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Grandparenting from a distance

Hannah Jolliffe / 08 April 2020

Whether your grandchildren live far away, or you’re adjusting to the new social distancing measures, there are many easy ways you can keep interacting with them.

Grandchild on phone
Technology has made it much easier to stay in touch with grandchildren over long distances

It’s natural to miss grandchildren when you don’t see them in person, but you can still play an important role in their lives.

Technology has made it much easier to stay in touch over long distances. Take advantage of emails, phone calls and video calls, and consider using social media and blogs to share photographs and keep an online record of the children’s lives.

When Mary’s grandchildren went on a year-long trip to Europe, her son kept a regular blog for family back home. “The blog was wonderful for following what they were up to,” she says. “I missed them, but I looked forward to the blog being updated.”

If you lack confidence on the computer, ask a relative or friend to help you. It may seem daunting at first, but once you’re set up it’s no harder than using a mobile phone. Not only will it save you money, it will also enable you to interact in a more meaningful way with your grandchildren.

“My grandson was always good at waving and blowing kisses when he was younger, but now he’s older we can have proper conversations,” says Val, who has three long-distance grandchildren from two different sons. “Video calls give you a different way of interacting – the children can show you things so you can feel more involved.”

Read our tips for being a good grandparent

Use video calling to communicate

There are lots of ways you can make free video calls, try out one of these options:

  • Skype – the original video calling app is still one of the best and can be used on your phone, computer or tablet. You will both need the app installed to use it, then you can take advantage of free video calls and chat.
  • Zoom – similar to Skype, Zoom has become a household name during lockdown thanks to its ability to host up to 100 participants at once. If you have a free account you can host a group call for up to 40 minutes at a time.
  • WhatsApp – WhatsApp offers video calls with up to four participants. Quality can vary, so if your Wi-Fi signal isn’t great you might find it tricky to chat easily.
  • Facetime – Apple users also have the option to chat on FaceTime via their iPhone, iPad, Mac or iPad Touch.
  • Facebook Messenger – another quick and easy way to make a video call, simply find the person you want to call in your Facebook Messenger contacts list and then tap on their name and then tap the video camera icon, or set up a group to call a wider circle.

Making use of technology during lockdown

One of the positives to come out of the coronavirus lockdown has been the surge in online resources for children homeschooling and the many creative ways that people are interacting with friends and family online. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • Host a quiz – remote ‘pub’ quizzes are all the rage right now and there are loads of ways that you can host one and get your grandchildren involved. Simply write a quiz and then host it on one of the video calling apps already mentioned. Or, use a more sophisticated app, like Kahoot, and invite your grandchildren to join your quiz – a fun way to help homeschool them while their parents work, or simply to socialise with your family.
  • Have a virtual houseparty – the Houseparty app has been around for a while, but has risen to fame as people look for new ways to interact with friends and family virtually during lockdown. Take a video call to the next level by making use of the app’s in-built games, quizzes and drawing tools. One that will make calls with teenage grandchildren more entertaining.
  • Play a board game – if your grandchildren enjoy playing board games, check out Pogo, which hosts popular games such as Monopoly, Scrabble, Risk and Yahtzee and allows you to play virtually with friends and family once you have registered.
  • Watch a movie together – want to settle down on the sofa and watch a movie together? It’s possible thanks to Netflix Party, which synchronizes the video playback and also allows you to add group chat so you can talk during the film. If you don’t have Netflix, try Airtime.

Read our guide to making video calls on your iPad

Little ways to be a big part of their lives

When grandchildren are far away, understanding their normal day-to-day lives is crucial, says Val. “When you’re interested in the children, it makes the parents want to tell you about what they’re doing. I get pictures and videos all the time – like seeing Oliver’s new lace-up shoes for school. It’s good to get told things that you would know if you lived next door, not just the big stuff.”

Rob Parsons is author of The Sixty Minute Grandparent and founder of Care for the Family, a national charity committed to strengthening family life. “Those who grandparent at a distance are looking for ways to say to a grandchild, ‘I may not be there with you, but you are in my heart’,” he says. Here are some ideas Rob suggests:

  • Start an add-on story through letters or email. You write the first paragraph, send it to your grandchild, then they write the next paragraph and send it back to you and so on.
  • Organise a long-distance treasure hunt. Send small treats to your grandchild’s parents and ask them to hide them one by one. Give your grandchild clues over the phone or by email.
  • Remember that even in a technological age, children love getting things through the post – letters, postcards, little surprises.
  • Create scrapbooks of your visits – photographs, tickets, brochures, stories. Capture those memories to share later.

How to make the times together count

It’s easy to put pressure on the time you do have together, and one of the greatest difficulties can be too much expectation, says Rob. “We are so looking forward to seeing our grandchildren and we assume that they feel the same way. But especially if they are a little older, the thought of time with us may not be their idea of a good time. Try to not think about what you want, but about what will give them a good experience,” he advises.

“I’m not that worried about having a spectacular holiday, it’s just about being with them – that’s what I like,” says Val. Mary – who has two grandchildren in New Zealand – agrees. “Not ‘doing’ is as valuable as anything else. The important thing is the ‘being’.”

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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