Traditions for Long-Distance Grandparents

By Valerie
August 13, 2009

2013-08-03 18.11.12It’s been a flurry of activity and excitement for Carly around our house for the past 3 weeks. (Actually, if any of you know me personally, there’s never a shortage of excitement and flurry in our house). However, the charge in our house is different than the normal daily wattage.


Carly and I are Toronto-bound on the Saturday 6:25 am flight from Comox-town for our annual “pilGRANDMAge” to see Nana J.

Needless to say there’s been incessant talk about planes, the big city called Toronto, where we are going, what we are going to do in Toronto, a trip to the airport, playing “let’s pretend to go through the security machine”, buckling into our pretend airplane seats, packing our knapsack over and over again, looking through albums of Carly’s cousins and friends and of course, buying some special toys and books for the plane.

A big part of the excitement is my Mom’s contributions. This woman can build HYPE! As I see it, my Mom is the perfect long distance grandparent.

I just have to brag because just when I think she couldn’t do anymore, she does one small thing that has a lasting impression on Carly for weeks. In the last four weeks, these are the “little things” she’s done:

* 4 weeks ago: An envelope addressed to Carly arrives in the mail with a toy airplane with a note saying, “You are coming to Toronto on a plane to see your Nana J soon!”

* 3 weeks ago: a special message on the phone for Carly from her Nana J (they have an ongoing joke about who’s girl Carly is – Nana’s or Mommy’s) Carly just squeals and giggles over the message and asks me to play it over and over and over and over again.

* 2 weeks ago: Nana J sends a greeting card in the mail. Not just any greeting card. A greeting card that allows you to record a 10 second greeting followed by a song. Carly’s eyes popped and her jaw dropped and asks “how does Nana get into the card like that?” Carly spent hours opening and closing the card until thankfully it ran out of batteries.

* 1 week ago: Carly and I have been packing and unpacking her special knapsack, we’ve gone out to the airport to see the planes take off, we’re counting down the sleeps and the buzz around this trip is at an all time HIGH! I’m exhausted and we haven’t even got on the plane yet

Most grandparents and parents would agree that we’re always looking for creative ideas to grow and connect with our grandchildren. Long distance grandparents often feel a greater need to find special and unique ways to connect and creating lasting memories through the miles.

Here are just a few ideas as well as some links to great websites and books.

(an interesting note – there is very little Canadian content in the way of long distance grandparenting – hmmm… a future project perhaps?).

1. A picture is really worth a thousand words

We all know how much our children love to see themselves and their family members. Create a special book all about your grandparents, where they live, what they do when you are away and the visits you’ve had together. It can be as simple as a one page laminated collage of photos, a handmade scrapbook made by the two generations or a video to play on the computer or television.

2. Telephone Chatter – Listen carefully

Some kids love to chatter on the phone. But who can remember all the details? Think about keeping a special book by the phone about your grandkids where you can jot down everything from favourite food, genre of books, best friends, favourite sports/activities. Also, find out when special events are taking place and call after to see how the dance recital went, who won the final soccer game, and celebrating the success of lemonade stand to raise money for a worthy cause.

3. Standing Out with your Special “Signature”

Maybe it’s a different name or a special sticker applied to notes in the mail. Or perhaps you have a standing cyberspace date every Sunday where you do instant email chatting or use the WEBCAM? Developing your personal Grandparent brand will start a unique family tradition that your grandchildren will remember well into their teens.

I still have memories of my Bobba Cumming’s signature – it was nothing grandiose but it was special. He always went to the window and made funny faces at us as we were getting into the car. I remember being twelve years old and leaving the hospital where he was dying of prostate cancer and he said, “Make sure you look up at the window – fourth storey, second window from the left”. And there he was at the window making his funny faces as we got into the card. That’s pretty powerful stuff isn’t it?

4. Good Ol’ Letter Writing

Really, does it get any better than this? We all know how much we love getting mail that isn’t junk or bill related. I love it personally. It can be anything really – a postcard, a card, a piece of free gum – I love ripping open the envelope to see what’s inside. Grandchildren and grandparents alike will enjoy receiving some art work, a card just to say Hi, or a nice handwritten letter. It’s worth the effort and time.

How many of you still have cards and letters from your grandparents in storage or in a scrapbook?

5. Creating Hype Before and After your Visits has some fantastic ideas around creating hype before and after visits. Here’s just a few:

* Make a calendar and talk about what you are going to do each day of the visit – use simple pictures or cuts outs from magazine

* Draw up a list of things you want to do with your grandparents

* Before your visit ends, leave little treasures behind for your grandparents and grandchildren to find

* Record reading a story together either on video or taperecorder for after your visit. Your child can have their grandparent “read” them a story.

For now, we are off to the big smoke to enjoy Nana J LIVE in person!

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– Mike G., Nanaimo, BC