Independence & Fulfillment Article:

Long-Distance Grandparents Can Stay Connected

by Jo Senters
AARP

When grandchildren live far away, grandparents sometimes worry about how to build and maintain meaningful relationships. But with a little forethought and creativity, you can play an important role in your grandchildren's lives.

The Healthy Aging Partnership - a coalition of 28 senior and health organizations in King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties - offers these tips for being an active, involved grandparent.

Relationships can be established through more than just personal visits. Send a photograph of yourself to your grandchildren. Ask their parents to place the photo someplace where even an infant can see it. Photos in magnet frames can be placed low enough on a refrigerator for a small child to see them.

Make an audio tape of yourself reading stories or singing songs so the children become familiar with your voice. Talk to them on the phone even if they can't respond yet. For older children, start a make-believe story and encourage them to add to it or finish it and return the tape to you.

Keep your image alive between visits by sending them videotapes of your everyday activities. One New York grandmother made a 15-minute video of herself playing with puppets and her two-year-old granddaughter in Los Angeles asks to see the "Grammy show" every night before bed.

Before planning a visit, determine whether it is more practical for you to visit your children or for them to visit you. Consider visiting not just on conventional holidays, when everyone's schedule is usually too packed for quality one-on-one time, but on smaller occasions that matter greatly to children.

Offer to babysit your grandchildren so your adult children can get away for a weekend or a vacation by themselves. Or, consider taking a vacation with your grandchildren. Ask about the things they are studying in school and plan a trip with them to see some of the places they may have heard about or studied. Do they know where you were born? Show them the town where you grew up.

If you take part in a family vacation, arrange some one-on-one time with each child. Spend time taking pictures while on vacation. Build a scrapbook together, including postcards and souvenirs from the places you visit.

Take every opportunity to connect on a regular basis. Schedule a specific time each week or each month to contact your grandchildren. Build the cost of long-distance phone calls into your budget. In addition to telephone calls, consider regular emails or online chats to communicate with older kids. Ask questions about their activities and follow up on their interests.

Keep a record of special events in your grandchildren's lives - not only birthdays but school activities, sports and anything that's important to them. For major events, send a few notes or even little gifts several times before the date.

When your grandchildren are older, let them know that they can always call you (and reverse the charges) if they want to talk. It's important for kids to have trusted older people in their lives who aren't their parents.

For more information on immunizations or on any other issue related to living a healthy life as an older adult, call 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464), HAP's toll-free information and assistance line, or visit the Web site at www.4elders.org. HAP and 1-844-348-KING are generously supported by HAP partner agencies, Puget Sound Energy and the Comprehensive Health Education Foundation.