How to nurture relationships from a distance when you are a working grandparent
BY KERRY BRYNE, PH.D.
While almost 90% of Americans are grandparents by the time they reach the age of 65, first-time grandparents are typically in their early fifties, which means millions of people take on and transition to this new role, while they are still in the workforce.
In the US today, 4 in 10 grandparents report being in the workforce.
Grandparenting from a distance, whether you are retired or still working is challenging.
But if you are still in the workforce, you face a few unique challenges in your grandparenting, such as conflicting schedules (yours, the parent’s, and the grandchildren’s) and potentially limited time off to travel.
So what’s a grandparent to do when you have deadlines, 40 plus hours a week of work, and adult children who still need you too?
If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you might not be surprised to hear that I really believe you need to have a PLAN for Connection. It’s one of the key pillars of The Long Distance Grandparent framework I created for grandparents to help them nurture relationships from a distance (the other components are Partner, Prepare, Play and Preserve).
And it applies to working grandparents too.
If you are still in the workforce, chances are you have a more concrete routine for your day. You need to be somewhere at a certain time, and you know in advance when you might have an hour to spare. When you are working, life might be a little more scheduled, which can make it more challenging to schedule video chats with grandchildren.
But let’s use this structure in your day-to-day routine to add in Connection Habits. That is, plan for connection.
These are the things you do weekly, monthly, or annually to ensure you are spending time on the relationship when you can’t be in the relationship.
This might mean that one commute to work or lunch hour/week you commit to researching conversation starters to use when you get that coveted video call from a grandchild on a Saturday morning.
“Bringing someone else into the video shows your grandchild you are part of a social network of other people.”
Or spending one lunch hour/week preparing snail mail to send to them each month.
Whether your grandchild is into gymnastics, ballet, protecting the environment, Minecraft, or a huge soccer fan, you can find facts about any of these topics on the internet and use them to quiz your grandchildren about. Or just share some fun facts with them to let them know you are listening and interested in the topics they care about. Use your newfound knowledge in video chats or create fun and engaging snail mail to send each month.
Top tip: Be sure to keep envelopes and stamps at your desk. Schedule a walk-and-talk meeting with a colleague and head to the closest post office to get these monthly grand notes in the mail!
Use your work environment to connect.
Send photos of your desk and surroundings to show them what you are doing. Bonus points if you have a photo of them that just so happens to be in the background. You can turn this into a game by asking them if they can spot themselves in your office. Kind of like an I-spy game based on your work surroundings.
For older grandchildren, sending a photo of the framed picture with a short message about how their smile brightens your workday, goes a long way to creating a touchpoint with them during the times you can’t see or talk to them regularly.
Use your colleagues to connect.
Maybe you have a work bestie who is willing to take 5 minutes to sing Incy Wincy Spider to your 2-year-old grandson with you.
Or a fun and goofy colleague who will wear funny glasses with you to ‘perform’ a Knock-Knock joke for your 8-year-old grandson.
Bringing someone else into the video shows your grandchild you are part of a social network of other people.
Inviting teenagers into your work world is a great way to connect. Do you have a work colleague who is struggling with some aspect of parenting a teenager? Offer to ask your teenage grandchild for advice. I recently enlisted my long-distance teenage niece to answer questions from my community of long-distance grandparents.
My niece was more than happy to field these questions and her answers were so thoughtful and useful for grandparents.
For more ideas check out this podcast episode by Greg Payne from The Cool Grandpa podcast. He invited me to his show to discuss this very topic! (Using Work as a Connection Point)
We had a great chat – and I particularly liked how solution-focused we both were during our conversation in that we not only shared concrete ideas, but we built on ideas from one another. You can listen in here and be sure to check out Greg’s podcast, The Cool Grandpa Podcast. He has had over 100 grand guests and it will be of interest whether you are a grandpa or a grandma.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Kerry Byrne
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