“Just one more, Nana, pleeeeeeease?” Even the poor image quality can’t hide my mother’s smile as my kids beg her to read another story over FaceTime. My mom is in Ontario and my kids and I are in Alberta. And while I love where I live, I can’t help feeling sad about the fact that there are over 3,000 kilometres between my parents and their only grandchildren. It’s important to me that they have a strong bond, and I’m not alone in that thought.
According to research by Ann Buchanan from the department of social policy and social work at Oxford University, kids who have very involved grandparents are less likely to face behavioural and emotional challenges, such as difficulty at school, anxiety and depression.
Arthur Kornhaber, a child psychiatrist in California and author of The Grandparent Guide, found that a child’s relationship with their grandparents is a “vital connection,” second only to a kid’s relationship with their parents.
Also, grandparents are a crucial link to cultural heritage for many families. Carolina Quintana-Kohut, a mother of one who lives in Calgary, says she maintains connections between her kids and her parents, who live in Halifax, both to build strong bonds and “to get my parents' help with the language and cultural components of our Mexican heritage.”
So, here are five great ways to keep your kids connected:
While video-calling is a standard of grandparent communication, technology is best when used in a way that feels natural. Kathleen House of Airdrie, Alta., says that her parents, who live in St. John’s, stock up on puppets, hats, books and other items to engage her kids during FaceTime calls. “The key to success with video chats has been that we make it as similar to an in-person visit as possible,” she says. “It's playtime! Not just sitting there staring at the computer.” Similarly, my parents make trips to their local library to get books to read to my children for a good chunk of uninterrupted grandparent-led story time. These sessions are full of adorable moments (and I get to have a shower or drink my coffee while they happen).
Of course, grandparents love hearing about the highlights of their grandkids’ lives—but they often miss out on being a part of them. With a bit of planning, however, it’s possible to let them in on these pivotal moments. Kris Peter, a Canadian living in Perth, Australia, says her parents made their four-year-old grandson a video for his first day of kindergarten as “a message of encouragement.” They told him how proud they were of him, and gave him some tips for school. “It was perfect, because just when we hit that worry point when [we] getting ready in the morning, I pulled out the videos. You should have seen the smile on his face.”
My kids are part of a very exclusive book club: every month, a special delivery arrives in the mail, courtesy of Nana and Baba. I keep my parents up to date on current interests (stars, bulldozers, sloths) as well as any titles the kids have particularly loved from the library. Sometimes they’ll put through an order from an online retailer like Amazon, but other times a personalized care package will appear loaded with treats, toys, photographs and handwritten notes. Somehow my parents even seem to know when I need a little pick-me-up (thanks for the chocolate, Mom and Dad!).
Photographs can be a powerful tool for staying in touch. Photo books are easy and fun to use for storytelling; many printing companies even have board book options for the littles. Online photo albums like Flickr and Dropbox offer a more interactive experience and can be shared and updated easily. Meg Sheepway of Thunder Bay, Ont., says that although most of her kids’ biological grandparents have passed away, “we have all their pictures on our walls and we use those as talking points. I really like that my daughters know where we came from, and know all of their grandparents by name.”
Children thrive on repetition, so the more rituals we can create and sustain, the stronger these bonds become. My four-year-old has a calendar in his room, and we put things like video-calling the grandparents on there so he knows exactly when to expect a catch-up with Nana and Baba. Johanna Hartgerink of Lakefield, Ont., says that her two children love receiving “cheesy greeting cards on every possible holiday” from their Kingston, Ont.-based grandparents. These are small gestures, but they give kids something to look forward to.
As I finish my cup of coffee, listening to my children giggle through their nana’s first and second (and third) reading of The Gruffalo, I have to remind myself that there’s any distance at all between us.