By Bev and Phil Haas
I’m shattered that my son-in-law has taken a job that will move their family across the country. They’ve been living in the same community as us, and I can’t imagine not seeing my grandchildren every day. What am I going to do?
As grandparents with a grandson who lives in California while we live 2,297 miles away in Ohio, we are thinking how you’ve been so blessed to be such an integral part of your grandchildren’s lives. According to a 2002 AARP report, approximately 50 percent of grandparents live more than 200 miles from their grandchildren. And while distance will demand that your role changes, you can still be part of their lives. However, as you already know, your relationship will take on a different look. Previously your relationship with your grandchildren happened more naturally; now it will take more effort.
You Can Stay Connected
Psychological research shows that there is more to attachment than simply the amount of time parents and children spend together, and the same principle would apply to grandparents and grandchildren. Dr. Douglas Kramer, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin, notes that “the role grandparents play in providing a sense of continuity beyond the immediate household in which the child lives continues over time, across generations, and geography—whatever the distance.” Yes, physical contact is one element, but there are other ways to connect and create lasting bonds. It is possible for you to stay connected and continue to build your relationship with the grandchildren, but you will have to be more determined and find creative ways to do it.
Even if you are not a technology savvy person, now is a good time to learn. Consider that you are doing this for your grandchildren.
Blowing kisses and reading stories through an iPad are part of life and allow us to be involved in real time activities with our grand kids. We play online games together and we’ve even been part of a Fantasy Sports challenge. All of these build connections.
Once you are acquainted with technology, e-mail email@example.com to get free weekly
e-mail activities for strengthening long distance relationships.
Are there specific items that connect you and your grandchildren? For me, it was my grandmother’s Bible. Perhaps there’s something you want to send with them as they move away. My mom gave our son a cuckoo clock that he loved as a child. What is that special item for each of your grandchildren? Even with technology, what child doesn’t like to receive surprises in the mail? Write a note and perhaps add some stickers or a small gift. We love sending surprise packages as much as our grandchildren love receiving them.
Research confirms that attachments are best formed by being with one grandchild at a time. Each grandchild is different, so look for opportunities to do a special activity with each one, even if it’s a quick trip for ice cream during a visit. Pam, a good friend of ours, has a chest full of old clothes, and she and her granddaughters play “dress up” when they come to visit. Create memories during those priceless one-on-one times.
A more costly plan is a family vacation. Perhaps you’re able to rent a condo or home and invite everyone to spend some time together. Remember, when everyone is clumped together, special moments can get overlooked, so spend some focused time with each grandchild. As her grandchildren got older, another of our friends, Vietta, took trips with them. What memories they created. I (Bev) lived in a different city than my grandmother, and each summer I would spend several weeks with her. We developed a closeness that lasted a lifetime.
At our church we teach parents that their children need at least five influential adults in their lives. Even though you’ll be separated geographically from your grandchildren, you can still be one of those five influences upon them just as Timothy’s grandmother Lois was for him (2 Timothy 1:5). Are there children at your church or a local school that need you? Mr. Frank is such a person in Bev’s school. This grandfatherly man is loved by the children and his Christian influence is needed by them. He comes and reads with them on a regular basis. While it’s painful to have your grandchildren move away, consider what new opportunities God may be opening up for you.
Send your questions about family life to Phil and Bev Haas in care of The Lookout, 8805 Governor’s Hill Drive, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45249, firstname.lastname@example.org.We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Phil and Bev Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the parents of two children and they have two grandsons.