It’s different today. To begin with, you probably don’t feel old enough to be a grand parent. Grandparents are really old aren’t they? Grand parenting is often associated with homemade cookies, lots of hugs, and in general spoiling the grandchildren. Grand parenting changes from one generation to the next. My grandparents were big and stern and opinionated and we always had to be quiet and respectful. My parents were more relaxed and available, but we still had to be quiet because grandpa was resting or didn’t like noise. The good thing is that they were always there and we always knew that they loved us.
What is new and what is different about grand-parenting today? Grand parents today are more important than ever. Other support systems such as school, church, neighbors and extended family members aren’t in evidence to the degree that they were when we were children. Family is and always will be important. Critics of the baby boomer generation have suggested that today’s grand parents aren’t interested in being tied down to family obligations, but studies show that this isn’t true. Even grown-ups who cherish their independence want to be in on watching their grandchildren grow up.
Times have changed. Families have changed. More and more families have moved away from their childhood homes. It is difficult to maintain a relationship when you can’t reach out and touch someone every day. Nowadays, most families (Karen Miles writes for Parenting (October 2000) are in long distance relationships with their grandparents. I am always jealous of the big families portrayed on television, especially when they all gather for Sunday dinners. Do people do that any more? I was lucky if I saw my parents and grandparents once a year.
People move for a variety of reasons: better job offers, warmer climates, or better educational opportunities. Once separated it is rare that they get together in the same way again. Distance tends to puts a strain on any relationship, no matter how loving it is. The basic role of the grandparent hasn’t changed, but maintaining a long distance relationship is something that has to be worked out. Grandparents are still needed as role models, playmates and teachers. Birthday and Christmas presents alone don’t provide the kind of support that a family needs.
How do you keep a long distance relationship strong? Ms. Miles had several suggestions wrapped around planned visits, phone calls, mail, picture journals, and using the internet. It all boils down to making the effort to stay connected.
Visits are important but they need to be more than arriving at the door step with piles of presents and disturbing the family routines. It is not a time for crankiness, criticism, and over excited children. Kids need to get to know their grandparents as real people, not just someone who is a pushover and always on their side. Visits aren’t always possible but frequent phone interactions, E-mail, texting, and visiting via Skype can be a personable way to stay in touch. And don’t forget that kids still love to get in mail. Keep in touch with postcards, monthly magazine subscriptions, frequent gifts of inexpensive arts and crafts projects, tapes of books being read for story time are all ways to connect with one another. The need for long distance grand parenting is hard for some people, but the use of new technologies can help make it possible. It is up to you to figure out ways to stay connected with the young people in your life.