Long-Distance Grandparenting with Extenuating Circumstances

By Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell

If you cannot visit your grandchildren and they cannot visit you, all is not lost. Plenty of people in nursing homes or without funds to travel cross-country enjoy good relationships with their grandchildren. How? By taking advantage of other means of communication.

Telephone Time

People tend to be more intimate on the telephone than in person. There are no eyes to judge you and no distractions. Call your long-distance phone company to find a frequent calling plan that will include your grandchildren’s area. Or set up a regular Sunday evening phone date.

Teenagers love to talk on the telephone — especially if you talk about them. Ask about their boyfriends and their favorite new clothing style. Ask their opinions on movies and gun control and the President’s latest veto. They’ll appreciate someone who cares what about they think. Eventually, they are bound to get curious and ask about you.

Children love to talk on the telephone, too. Inquire about their friends and hobbies and what they had for dinner. Volunteer information about your day. Make up funny food combinations that you had for dinner, like octopus and cotton candy, and they’ll go wild. Tell them stories about how you rode on a giant singing caterpillar with red fur and purple polka dots. If you’re worried about how impressionable they are and fear you might be contributing to potential nightmares, confess that you’re just being silly. They’ll love you for it.

Be Pen Pals

Write letters that include stamped postcards for your grandchildren to send back to you. With any luck, they’ll jot down a few words before they mail them. Younger children will feel important when they get your mail, and they will enjoy writing important letters back. Older children might not show it, but they’ll enjoy the attention, too. Choose stamps that are fun and significant. If you ask your grandchild for specific information, such as what times they got in the swim meet this week, and keep sending stamped return envelopes, they are bound get the hint and write back. (If not, feel free to write a hint in capital letters.) Writing is a lost skill. With a little perseverance, you can bring it back.

Seeing is Believing

If you have a videotape recorder, you can send your grandchildren home movie messages. Ask a friend to be your camera operator. Or set up the camera somewhere, wave your arms, and talk a lot. Or you could videotape a walking tour while you talk, then hold out the camera, turn it around, and give them a kiss goodbye.

Letters by Ear

Audio tapes can be even more fun, because they are less threatening. It’s not such a big deal. You won’t be required to brush your hair or clean the room for your tape recorder. Just press “record” and start talking. Keep a running list of entertaining topics right next to your grocery list.

Younger children will love hearing your voice, no matter what you are saying. Teenagers will think your “audio letter” is cool and listen to you while they procrastinate studying. Or they can play your tape in the car when the radio has too many commercials. A tape can be heard by anyone, regardless of who it is intended for, so your grandchild might enjoy hiding out or listening in privacy with headphones. In fact, inexpensive headphones would make a good birthday gift. Encourage your grandchild to record his response and any additional ramblings right over your message on the same tape. You can use cardboard audio tape mailers and label them “top secret” or “for your ears only” to make them a really big deal.

Keep in touch!

Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.