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“Building long distance relationships does take planning, but it’s worth the effort to create those joyful relationships with the grandchildren you don’t get to see all the time.”

In this world of nuclear families where grandparents often live far away, distance from grandchildren doesn’t mean that you can’t do things with them. We live in a fabulous world of technology where interacting with those grandkids that live too far to just drive over can be very easy! If you want to spend dinner time with them. . . Do it using technology!

My grandparents lived far away and we, as grandchildren, were encouraged to write letters to them or had to book long distance calls to speak with them. Who remembers those times? We did not have easy access to grandparents and sometimes several years would go by before we could afford a visit.  Fast forward and my sibling’s and my children also have the same issue with grandparents living overseas.  That is not unusual in our increasingly mobile society, where vast distances often separate families.

Building Long Distance Relationships

In an ideal world all grandchildren would live near their grandparents. As this is not always possible, the team at offspring, have gathered ideas to help grandparents build those special connections over long distance relationships, even when they live in opposite corners of the world. We have crowdsourced some of these ideas from websites like rediscoveredfamiles.com, sixtyandme.com and adventuresinnanaland.com. It is a bit like our own approach to group save.

1. Chat or Correspond Regularly

Children love getting things in the mail and receiving the funny meme, story, video by WhatsApp or messenger or text. My mother is currently a big user of the family WhatsApp group sending interesting articles, the odd joke and most importantly writing short messages to which she gets quick responses keeping her and her grandchildren connected. Cards, letters and small gifts of money arrive regularly in addition to the text messages. It lets them know that that their grandmother was thinking about them often and helped cement the foundations of a long distance relationship from when the grandchildren were very young. Corresponding often is the best thing to do and it doesn’t have to be long letters. Postcards, short e-mails, and even texts help you stay in touch.

2. Use Video Chat

Video chats allow grandparents living far away to see their grandchildren, watch them grow, and share their joys as they visit on screen. You can see and admire their artwork, new toy, or outfit. You can share jokes and talk about their daily lives. We often have “grandma to dinner” where she joins by video chat while we are having dinner as a family. She has a seat at the table and enjoys being part of the conversation. It is almost as good as a visit except you miss out on the cuddles. Though the hug emojis in the accompanying text, some say, can be a substitute!

Sometimes it can be awkward though….especially if you video call your teenage grandchildren without giving them advance notice and they don’t want to take your call just at that moment! Give them notice and arrange a time and they will make a point to look smart for you on the video.

3. Share Books or TV shows

With little grandchildren you could make a habit of calling at bedtime, so you can read your grandkids a bedtime story. If that isn’t practical create a recording. Sharon Harding writes in rediscoveredfamilies.com “My parents borrowed children’s books from the library and recorded themselves reading the stories aloud. My boys loved those tapes. They would ask to hear them time and time again and it wasn’t unusual for them to drift off to sleep to the sounds of their grandparent’s voices. If your grandchildren are older ask them what they are reading. Make a point of getting a copy of the same book and reading along. That way you can name the characters, talk about the plot, ask informed questions, or speculate about the ending.”

You could do the same of age appropriate TV shows and sport that you are both watching. I remember one set of grandparents sharing their take on “Breaking Bad” and various sporting events that they were watching around the same time as our teenage son. Finding some relevant connection can do wonders to build long distance relationships.

4. Play Online Games

These days technology allows you to play games with people across the world. You can play all kinds of online games with your grandkids at the click of a mouse. If you are using apps on your phone or on your computer/iPad you can play games like 20 Questions, Battleships, Scrabble, Bridge and other card games, Pictionary or, dare I say for the more adventurous of you grandparents, Fortnite!

5. Share a Common Project

Sharon Harding from rediscoveredfamilies.com also suggests that distance doesn’t have to prevent you from working together with your grandchildren on a joint project or challenge. For example, come up with a challenge like “draw (or photograph) 5 flowers.” Then share your pictures the next time you talk. This is very similar to the book and photograph challenges that are often shared by our friends and come up on our facebook timelines. You could do a similar thing working on a progressive story. Write the first paragraph of a story and send it to your grandkids, so they can add a paragraph and send it back. Keep going back and forth until the story is finished.

