With a long distance grandma in Florida, and a closer but still a few hours distant grandma and grandpa here in Oregon, we’ve learned a few things about long distance grandparenting! Here are our tips and advice for helping your child keep close with a grandparent who is long distance and grow their relationship from afar.
Long Distance Grandparenting Ideas:
#1. Find a time for regularly scheduled FaceTime calls
This is both the best and the hardest tip to maintain. Especially if the grandparents aren’t retired yet or have busy schedules, it can be hard to find the time to do regular phone calls. And suddenly a couple months have gone by. We have found that with one grandparent, doing an evening phone call after work and before dinner is a good time to fit it in. Doing shorter calls more frequently is easier to do with young kids than knowing ok we’re going to get on this call for 45 minutes. In practice, this often looks like, my husband calling his mom, while I’m doing something else like prepping dinner or running an errand. And me FaceTiming with my mom and the kiddo, while my husband is doing something else. Not needing to have the whole family on is easier to keep up the momentum, for us.
A friend who also has long distance parents, calls them more often on the go. So they might be at a park or the beach and she’ll call them up and they’ll talk for 5 minutes and be on their way. Like oh hey we’re just at the river and show them around and talk a little and be done with it. This is a nice idea to fit calls into everyday life as well and grow their grandparents and grandchildren relationships in a ways they might miss out on unless you live in the same city. I’m definitely go to be trying this one more.
#2. Grandparents bonding through play – like a toys show-and-tell or reading
Grandparents bonding with grandchildren is harder from a distance. If you think about one of the top bonding experiences in person, it’s through play. So find a way to play over video.
One of the grandmas has a lot of toys still from my husbands childhood. She has mailed some of the items to us, and sometimes she shows them on-screen. She also goes to the local thrift-store and finds interesting toys or building blocks or trucks or whatever the last thing she knew he was interested in (from the weekly phone calls!!). So she’s buying these things from the thrift store and then she plays with them on the phone while we’re talking. Next-level long distance grandparenting you guys. lol You wouldn’t believe how fun he thinks this is. Especially when he was a little younger and didn’t really care much about this lady on the screen he didn’t remember. And it was a way for them to interact, which the more they interacted, the more he would remember her.
Another friend has one grandma who likes to call both sets of grandchildren and reads them a storybook on screen. Wow!
#3. Send low-cost gifts
The key to this tip is to keep it low-cost and high value to your child. Constantly receiving expensive or large gifts from a grandparent, or anyone really, can make for a more complicated relationship. You’re not trying to buy their love. With a low-cost gift that matters to them, you’re showing them that you know and understand them. One grandma likes to send little gifts a lot. I appreciate that it’s usually small gifts so it’s not adding too much extra stuff into our lives. But our child gets so excited! A $1 matchbox car or stickers sent in the mail can really make a difference in interest level. Not that your child needs to receive gifts from their grandparents to remember them. But it’s fun for them to open, and anticipate. A small gift is like “wow! grandma knows I like monster trucks!”
This one goes both ways. Yes, kids will be really excited to get gifts for grandparents. But you can send little gifts their way too. We usually save gift sending for holidays.
#4. Mail letters, cards, drawings
We go in seasons for this, but at the minimum, we try to do birthdays and Mother’s/Father’s day and Grandparents day. We also bought stamps and let our toddler pick out the design, so he gets excited to pick out the perfect stamp for his card. Toddler drawings are a bit wild and ridiculous, but grandparents generally like these. What I’ve found to make it slightly more fun, is to take a short video or live photos on my phone while we’re making the card. Then I’ll send it to them so they can see cute little mannerism or funny things they said or did while they were making the card. The other grandma really loves to send little cards and draw little things like birds or cats or a cut out of something taped to the card. He loves this and sets it up and says things like ‘My card from grandma!!”. So you don’t have to send actual gifts, if that’s not your style. Just something to know you’re thinking of them.
A tip from a friend is to write story letters. Her first grader sends stories back and forth in the mail with their grandpa and they write a paragraph and send it back. Such a creative and sweat idea.
#5. Talk about them in regular conversation
This one is really on us as parents. I try to make a point to talk about the grandparents in every day life. It would actually be pretty easy sometimes to not even mention them for weeks a time if we weren’t doing calls. But if it’s something you want to work on, just make a point to mention them. It doesn’t need to be a big conversation. And after a while it will come as second nature, even if you have to remind yourself at first. For example, “when I was a little girl, grandma would…”, “this color reminds me of grandma because she loves this shade of blue!”, “when dada was your age, granny said he…”, “I wonder what Granny is doing today?”, “What do you think granny is eating for her lunch?”, “I’m going to take a picture of you playing with that and send it to grandma!”
I also made a family book with each person or family group in our extended family on a page, and this was part of our bedtime books routine for a long time. And we would say “goodnight” to each person in the book.
#6. Your relationship with grandparents matters
Remember, your kid probably knows how you feel about your parents or inlaws. So if it’s important to you that your child has a relationship with grandparents, try to have a good relationship with their grandparent too. All situations are different, but the more you can repair, forgive or overlook past grievances the easier this will be. And boundaries. Your child is learning boundaries from you and how to set them!
#7. Plan real life visits!
And our favorite tip of all – getting those real life visits in! With one grandma all the way across the country, we see each other about twice a year. We try to go out to Florida once, and she comes to stay with us once. Some years it’s only one visit. Getting in person time with our special people is a priority. So sometimes that means postponing other travel. Traveling with a baby or toddler can be a challenge, and expensive. Another option is to plan a trip together. Last winter, my sister and I met with our kids for a week in the snow, and their grandma came for the weekend, since it was within driving distance. It was a memorable trip!
I wish you love and luck in growing your relationships! Do you have any tips for long-distance grandparents?