While nothing beats being in the same physical space as your loved ones, there are plenty of creative ways to bridge that gap. As one gransnetter says: "It's hard, but in these days of instant communication not as hard as it once was." If you've been forced to become a grandparent-from-afar, then why not read some excellent tips from gransnetters who've been going long-distance for a while.
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Face-to-face online chat using Skype/FaceTime/Whatsapp and Zoom is an easy, cheap way of ensuring you feature as more than a bit player in the lives of your grandchildren. Several gransnetters have ideas about how technology can help with staying in touch with long-distance grandchildren.
"We all have iPhones and we find that FaceTime is excellent for keeping in touch, as one can wander around whilst chatting. Our youngest grandchild is five; our oldest 23. They are all at ease using the iPhone, even the five-year-old who chats away quite happily. It is most definitely not the same as having them in the same country, but it helps I guess."
"We have recently bought fancy Skype cameras which enable us to clearly see the whole room on full TV screens both here and in Melbourne. We can also zoom in or out and pan around. It's a practical help, to keep us in touch with our rapidly changing two-year-old granddaughter, as is having regular catch up times and following the Aussies on Facebook. Thank God for technology."
One gransnetter had this creative suggestion:
"For the little grandchildren, my old linguistics professor has the right idea. He buys two copies of a children's book, then reads his copy to them on Skype while they look at their own copy."
Apart from the usual suspects, here's an app you may not have heard of:
"We just started using this free application called 'Moment Garden' to get real time updates on our new grandson Mark. Our son and daughter in law have created a 'garden' for Mark that is completely private and only available to see by invitation. We get an email everyday with any new photo about Mark or an update about him. It is truly the highlight of my day. We can also add 'moments' to Mark’s garden or send comments to him or his parents. It’s a wonderful application, especially important to me because of the privacy. In this day and age I prefer not to have my personal information all over the internet for everyone to see."
Another useful one is called Touchnote, which featured recently in our 'Top 10 apps for over-50s' page. It lets you customise cards with pictures from your phone, and the cards are then sent all over the world. Which brings us to the next tip...
It's rare to receive a letter these days, so the grandchildren will appreciate the novelty and hopefully hold on to them for reference at a later date.
"What I have been doing for about a year now is to send my granddaughter little gifts, cards and letters about once a month. Her parents read these to her and I have asked them to keep them for my GD to see when she's older so that she knows her grandmother was thinking of her even if she didn't see her."
"I am sending monthly books (free postage through the Book Depository) and I wrote her a letter when she was born that I want her to have when she is older."
"How about also writing some stories for them and illustrating them yourself?"
Whatever you send will be a reminder of you (especially if it's a nice framed photo).
Language barriers may be an issue if the grandchildren are growing up in another country, speaking another first language to yours. It's worth taking lessons in their language, because "not only will they all appreciate the effort, but the small ones will likely take great pride in helping Granny with the basics" (taken from The New Granny's Survival Guide).
The more familiar you are with the place, the easier it is to communicate with the grandchildren: "Become as widely-read on their new country of residence as you can, study the photos on Google and maps and use the web like you've never done before!"
There are lots of apps out there to make learning a new language easy and accessible like Duolingo so you'll never be at a loss for what to say whne you catch up.
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Even if it means becoming a long-distance grandparent.
Take, for example, the choice faced by one gransnetter: "I desperately want to live by the sea. In a couple of years I will be able to realise my dream but know that I will miss my daughters and grandchildren terribly. My daughters don't really want me to go, especially the eldest one, and of course I do provide childcare.
I worry I will be crabby and resentful if I don't go and who will want to see me then? But if I do go, I will be miserable and missed.
On balance, I think I must go and manage the consequences just as I would have to if my children had opportunities to move away and enjoy a better life. For me, I will be able to offer summer childcare, holidays and just as much love as ever."
Another user has a similar philosophy: "My way of dealing with having my two grandchildren living in the USA is to live as full and well a life as I can here."
You don't have to see your grandchildren every day to be close to them, so don't fret if you're not getting the same amount of time as the other grandparents. Your way of bonding with your grandchildren will be different, but that won't necessarily be because of distance.
"Children go through phases and your time will come. If you stay interested, you will find a way to bond and become the special person who shares something they care about and that they will remember for the rest of their lives" (The New Granny Survival Guide).
Share your thoughts with others in the same situation - join Gransnet if you haven't already.
"I would LOVE to get together with other grandparents in this situation as I often feel so isolated."
Letting off some steam on a forum can be a big help, especially when others are in the same situation. But you can also take it a step further and meet those you've been chatting with. Try joining your Gransnet Local forums and chatting with people in your area.