Long Distance Grandparenting
Words cannot adequately express the joy grandkids bring us and the sadness we so often feel when they live far away from us. When we experience what my friend Wayne Rice calls the “distance dilemma,” it does take more time, energy, and creativity to stay close with our grandkids. He also says distance can provide an opportunity to be “intentional about connecting with grandchildren and doing so with regularity.” Some grandparents take proximity for granted and miss great opportunities for connection.
Because we live in a digital age, it’s easier than ever to stay connected. This new generation of kids uses the internet, social media, Facetime, texting, and whatever the latest form of communication is to stay connected with their friends, so it’s time for grandparents to brush up on their media skills and keep connected. If it feels strange to you, it doesn’t to them. It’s their normal. Many of the experiences in the ideas section of this chapter work for long distance just as well as if your grandkids live around the corner.
No, the empty nest, as good as it can be, is not the time to step away from the responsibility and privilege of impacting another generation. Just the opposite. The empty nest gives you the opportunity to focus on passing your values on to the next generations. Long after you are gone from earth, your legacy will continue from generation to generation. Just this morning I was sitting in my chair in my thin place. I had done some reading and drank some coffee and was waiting for two of my grandchildren to wake up. I then heard the pitter-patter of their feet running around, and finally they came bouncing downstairs already full of energy and life. They both came and jumped on my lap. They asked if they could watch the children’s Bible app on my phone. Together we watched a fun episode about David and Goliath. Then Charlotte, age three, looked up at me, put her little hand on my cheek, and said, “Papa J, you are my best friend.” In that moment, I knew all was right with the world and that I would invest the rest of my life in those little best friends of mine, coming alongside to bless them, encourage them, and help them on their way.
I’ve never met a single grandparent who said that putting time and energy into their relationships with their grandchildren was not worth it. This seems to be the part of our legacy in the empty nest that we can most easily understand. Yes, your greatest influence with those grandkids may come after you have passed into eternity. You don’t have to be cool to make an eternal difference. You don’t even have to live in the same town. Nobody said it would always be easy, and some families find it’s more complicated than others, but your love affair with your grandkids gives you influence from generation to generation.
Practical Connection Ideas
- Vacation together. If you can, get away together once a year. Make it simple for your adult kids and grandkids. If the adult kids can’t come, invite the grandkids.
- Make Sunday family time. Some families have something like an open house for the family on Sunday nights. Have some fun food or a potluck.
- Start a cousins’ camp. How about establishing a yearly “cousins’ camp”? Invite all your grandchildren over for a weekend. Fun is what the weekend is all about. Play together and eat fun food. Spoil them. Allow them to interact with each other and send them home happy. Then take a nap.
- Take a grandparents’ trip. What about taking a rite of passage trip? At a certain age, take each grandchild on a vacation and let them help plan the trip. Just this one grandchild. It’ll create a lifelong memory.
- Make your home grandchild friendly. Have favorite foods for them when they come over. Depending on their age, have some special toys at your house just for them. A grandma’s drawer full of fun things to do is a good idea. Know what their favorite shows are and sit down and watch them together. Maybe have some popcorn or other fun food. Have a tea party.
- Create a grandkids’ fund. Maybe you can help with camp or school or a college savings plan. Help them pay for a mission’s trip. Grandkids are a great investment.
- Do projects together. Bake and cook together. Create photo albums, digital or old school. Play a continuous game together. Do some crafts. How about starting a family history project?
- Take them to church. Take them to church with you when you can. Stop by a donut shop before or after. Let them know you pray for them regularly. Get them one of the many Bible apps for watching age-appropriate shows on the phone, iPad, or computer.
- Use digital devices to connect. Keep in touch with your grandkids with email, Facetime, Zoom, phone calls, and texts. Share photos with each other. Send them inspirational YouTube videos. Watch a movie together in different homes. Share jokes. Join an online sports fantasy league together.
 Wayne Rice, Long-Distance Grandparenting: Nurturing the Faith of Your Grandchildren When You Can’t Be There in Person (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2019), 13.