Work to build connections and memories with long-distance family

Photo by Kolleen Long Multi-generational bonds improve the emotional health of children and adults. Many families live 200 miles or more from grandparents, and itís important to build relationships through technology and face-to-face time. Here, three generations of a family spend time bonding while playing disc golf.
Photo by Kolleen Long When grandparents and grandchildren live far apart, visits to the playground together (like the one pictured here) are a rare treat. Parents can help children bond with long-distance family by utilizing phone calls, social networking and even snail-mail.

When our family moved to Berks County, we were excited to be just an hour from a set of grandparents for the first time since the children were in diapers. My husband’s parents live in Lancaster County and my own parents are much further, in North Carolina. We sorely miss the presence of grandparents in our daily life.

My family is not alone in this. Approximately 43% of grandparents live more than 200 miles from grandchildren, according to statista.com. However, the bond between grandparents and grandchildren is undeniably beneficial. Studies show these relationships improve emotional health for both generations. Children learn their family history and gain empathy, and grandparents enjoy seeing their family continuing through another generation. Who doesn’t benefit by having someone else to love?

I envy friends who have parents or in-laws­ down the street or in the same town, but have found ways to encourage a strong bond between my kids and their grandparents, whether they are a one- or ten-hour drive away:

Telephone calls are a great way to connect on a regular basis. Gone are the days when long-distance calls involved planning and strict timing. Thanks to cell phones, it is easy to call those out of the area to report news (like a first lost tooth or a hard-won “A” on a report card) and non-news (chatting about dinner plans or sharing silly pet antics) alike.

It is helpful to supervise phone calls when children are little and have limited phone skills but, now that my kids are older, I simply hand them the phone and walk away. Many people also like to use Skype or other video-calling systems instead of phone calls. This is especially great when grandparents want to “visit” with babies, who are obviously not up to phone conversations.

Social media provides excellent bonding opportunities, as well. In fact, I first signed up for Facebook in 2006 at the urging of my mother, who was anxious to see daily pictures and read cute snippets of her grandbabies’ lives. Facebook, Snapchat and the like allow interaction between generations, and savvy users can set privacy settings to keep children’s lives (and photos) private.

My oldest son loves to e-mail his grandparents. It’s a much faster process, of course, and has the added benefit of helping him improve typing skills.

“Snail mail” is a lot of fun, too, and worth the extra effort for all ages and stages. Trace your infant’s hand and feet or ask your preschooler to color a picture for Grandma’s fridge. School-age children can apply writing skills by letter-writing. To add to the fun, allow kids to pick out the perfect stamp at the post office. Friendly clerks can estimate how long it will take the letter to arrive, and then kids have the added anticipation of checking the mailbox daily until they find – oh joy! – a letter addressed just to them.

Grandparents are known to treasure letters and drawings from grandchildren. And their return letters are a treasury for children and their parents– giving a glimpse of daily life and often containing stories about the grandparents when they were children. My mother-in-law is known for slipping in small tokens with her letters: stickers of a favorite animal, for example, or a simple bookmark to encourage reading.

Of course, nothing beats actual face time with grandparents. It takes planning, but we make sure our children not only see their grandparents as often as possible, but that they spend one-on-one time with them doing simple activities and talking (no game systems required).

This past Friday, we elected to drive an hour southwest to visit the grandparents. My son, his father and his grandfather all played a round of disc golf in the neighborhood park, while the ladies watched ducks frolic at a nearby pond before exploring the playground. As we returned to their grandparents’ home for a meal, I enjoyed hearing the kids interact with this older generation, knowing that the time we take to intentionally build these relationships make for Fun Fridays and lasting memories.