Back in the day, grandparents got to watch their grandchildren grow up, and grandchildren got to know their grandparents. Today, though, many parents have to bravely go about parenting on their own. And many grandparents have to bravely love from afar. The good news is that technology is advancing, and many families today are equipped with technological tricks, such as webcams, digital cameras, and personal web pages, to keep grandparents and grandkids in touch.
Arthur Kornhaber, M.D., founder and president of the Foundation for Grandparenting and author of the bestselling The Grandparent Guide, has been studying the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren since the 1970s. “Technology is a blessing to long-distance grandparents,” he says. Kornhaber, a proponent of “business and technology in the service of the family,” has been involved in creative planning and business initiatives that foster family understanding and closeness—especially grandchild-grandparent relationships. “Grandparents must become computer literate,” he says. He emphasizes the need for long-distance grandparents to take advantage of technological advances in order to grow meaningful relationships with their grandchildren.
Some grandparents, however, are intimidated by new technology—and even resentful of the change. “I grew up with my grandparents in the home,” says Hedda Sharapan, Director of Early Childhood Initiatives at Family Communications, “but we have to make peace with the fact that the world is different today. We can’t go back, but there are some good things about moving forward. There’s a lot of new technology that grandparents can make good use of.”
Many universities, colleges, and public libraries now offer new technology outreach programs at a low cost to help older adults become comfortable with using computers and the Internet. For many families, this is a great solution because parents can post photographs and videos of their children on personal web pages, and even those long-distance grandparents who don’t own a computer can access the web pages at the local library at no cost to themselves.
“There are many ways grandparents can stay involved with and connected to their grandchildren,” Sharapan says. “But first, we have to let go of regrets. It’s a different world, and that’s okay.”
Here are a few tips for maintaining the grandparent-grandchild relationship from a distance:
- Cell Phones Get a family cell phone plan so calls between grandparents and grandchildren are “free,” and conversations don’t have to be cut short due to worries about the bill. Set aside time to talk on the phone every few days. Or, make it a nightly ritual for the kids to talk to their grandparents before they go to bed. Children take comfort in knowing that their grandparents are just a phone call away. And children and grandparents can develop very close and meaningful relationships by talking on a regular basis.
- Photo Albums In the same way that grandparents crave seeing pictures of their growing grandchildren, grandchildren crave seeing pictures of their grandparents. Making photo albums with recent and/or old pictures (and captions) can be a fun project for grandparents and a perfect gift for grandchildren. Children love to see pictures of their grandparents going about the business of their day-to-day life—cooking in the kitchen, weeding in the garden, working at the office, reading a book. Photographs give children a necessary visual of their grandparents doing the things they do.
- One-on-One Time When families get together, however irregularly, it’s a good idea for grandparents to spend one-on-one time with the grandchildren. It’s easy for children to get lost in the commotion when families get together, or for children to spend time playing with their cousins. But time should be arranged for the children to read alone with grandma, or go for a walk alone with grandpa. These intimate interactions between grandparents and grandchildren create lasting memories and sustain children (and grandparents) during the time they are apart.