How Grandparents can Foster Bonds Across the Miles
By Emily Stier Adler and Michele Hoffnung
Geographic distance has a major influence on grandparenting. About four in ten of the 224 grandparents we surveyed in our book Being Grandma and Grandpa had only “near” grandchildren (living within 90 miles), about three in ten had only “far” grandchildren (living 90 or more miles away) and the rest had both near and far grandkids.
Grandparents living near can sometimes be spontaneous and visit on a moment’s notice, while far grandparents don’t have that option. Distance adds another factor, but it isn’t insurmountable. Those fortunate enough to have the financial resources and time can visit their far grandchildren frequently, although advance planning with the parents is essential.
When visiting, bring your skills and interests to share –bake cookies, go fishing or otherwise engage actively with them. Fit in with the household activities as best you can and do not be surprised if the children want to spend some of the time with their friends while you are visiting.
Welcome your children’s families to your home – if they are willing and able to visit. Try to clear your schedule, cook family favorites, and identify events in the area that might interest them. Some grandparents organize a “grandparent camp” where grandchildren visit for a long weekend or week to the delight of all three generations.
Whether in their home or yours, a “grandparent box” of stuff that stays with you can become a special aspect of your visits. Favorite books, games, small puppets, stickers and craft materials were all mentioned by grandparents.
Grandparents can bring grandchildren on weekend trips to nearby cities or to week long vacations far away.
Technology is useful for keeping in touch across the miles. If one of the parents is your “liaison,” video chats with grandchildren are more likely to happen. Babies learn to recognize their grandparents’ voices and young children like to hear stories, sing songs together or watch a short grandparent puppet show. Older children can tell about their activities; grandparents can share information about their own adventures.
Living far away can make a family vacation very special. Gatherings at summer homes or rentals can enhance extended family connections. Grandparents can bring grandchildren on weekend trips to nearby cities or to week long vacations far away. Some grandparents take advantage of already organized trips focusing on intergenerational experiences.
Even if distances are long, grandparents can make the bonds with grandchildren strong.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Emily Stier Adler, Ph.D. is Professor of Sociology Emerita at Rhode Island College. She has published work on marriage, adolescence, political life, retirement, and grandparenthood. She has four active grandsons.
Michele Hoffnung, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology Emerita at Quinnipiac University. Her research and writing have focused on lifespan development, women’s roles, motherhood, and grandparenthood. She has six grandchildren.