three basic suggestions.

1.  Get familiar with relational technology

A Grandparents Today Survey states 46% use a telephone, 28% are texting, 24% use video chat, and 18% connect via Facebook. Most grandparents have at least a passing knowledge of the basic social media platforms with more than 85% of seniors currently use some type of social media. However, just because it might be your favorite platform does not mean it is your grandchild’s favorite. And that’s the more salient point. Seniors seeking a closer relationship with distant grandkids must meet grandchildren where they are digitally.

Recommending new technologies is always challenging in the fast-paced world of technology.  For iPhone users FaceTime provides live video conversations. For families not using iPhones, the Messenger app from Facebook is great. Apps such as Marco Polo allow video messaging on your own time schedule when real-time communications aren’t always possible. With Facebook being so dominant in the lives of seniors, their photo album feature can be a great way of sharing experiences in photo format. And don’t forget the Covid-time favorite-Zoom- as a way to stay in touch.

Of course, the use of technology can be a controversial topic in itself so before you begin adapting and learning new applications discuss what is preferred and acceptable to the parents of your grandchildren.

2. Establish a scheduled contact time

Whichever technology you agree to use with your grandchildren, do everything you can to establish a communication ritual. Setting a predetermined day, time, etc. has a strong impact on staying close. Hit and miss strategies simply don’t work. One of the key reasons for that is that children like routine. Knowing when grandpa or grandma are going to reach out communicates a keen sense of valuing them and your relationship. Your reaching out is properly seen as intentional and therefore important. You made time for them on purpose.

Additionally, having a scheduled time provides for more engaging possibilities. Quick “how you doing” comments give way to shared experiences with them.

Age is a principal factor in choosing the most promising ideas. Why not coordinate the reading of a book together and sharing thoughts about what you both read in the past week? Or you can share a hobby, discuss the challenges, and progress you each make. My wife loves to bake. Consequently sharing recipes is a wonderful bonding experience. Just remember to keep the time consistent and the interaction focused on interests you can share together.

3. In-person visits with a purpose

A final recommendation is to try and visit grandchildren at least once a year. And while that goal can usually be accomplished without much trouble, doing so with a big dose of intentionality is best. It is easy to focus on visiting with your adult children and treat grandkids as a secondary focus. Social research has shown that children, to optimize their success in life, perform best with having 2- 6 caring, supportive adults in their lives. Who better than grandparents to help parents be those adults-intentionally spending time with each grandchild individually?

Grandparents are essential to influencing their grandchildren. Distance need not be a barrier to your vocation as an intentional Catholic grandparent when engaging these relational strategies.

Photo by Christian Bowen on Unsplash

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Dan Spencer III has been married to his wife Linda for 48 years. They are the parents of 4 married children and have 16 grandchildren. Dan is Catholic revert, author with Our Sunday Visitor, and national Catholic speaker. He has appeared on numerous national catholic media outlets such as EWTN’s The Journey Home, Vatican Radio, At Home with Jim & Joy, Catholic Connection with Teresa Tomeo and The Choices We Face with Ralph Martin and Peter Herbeck, discussing topics of concern to families including the role of parents in safeguarding their children. He is the co-founder of the Catholic Business Network, and the past Executive Director of National Fellowship of Catholic Men. In 2015, he founded Project Patriarch for men over 50 years old to examine the role of Christian grandfathers in the lives of their grandchildren. That project has now been integrated with his most recent grandparenting ministry, Legacy of Faith, which helps educate and equip grandparents, in collaboration with their married children, to spiritually influence their grandchildren and future generations to remain faithful to Christ. Dan and his wife are active lay leaders in their parish and throughout the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas for over 25 years.

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