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Staying connected to distant grandparents

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Bridge the miles with technology

How can you stay connected to long-distance grandparents or relatives? Not every family is fortunate enough to have local grandparents. For those of us living distantly from extended family, it can sometimes be hard to keep up consistent contact across the miles and through our busy lives between visits. Luckily there is technology. Technology - new and old - helps to keep grandparents connected with their grandchildren (and their children, too, of course).

Grandparents at ComputerIt happens that I live thousands of miles from my immediate family. Between school vacations and work schedules and high travel costs, we are not able to visit as much as we might like. On the other end, my mother is slowing up a bit and she's not able to travel as easily either. Between it all, keeping everyone in the loop can be a challenge.

Use new technology

Computer technology has advanced so rapidly over recent years. While my first personal computer didn't even have a hard drive, now I have one with gigs and gigs of storage space, multimedia (including a video camera), and more - and it's no where near top of the line. With this awesome technology - provided the other side has a compatible setup - distant family and friends can get updates almost immediately. For example:

  • Setting up explicit times for video chats are wonderful ways for grandparents and grandchildren to talk to each other while seeing each other. The idea of a remote grandparent can be pretty abstract for younger kids, and seeing them helps cement distant family in their reality. While nothing replaces a grandparent's hug, seeing each other and talking to each other in real time is pretty awesome.
  • Beyond just emailing messages and pictures or videos back and forth, setting up a private Facebook or MySpace page for family is a great way for everyone to share what is going on. Between uploading photos, status updates and the like, you can use discussion topics to plan activities when visits do happen and ask advice of family members.
  • Photo services that allow you to order, pay for, and specify a pickup close to the grandparents are awesome. Several times I have sent prints to the pick up store near my mom, then sent her a slightly cryptic message that she has something to get there. I can even have photos ready for her to pick up within an hour or two of taking them!

Use old technology

As wonderful as new technology is for communication, old technology still has its place. Mostly I am talking snail mail here. Everyone likes to get real mail. And scanned and emailed grandchild artwork isn't quite the same as the real thing.Establishing a letter writing routine between grandparent and grandchild is a wonderful way to encourage good communication habits and literacy in your child and maybe acknowledge relative technology comfort levels in the grandparent. While my father was sick several years ago, I got into a habit of writing a letter to him with my kids every week. It was part of our regular schedule and routine. Writing became a cherished bonding time for my kids, and receiving it became a cherished time for my father.

When visits do happen

Whether frequent or infrequent, when grandparent visits do happen, make the most of them. Give grandparent and grandchild some time alone together to renew their comfort level - but don't push it. If it's been a long time, and even though you may video conference with them regularly, don't expect kids to instantly fall back to the same comfort level they had at the end of the last visit.  Don't forget to take lots of picture so that when grandparent and grandchild are apart again, each will have plenty of reminders of the bond.Living distantly from immediate family has it's drawbacks, to be sure, but careful use of technology - old and new - help bridge the miles. Grandparents can be just a click away!

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