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Shortcuts for Being Long Distance Grandparents

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Did I mention that I’m a new grandmother? I might be just a little proud!

My son has two boys fifteen months apart. Grandson #2 arrived four months ago and is a night owl with a major case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). “Sleep at night? Why would I want to do that?” the baby genius is undoubtedly thinking.

For my daughter-in-law and son, two boys in two years means two cribs, two pacifiers, countless diaper changes and scant shuteye. To me, it means 3,000 miles. That’s the distance I live from them, making me (along with 43+ million others) a long distance grandparent.

So far, I’m struggling to see the pluses. It’s not just:

  • The time difference between my home in Boston and theirs in Southern California that makes Facetime® so challenging.

  • The pricey airline tickets that allow us to go back and forth.

  • The 6.5 hour airplane ride and adjustment to a new time zone.

  • The pressure to make every minute count, be really fun and avoid conflict.

Here’s what I won’t be: that grandparent who’s a regular at her grandsons’ soccer games; their refuge after a fight with their parents; the fun host of impromptu sleepovers or ice cream runs.

I can’t be the backup if my son and daughter-in-law can’t find a sitter or the kids need a ride. I will always be the visiting grandma (not like their mom’s mom who, fortunately for them all, lives just one mile away).

While I am unable to grandparent the way I had hoped, I’m determined to be an integral part of their lives (and they, of ours), and somehow make the distance seem shorter. Of course, much of our plan is predicated on staying healthy and being able to travel. (I worry about what’s going to happen when we get older.)

So, here are some of my long-distance grandparent strategies:

Keep up the momentum.

See them as often as I can. If it’s too difficult for them to come to me, suck it up and get on that plane. Similarly, if it’s too hard for me to go there, they’re going to have to make the trip.

Stop comparing.

Yes, I have friends whose grandkids live in town or with them all summer at the beach. They gush about waking up and finding their grandchild has hopped into their bed. Or their ritual Sunday breakfast together at their favorite spot. It hurts, but it’s just the way it is. I will find or create intimate moments of my own.

Be honest with myself.

Being a long-distance grandma is not ideal. It’s okay to long for them, to wish they lived closer and to even be envious of friends with nearby grandchildren.

Shop ‘til I drop.

Spending money and paying bills is less painful. Why? We charge as much as we can on our JetBlue MasterCard® so we can accrue frequent flier miles and take free rides to California.

Leave the guilt card at home.

Reminding adult children and grandkids that I don’t see enough of them or I wish they would stay in touch more will just make everyone sad.

Plan alone time with each grandchild.

My father did that with me. We took trips while my mother was in school or writing her English thesis for her Master’s degree. Besides family trips, my husband has always taken each of our children somewhere special—just the two of them. That has been to England and Germany with my son, Switzerland with one daughter and space camp in Alabama with the other.

I have had one-on-one getaways with the girls. Trust me, they remember it and so will my grandchildren.

We don’t have to take the grandkids on a swishy trip away (although that would be fun). Just carving out time for my husband to cook with each or me to take a run with them one at a time or read to them privately. (Pat the Bunny has been highly bonding for my older grandson and me!)

Strategies for Staying Close

There are effective and easy ways to keep in touch with your grandkids. Here are three ideas:

1. Try technology.

Besides FaceTime and Skype®, send photos back and forth on a smart phone or play games or share activities online. One suggestion: the website Scoot & Doodle is a real-time collaboration app that uses Google Hangout™. You and your grandkids can draw or work together via voice and video.

2. Write a letter and mail it.

How many handwritten letters do you get? It’s exciting! Or send interesting postcards. 

3. Spend time with your grandchildren in meaningful ways.

Sure, buy them stuff, but also introduce them to things you love: your favorite childhood movies or books, cards, whether it’s Go Fish or bridge, or hiking, for instance. Show delight in their interests: board or video (ugh) games, gymnastics or, perish the thought, bugs or worms. Have them teach you some karate or dance moves. 

Some Resources


There are a myriad of ways to hone your long-distance skills. Search online for “long-distance grandparenting books” and you’ve got a veritable library.

A few to check out:

  • The Long-Distance Grandparent Survival Guide by Barbara Graham
  • Grandparenting at Long Distance by Selma Wassermann
  • Long-Distance Grandparenting by Willma Willis Gore

Online forums

AARP (although not specifically for grandparents)

Whether it’s in the same house, around the corner or thousands of miles away, being a grandparent is amazing. Over and over, I tell myself, “it’s not the distance, it’s the relationship.” It’s up to me to prove that right?

Guest blog post by Sally Abrahms


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