When my son, his wife and my four-month-old grandson moved to Perth from Cairns earlier this year I had this horrible fear that the next time I saw him would be when he turned 13 or, worse, 21. I didn’t want to be an ‘absentee’ grandparent and quickly set about ways in which I could keep in touch regardless of the distance.
Part of my routine over the last six months has been to record a video message on my phone, speaking directly to my grandson, and send it to him at the start of each day. I got the idea from a friend who could no longer afford the fortnightly plane ride from Cairns to Melbourne just to see her grandchildren.
Obviously Theodore is a bit young to engage with me in a telephone conversation — and part of me wonders how technology will advance over the years and if the telephone will still exist by the time he is able to — but I want him to know grandpa cares. He mightn’t be able to tell me about his day, yet I can tell him about mine and in doing so he becomes familiar with my voice.
I’ve taken advantage of technology too. Skype, FaceTime and other types of video calls are amazing things!
My son and daughter-in-law have told me about the books they are reading to Theodore at bedtime and so once a week I’ll settle down in my recliner with the lamp lit over my shoulder and read him a story, while my son holds a tablet or the phone with my face on it over the bed. Sounds terrifying, but just as if I were in the room he nods off within minutes.
Another thing I’ve started doing since Theodore was born is writing, which will develop as he gets older. Remembering things like first words, or how I felt when my son told me I was going to be a grandfather, things that are out of the ordinary, random bits and pieces…
Your grandchildren might be much older, so you might want to engage in activities that increase the bonding process. Children’s lives change quickly and as a long distance grandparent you might feel at a loss trying to keep up with the day-to-day.
Have you considered the ‘ancient art’ of letter writing? You could write letters to your grandchildren and encourage them to write back to you, even get them to illustrate their thoughts and feelings if that’s where their creativity takes them. You could reproduce the drawings on t-shirts, mugs or stationery.
If your grandchildren are into games, why not join them. You can do sodoku, word jumbles and even jigsaw puzzles online. You might even want to play quiz games, like 20 questions, on e-mail with the continuous back and forth keeping the lines of communication open.
It’s increasingly common for grandparents and grandchildren to be separated by distance, but as grandparents we should not let this discourage us. Hope for a strong bond with faraway grandchildren doesn’t have to be bleak.