Of the more than 56 million grandparents in the U.S., about half live more than 200 miles from their grandchildren. This distance creates a challenge for families who want to create a strong bond between grandparents and grandchildren. And even families that live close to each other may want to find ways to form better connections between the generations.
Grandparents can play an important role in the lives of their grandchildren. In some families, they are the caregivers; in others, they help make lasting memories through special visits. Grandparents pass on family traditions and give children the fundamental sense that they are loved and valued. Research has shown that when grandparents are involved with their grandchildren, even from a distance, all the generations are often much happier.
Grandchildren will value the memories of shared times for their entire lives. Visiting with them as often as you can is important, as is making the most of that time together. Here are other ways to build bonds and stay connected between visits:
Create photo books. Even young children like to look at photographs of themselves and the people in their families. Today, you have more options than ever before for creating personalized scrapbooks, photo books, and photo products, such as T-shirts or even quilt squares. If you are not sure how to start, talk with your local photo processing center for ideas.
Go online. Children and teens today spend a lot of time on the Internet. Although you might have mixed feelings about that, the computer is a tool for you to build bonds that last. Here are some ways to stay connected using the Internet:
Social media. Ask your grandchildren about joining their online groups. Some social networking sites offer family pages where you can post news and photos.
Video chats. Computers with video cameras, microphones, and Internet access make video "calls" easy. Talk with your children about setting up a system so that you can see and speak to one another through the computer, no matter where you are. Webcams also make it possible for family members to "attend" important events when they can't be there physically.
E-mail. The most basic form of online communication is e-mailing. Find out your grandchildren's e-mail addresses (if they have them) and send them short notes or fun photos.
Master the cell phone. In addition to talking, cell phones allow you to send photos and text messages to your grandchildren that they can access at any time -- good ways to communicate when you are in different time zones and talking isn't always possible. This is the way that they are staying in touch with their friends. You, too, can use this method to share your day with them or show them what you are up to.
Read books together. Find out what books your grandchildren are reading for pleasure or as part of their schoolwork and then read (or re-read) them at the same time. Even if you live far away, you can use Internet tools or just regular phone time to discuss the books.
Share hobbies. If your grandchildren have particular interests, find a way to share those interests with them, and don't be shy about sharing your own activities. Even if they don't fall in love with your hobby immediately, you are enriching their lives by letting them know that adults have their own passions, too. Sharing recipes in a family that loves to cook or keeping track of the birds or plants you both have seen are among the ways to include hobbies in your relationship.
Follow sports. Whether you create a fantasy sports league or simply share texts and tweets while watching a big game, following sports together is a lasting bond. If your grandchildren participate in sports, find ways to watch their games, in person whenever possible or through videos that your children take for you.
Create a memory book. Children and teens are often interested in their family history. Looking through family photo albums and keepsakes is fascinating to them. Make a shorter, take-home version for them with relevant facts from your family's history, copies of important photos and papers, and pictures of the special items and places that are part of your family saga.