I Will Not Let This Relationship Suffer
BY KERRY BYRNE, Ph.D.
We were at the airport. My father’s face crumpled and so did mine. With his 2-year-old grandchild strapped to my chest and a long flight ahead of us, this wasn’t the first time I’d said goodbye to my Dad and headed overseas. But it was the first time I’d done it with his grandchild in my arms. I remember promising myself: I will not let this relationship suffer.
Fast forward 3 years.
I took this promise so seriously that I started a social mission business focused on keeping grandparents and grandchildren connected! And now, I hear from grandparents every single week with these sentiments: I’m worried they won’t know me; I feel so sad I’m missing out on this relationship, and I have this lingering feeling I should be doing more to stay connected.
I get it because this is my family’s reality. We have grandparents on different continents. And now, because of the pandemic, it’s a reality for millions of more families around the world.
But there are so many ways to make sure you are part of your grandchild’s life, even from a distance. It takes planning, persistence, and acceptance that even a minute of chaotic virtual connection keeps you top of mind and heart across the miles.
Here are a few ideas and inspirations:
Create connection rituals: Make up a unique way to say I love you or good-bye (e.g., if we grab our right ear and then touch our thumb to our heart, this means I love you). These small rituals make grandchildren feel extra special on a video chat – and then again when you do them together in-person. Now picture yourself doing this secretly across the room at their wedding!
For older grandchildren, do a yearly service project together related to their passions or yours. Are they animal lovers? Drop off old blankets and newspapers to an animal shelter in your respective communities. Do you have a budding environmentalist? Suggest you both head to a local park and clean up on the same day each year. These acts of service, carried out together while apart, create endless opportunities for conversation and connection.
Use snail mail to prompt another connection: Send fun quiz questions without the answers or a few jokes without the punchline. Ask them to call you for the answers. For older grandchildren, add in a sticky note to a cash gift and ask them to send you a selfie with whatever they purchased. The key is to give your grandchild a reason to get in touch and something for you to use as a conversation topic.
Preserve your virtual time together: Take screenshots of your video chats. The photos might be blurry, but the smiles will come through. Also, snap photos of yourself while video chatting with grandchildren. Ask parents to take photos on their end too. Use the screenshots/photos to make a personalized calendar or photo book for your grandchild. The moments might be virtual, but they will add up to a lot of cherished memories!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kerry Byrne, Ph.D., is an expert in care, connection, and aging. She is the Founder of The Long Distance Grandparent, a social mission business helping grandparents build strong bonds with their grandchildren from a distance. As a mom to 2 boys with grandparents living abroad, she is deeply committed to fostering meaningful connections between grandparents and grandchildren.