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When Grandchildren Move
Photo: Stacie Andrea
Careers and education often create difficult choices for families to relocate—within a state or across the country. Many grandparents face the reality of years of separation from their grandchildren or pulling up their own roots to follow their families. Often grandparents are not financially able to start over in a new location, are not ready to become dependent by living with their children and grandchildren, or do not have strong enough health to make the transition. It is with deep sorrow they wave good-bye or lose the privilege of living near their grandchildren.

How can grandparents cope with the many miles between them and the grandchildren they so love and want to have as a part of their lives? I offer a few suggestions that might ease the feelings of being discarded or forgotten:

Stay current with technology: yes, old dogs can learn new tricks. My dear father-in-law tackled the skills of e-mailing at age 85. Busy adult children and grandchildren will be more accessible by e-mail and digital photography use. Many senior centers and community colleges offer short courses in e-mail or photography. It is possible to stay current with family life in ways that allow you to see their activities. You will amaze your family, and learning new skills is a proven way to help your own mental abilities stay sharp. If you have two or three families to write to, consider starting a letter of your own, weekly sending it for additions to each child’s address and then back to you. You may also find ways to stay connected by asking for your grandchildren’s favorite TV shows and making a point to watch one of them, just so you can discuss the events together the next day—and you’ll stay current with their generation. Or you can plan to read a certain book together and discuss the chapters by e-mail. Think about how you could use video to share your hobbies and interests--reading chapters out of story books for small grandchildren’s bedtimes; grandma showing how to make some of her special recipes or instructions for crocheting, or simple sewing; grandfather’s best golf swing, how to pot plants, etc.

Start a long-distance collection or journey: Children ages 8-12 often enjoy collections and receiving additions. If you live near the beach, or fossil beds, you could encourage your grandchild’s knowledge by sending special items periodically. They could do the same for you if they live near special habitat or geography and you could supply the mailers if you know the parents are too busy. Forwarding interesting website pages will show that you are involved in their interests. Encourage an overweight grandchild by sending a pedometer and pick a journey: we will both walk across “Alabama” this summer and keep track of daily miles, posting where we each are on a map, and learning about towns along the way. Celebrate the goal with a gift ordered from that state or area.
Offer to take one child for a period in the summer: grandparents can feel overwhelmed if they think they have to invite two or more grandchildren to spend the whole summer. It might be best to take one at a time, or one this summer and another next summer. Consider the age of the child/children. Small children may do best if they have a sibling with them. If you are not sure what to do with the children and fear they will be bored, consider what activities are available in your community: VBS at any local churches, story time at the local library, a special class at the YMCA, picking fruits and vegetables, or a special event at the senior center. Make an investment in something extra fun for your home, especially if you have more than one grandchild—a four-wheeler, an aboveground summer pool, several new board games, or some craft kits. Special memories can be built around a project: making a birdhouse, sewing a small quilt, updating a computer or car, etc.

Consider a yearly family reunion: more and more families that are scattered around the country find special meaning in family reunions held at amusement parks, state parks, camp meetings, or cruises. If you do not know where to start, a local travel agent or website could give you some ideas and get some group rates. Holidays might be a good time to try this so that there is a neutral turf and no “favorites” for getting together.

Do a Birthday Update: especially if you cannot be with your grandchildren on their birthdays, send that e-mail or do a telephone interview with the child to find out how they are growing. “Happy Birthday, I want to know all about you.” Ask many questions: how tall are you, what size do you wear now, what is your favorite color, food, sport, music group, best friend, favorite book and movie, hardest class in school, etc. Most importantly, remember the birthday and Christmas with some kind of memento, even if it is just a small gift card to a store.
Adopt another grandchild: do for a child what you wish someone would do for yours. Many children are separated from grandparents or vice versa.  When our children were small, a close friend of my in-laws would sit near us in church and bring a little treat or gift for them. Her grandchildren lived far away and she made each week special for our children. My own mother sewed special gifts for a small girl in her church. Watch for small items at dollar stores, store sales or garage sales. Many private schools will welcome a grandparent to come in and read stories or just share lunchtime with select students.

Keep a sense of humor: my grandfather and I used to exchange funny letters in which we pretended to be American Indians. He would slip in some of his favorite activities, as would I with our imaginative personas. The 6-10 year old crowd often appreciates newspaper cartoons and jokes. Funny, smiling grandparents are nice to spend time with—whether it is in person or electronically!

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By Karen Spruill, M.A. Copyright © 2010 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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