When we announced our pregnancy to our families they were thrilled. However their excitement was quickly followed with concern. How would they as grandparents in Ohio, Alabama and Georgia be able to have the kind of relationship they had always dreamed off with their Texan granddaughter?
I know this is a challenge for many families so I wanted to share some ideas that have worked well for our family. Zenie’s grandparents have worked hard at establishing and maintaining a relationship with her and it is paying off. She loves them and talks about them daily even though she only sees each of them a few times per year. Here are some tips.
1. Skype: Between Skype and Facetime and all the other options Zenie does get to see and talk to her grandparents on a regular basis. It isn’t the same as being there but it sure helps. We always try to do a few virtual visits before an actual visit to help her warm up to everyone, this helps reunions feel smoother and the adjustment period is quicker when we visit.
Send a special gift:
2. Gifts don’t have to be expensive. Try to pick something you can give again and again. My mom likes animal cookies. She sends a box a few times per year. She will have me hold the package until her and Zenie are on Skype together. Then she will open a box and Zenie will open her box and they can have a cookie together. Plus every time Zenie sees a box of animal cookies she thinks about her Yiayia.
3. Make your Skype time interactive. Turn on music and have a dance party or read a book. My mom plays Dancing Queen via Skype and then when Zenie and her get together they turn it on and have a real life dance party. Read a book together when you are visiting, then read it a few times via Skype, then mail it or a copy of it. Zenie has a few books that she associates with her Yiayia because they read them together so many times.
4. Make a special book or photo album. My mom will takes photos of her visits with Zenie and laminates them or puts them together to make little books. Zenie loves getting these in the mail, and they keep her thinking about her Yiayia all year long.
Make the most of your time together. Try to plan a visit at least once per year if you can.
(A sample of laminated pictures and photobooks that Zenie has from her Yiayia)
5. Plan special outings. They don’t have to be expensive. Something simple like going to the park or library even the pet store can be memorable to little kids. If you don’t like to go out get a special book, puzzle or game that you can do together. Then send it how with the grand-child so that it will be a special memento of your trip. Or make something together, paint pottery or make a craft, the child can take home. During our last trip to my Dad’s house they painted pottery. Now she has this painted puppy to remind her of their time together.
6. Emphasize what is special and unique about your space. Zenie loves to go back to Ohio to see snow. Before her visit my mom will send pictures of snowmen and other things to get her excited. Zenie also loves playing in basements, something that we don’t have in Texas. When in Ohio we always get excited to go down the basement and play with toys some old toys that my parents have saved. This last trip my dad got a used plastic car that Zenie could ride in for $6 at the Goodwill. He sent a picture of it to us before our trip. By the time we got there Zenie was beyond excited to play. This made for a fun time and great memories for Zenie. Often she will say “Remember that car down in Papa George’s basement.” There is something unique to every geography and home that kids can get excited about.
7. Send a video. We don’t do a lot of videos for Zenie but we do let her watch little video clips that her grandparents send. Thirty second clips of the dog, a snowman or whatever help her to get excited about visiting, help her to understand who her grandparents are and remind her that they are thinking about her.
8. Keep family photo albums. Zenie loves to look at pictures. We let her do this on the phone occasionally but try to put them in an actual book that she can get down and look at by herself. She quickly learned the names of lots of family members who she had only met once or twice. You can also put photos in calendars or puzzles too or make a special cup or other item that your grandchild can use regularly.
9. Say family prayers and write cards. Every night before bed we recite a prayer together we ask Zenie if she would like to pray for anyone. We may ask specifically if she wants to pray for her Yiayia or Lollie. She often does and this helps her to remember them and remember that they are special to her. I also sit with her regularly we write out letters, thank you cards and draw pictures to send to her family who she doesn’t get to see.
10. Pick a theme. Themes help children build associations. When my mom went to Peru she brought back a little llama for Zenie. It turned out that there was an actual llama living nearby which Zenie thought was very fun. My mom has since sent a book and shirt with a llama. Now every-time Zenie sees a llama she thinks about her Yiayia.
As parents we want Zenie to have good relationships with her grandparents. We try to visit as often as we can and we talk to her often about her grandparents and extended family. These ideas have worked well for us and there are certainly many more. We would love to add your tips and experiences if you want to share.