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Keeping in touch: tips for long-distance grandparenting

By Marilyn HoffmanStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / March 14, 1983


Being a long-distance grandparent does not mean you can't be an important and influential person in your grandchildren's lives. A little time and thought can span distances and make for mutual closeness and enjoyment between grandparents and their grandchildren. And a little more ingenuity can ensure the nurturing and bonding of relationships that can go right on dispite the space barrier.

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"Realistically, not every grandparent can be close to every grandchild," write Arthur Kornhaber and Kenneth L. Woodward in their book, "Grandparents/Grandchildren: the Vital Connection" (New York, Anchor Press/Doubleday).

"In a highly mobile society," the authors write, "grandparents must also be mobile if vital connections are to survive at all."

So, they tell grandparents, "Plan family vacations together so you can spend long days with the grandchildren. Make it a rule never to celebrate a major holiday by yourself. Visit your grandchildren often and regularly. If space is tight, put up at a local motel or h otel. And while on your visit, get to know your grandchildren's friends; then ask about them later when you call or write. You might be surprised at their enthusiastic response."

Between visits, they say, "Write each grandchild individually, and avoid collective letters as the main means of communication. And whenever you can, send hand-made gifts....Children understand that what you make for them yourself is part of you, like heirlooms, and so are move valuable that 'store bought' gifts. And even though you live at a distance, think of yourself as a guardian of the young. Let everyone in your family know that they have you to rely on in a family emergency. And if the need occurs go immediately, or as soon as possible."

In his book "How to Grandparent" (New York, Harper & Row), Dr. Fitzhugh Dodson makes these suggestions for long-distance grandparenting:

* Children love getting letters and they get but few. So write letters, and include snapshotes of yourselves, your pets, scenes from your trips, or anything else you think they might like. Send then clippings, poems, sayings, and mottoes. Send colorful picture post cards, expecially if they are under 6. Cut words and pictures from magazines and paste them on a sheet of paper with your own printed messages, and be funny or whimsical.

* Write and send little presents to your grandchildren from his "secret pal." Even when the child guesses who his secret pal really is, he will delight in the game.

* Write and send a "grandparent newspaper" to your grandchildren and fill it full of little stories about them and about you. Type the stories, paste on any pictures you want, and have the whole thing photocopied. Could any child resist headlines like "Katie and George Will Go by Jet to Visit Grandman and Grandpa in Michigan" or "Katie Beats Computer" or "George Names Top Soccer Player"?

* Let tape cassetts add a special dimension to long-distance communication with grandchildren. Children can play them over and over if they wish, and can return the communication by make cassettes of their own. But since most children find it difficult to talk at leength into a tape recorder, parents can help out by interviewing them about their activities.

* Phone calls are another simple and effective way of maintaining contact. But an actual visit is the best way of all to get together with grandchildren.

The author's suggestions for visits include these: