My parents regularly tell me that the best thing I’ve ever given them was a grandson, and the worst thing I’ve ever done was to move him one thousand miles away from them.
It’s been three years since we committed the terrible offense of moving to my husband’s hometown in Texas. We’ve since added a second grandson for my parents to miss. But in all of this time, we’ve become something of experts at fostering a growing relationship between our two young kids and their adoring, Michigan-based grandparents.
So here are our tips for our friends out there who are also striving to keep their family feeling connected over the miles:
Be their tech-support.
Technology that works well makes all the difference in a long distance relationship with young kids: non-verbals especially. Your baby may not talk, but he sure can clap and smile and show Grandpa and Grandma his prized possessions via FaceTime or Skype. Both of my boys have looooved playing peekaboo over FaceTime: I put a blanket over the laptop, my parents say, “Hellllp! Who turned out the lights? Where’s Baby?” and then my little guy triumphantly yanks off that blanket, giggling himself silly as he does it. <—Highly recommend this game for grandparents to see that real laughter they love.
But back to how we even got to playing peekaboo via Facetime–just before we left for Texas, we pulled my parents out of the stone age by helping them pick out a laptop, purchase smart phones, and get WiFi working in their house.
Then, we taught them. It’s a lot to learn all at once for those who aren’t familiar, particularly our dear parents whose generation didn’t grow up with technology like ours did. Sitting with them and teaching them simple tech tasks is trying on the ol’ patience, but I try to remember that they taught me to use the toilet and all. ;)
With the help of user-friendly Apple devices, my parents caught on quickly (if mine can, YOURS CAN.) Get them using which ever brands of technology that YOU know best, so that if they call you with an issue, you can troubleshoot with them. Pro tip for those who need to teach older folks how to use their technology: put the device in their hands and lead the learning through questions.
Each time we visit, we look through their devices to ensure that their software has been updated and everything is working properly. We remind them to restart their phones and computer every few days and to not leave their laptop plugged in constantly (’tis not good for the battery, but they don’t seem to believe us.)
I, along with just about every other millennial mom out there, post regular photos on Instagram and Facebook of our life highlights which the grandparents LOVE. My husband and I also upload all the extra photos we take of our guys to a private iCloud album that only the grandparents can see and comment on. This way, they get to see more than just our social media worthy photos, they get to see all of the moments that I see fit to capture on my iPhone.
Make yourself available for frequent phone calls and quality visits. Here’s the recipe for availability: one part cutting back on excessive busyness (we all know what this means in our own lives) and two parts desiring a real connection. Make time for what and who matters. Don’t ignore phone calls. Don’t wait hours to text back. Don’t cut a visit short so that you can get back to the routine you’re comfortable with.
Make time to visit and be visited. Four weeks out of the year is a rule of thumb that works for us. Four one-week visits, two two-week visits, maybe even one long summer visit. Make it happen. Quality over quantity, folks, it’s what we’ve got when we’re living long distance from people we love so dearly.
We don’t have a house yet, but at the top of my list for when we do purchase one is: a guest bedroom. When you are only accessible via plane ride, you know that the expense of a hotel and/or car rental is more than you want your dear parents or parents-in-law to undertake. Plus, the more comfortable they are in your home and the less displaced everyone in your immediate family is, the better the visit will be.
Isn’t that true for any time you’ve visited someone or been visited? The more comfortable everyone is, the longer the visit will be enjoyed. There is nothing worse than wanting to dropkick your guests out the front door (for us, it’s not even because of the GUESTS so much as it’s because we have our kids sleeping in our room with us for X number of days.) So have a guest bedroom if you can, or make your kids’ room easy to convert into one. (A daybed with a pop-up trundle is working well enough for us right now.)
Be old-fashioned once in a while.
Mail a card. Send your kiddo’s latest scribble masterpiece. Hand-write a note. Bake cookies with your little one(s) and send them in a care package. Actually print out a photo for the grandparents AND for your little ones to see and hold. Put photos into an indestructible album for your baby. And if your parents are anything like mine, they’ll reciprocate tenfold and the kids will be THRILLED by trips to the mailbox because of it.
Grandparents make the BEST pen pals as your kids get older. My three-year-old loves thinking of things to put into envelopes for his grandparents. Just last week, he dictated the most hilarious note to them, signed his name, taped together two “airplanes” for them to ride to visit us, picked several little flowers and stuffed them in, traced his hand and (with a little help) his baby brother’s hand, and all of THAT was just last week’s letter.
For whatever reason you are distant, you need not be distant at heart. You, parents, are the key to the relationship that your parents desire and your little one(s) will someday cherish. Connect them.
What do you do to keep a vibrant relationship between your kids and their long distance grandparents?
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