Grandparenting From Afar

Grandparenting from Afar

*This article was written by Jerri Haussler, mother of Phil Haussler, MarbleSpark co-founder.*

When my two children were small, Dear Abby printed a letter in her well-respected advice column that I carried in my billfold for many years.

The gist of her advice for raising successful kids was to give them roots and give them wings.

I tried to follow that advice by encouraging my daughter and son to explore worldly adventures, as well as family connections.  At the time, I didn’t realize that would mean my grandchildren would never live close-by. 

A year and a half after my daughter graduated from college, she announced she was moving halfway across the country from the middle of America to start a new job.  Just knowing she would be two long days drive away was devastating!

Then my son graduated from college, got a Fulbright Scholarship, got married, and moved to Germany! After his year of studies, he moved six hours from home and finally settled 150 miles away.

My daughter and husband now have two beautiful girls of their own; and my son and daughter-in-law are raising three growing, rambunctious boys.

How have I dealt with this distance between families?  I can only tell you my experience, but will hope it may help you, if you are dealing with a similar grandparenting “separation situation.“  Here is my advice:

Tips on Grandparenting from Afar

Stay Healthy

Exercise and stay in very good shape. This may be the most important thing you can do, because when you only see them occasionally, you want to be actively involved with them every minute you are together.

Early on, I was down on the floor with building blocks or baby dolls.  Now, walking the dog around the block is one thing, but I also shoot basketballs or kick soccer balls with my grandsons and ride bikes and go on hikes with my granddaughters.

I cannot do these physically demanding activities unless I am physically active at home year around.  To accomplish this, I do yoga twice a week, walk the dog around the block every day, and ride my bike for at least 35 minutes three times a week.  My grandkids are my motivation to keep going.

Be Supportive

Allow your grown children to adopt a parenting style of their own and try not to give advice if they haven’t asked for it. (This is easier when they live a long distance, but might be good advice even if they are close.) You will be invited to their homes often, if you are a supportive, but not interfering, grandparent.

My husband and I try to see our grandsons every month or every six weeks.  I traveled to visit my daughter every couple months before my granddaughters were in school; now I try to see them three times a year.

What is that saying?  Fish and guests spoil after four days?  I usually fly there on a Thursday and come home on a Tuesday, or we drive and have other people we visit along the way to make the long trip worthwhile.

Teach Values While Having Fun

After playing outside until everyone is exhausted, spend lots of time inside reading books to them (when small), having them read to you (as they learn how), and playing games as soon as their small hands can hold the cards, puzzle- or game-pieces. If the grandkids play computer or video games, ask them to show you how.

In other words, challenge them mentally as well as physically, and teach them good sportsmanship and how to share, too.  Yes, this is also their parents’ job, but you can be a big influence.  I have added several games to my iPad that we all enjoy and although I am not very good at the X-Box games, my ineptitude gives the kids a laugh.

Keep in Touch

Whether you talk on a telephone or see each other on a computer screen, contact is important. As the grandchildren get older, you need to ask them about their interests.  They will be shy at first, but if you encourage them and build their self-confidence, they may even call (or text) you.

My oldest grandson asked me to help him with a couple of school projects last year.  One involved taking a stuffed animal on our travels and sending updates and pictures along our route.  The other project was to be his pen pal, so we exchanged several nice, long letters during the school year.

For several years, I wrote my granddaughters letters while at summer camps.  They recently got their own cell phones, so I have sent them a few encouraging notes lately, or just an emoji, so they know I am thinking of them.

Spend Time Without the Parents

If possible, stay with the grandkids or have them to your house once a year without their parents. This gives the parents some time to nurture their relationship and helps the young ones gain some independence.

I have gone to my son’s several times to stay during the school year and the grandsons have come here a few days in the summer for several years of golf/tennis/swimming.  Over the years, I have taken my sister along to both places to add to the fun.

Plan a Trip

If finances are such that you can plan a family vacation, do so. For the twenty years my daughter has lived on the east coast, my husband and I have met both daughter and son and their growing families every other summer for a week at the beach.  This is just the best time for all of us as we share responsibilities at a neutral site—and the seashore entertains us easily.

Love, Love, Love

Every family situation is unique, and some families don’t have the resources that we have had, but most of the families I know—in fact, most of the individuals I know—can always use a little more love.

I said earlier that staying physically fit might be the most important thing you can do, but as I finish this article, one thing seems even more important.  As their grandparents, maybe we all just need to love, love, love them!

Whether you live close or far away, this is the most important job of a grandparent.  Many smiles, kind words, lots of laughter, and oodles of hugs—those are the things that make for a good relationship and fond memories of fun times together, no matter the distance.  So have fun and just don’t pressure them for kisses!

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