Or, maybe you can plant the same seeds in your separate gardens and report back as the plants grow. Similarly, you could open a child savings account and every year put some money away and encourage the grandchild to do the same. That way you could work with them to build a nest egg for something you and they value. Along the way you can also pass on your money saving tips.

One beautiful story I have heard is of a grandparent and grandchild duo video recording a line each of the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling over 8 years and playing it back on the grandchild’s 18th birthday. Now that’s a memento worth having!

6. Cook & Eat a Meal Together

An example that is shared on adventuresinnanaland.com is how a daughter and mother share recipes. They agree ahead of time what they are cooking and get all the ingredients needed to make the meal. At the designated day and time, they gather on Skype. They each cook the meal and talk while they do so.

This is a great way for parents or grandparents to hand down family recipes to those who don’t live close-by. After the meal is cooked, the family sits down to dinner. The meal then consists of eating and chatting just as if they were all in the same room. What a great tradition this has become for their family!

7. Share Your Personal History

Share your personal history with your grandchildren one story at a time. This will be invaluable someday. As a matter of fact, it might be fun to put these stories into a video and put it on a private YouTube channel or burn onto a CD that you can share with your family. One idea that I loved when I heard it was a grandchild recording an interview of the grandparent using the “Desert Island Discs” format and learning about their grandparent’s story using their favourite music as the background. Again, a great memento to keep forever.

Building long distance relationships with grandchildren brings great joy. Grandparents often joke that relationships with grandchildren are particularly good because you can spend time with them, enjoy watching them grow but without the responsibility of being a parent to them. Equally, many grandparents want to support their grandchildren financially and help them achieve their goals in life.

They often do this by giving grandchildren gifts.  But buying gifts for grandchildren can be surprisingly complicated and sometimes involve emotions and conflict – some parents might not want their kids’ grandparents to spend too much money on gifts, for fear of “spoiling” the children; or some parents might feel that expensive gifts have expectations attached.

To avoid any difficulties and ensure that every gift is received gladly as an expression of love, sixtyandme’s Margaret Manning suggests some ideas about buying the appropriate gifts for grandchildren.

8. Get advice from the Parents

As a first step, talk with the parents of the grandchild and get their advice on what they feel is a good gift. They will be able to give you the most current information about the child’s interests, abilities and play patterns. Children’s interests can change quickly, and the “must have” toy of six months ago might no longer be at the top of the child’s wish list.

Other grandchildren might just want money to make a purchase of something they like at a time they want it. And sometimes parents might want contributions towards a bigger purchase for their children or create a nest egg for the future.

This strategy of getting advice also demonstrates that you want your gift purchases to be supportive of their parenting choices and that you are not trying to be a distraction or add unnecessary clutter to the house.

9. Check the gift is appropriate

As a grandparent, the reality is that it has likely been a while since you’ve had small children living with you. It is advisable to research the gift and consider whether it’s safe and appropriate for kids your grandchildren’s age.

Fortunately, most toys have clearly marked recommended age ranges on the packaging, but you can also read review guides published in magazines or Amazon or other stores to see the best recommendations of toys for specific age ranges.

10. Consider Gifting Experiences

Instead of toys or expensive gadgets, think about giving your grandchildren an “experience-based” gift – like tickets to a sporting event, ballet lessons, a membership at the zoo or museum, or a subscription to a favourite game/movie channel. Ideally, it will be an experience you can share in.

Other types of “experiential” gifts might include sporting equipment, cooking utensils, something for their room, or materials for arts and crafts (depending on what types of activities your grandkids love to do most). 

11. Give the Gift of a nest egg

Everything is more expensive than it was when you were young – cost of living, cost of education and cost of buying a house. If you have the ability, without negatively impact your own lifestyle, you may consider regular gifting into a child savings account or investment account. It has the advantage of building a nest egg for them to achieve goals you may have for them. It could also have the benefit, over the longer term, on the amount of Inheritance Tax to be paid. You should always take appropriate financial advice if you are planning substantial financial gifts. A good source of relevant information is Money Advice Service.

As a grandparent the gift of your presence and your attention is one of the most lasting reminders that your grandchildren will have that they are loved and that they are part of a beautiful continuity of family life, reaching across the generations.