Long Distance Grandparenting
This post is addressed to new grandparents, especially those living far from their loved ones, which happens so often these days. When my daughter gave birth to a beautiful (aren't they all?) baby girl, Aiyana Makeda, two months ago in San Diego, I was of course ecstatic. Fortunately I was able to spend the first three weeks with family and share in the celebration of her arrival. But I was completely unprepared for how hard it would be to return home.
When I began to pull myself out of the despair of missing her, I found that writing letters (yes, actual paper and pen letters that go through the mail) made me feel closer to parents and baby. I wrote to mother, to child, to both parents. I shared my joy and hopes (and kept my fears mostly to myself).
Many of my peers have young grandchildren; most live nearby, but I am meeting others who are similarly blessed and challenged. My desire to stay close to my west coast granddaughter led me to the library for solutions.
The first book I located was Dr. Arthur Kornhaber's Grandparents and Grandchildren: The Vital Connection. The book is full of scientific research on the benefits, for all sides, of a close grandparent/grandchild relationship. Through his organization, Grandparenting.org, I found some helpful ideas for staying close across the miles, although most apply to children above the age of infancy.
His later book, The Grandparent Guide, contains a chapter on long-distance grandparenting. He also covers important subjects such as gay and lesbian issues, legal questions, grandparents raising grandchildren, divorce and religious differences. Though only 33% of grandparents live close enough to visit regularly, he offers some realistic advice. For example, daily contact, through technology, can make a big difference. (It doesn't have to be "high tech"; one grandma bought fax machines so children can send their drawings). Personal letters to children of reading age maintain the connection also. Children will notice the attention. Dr. Kornhaber quotes one ten-year-old: " My grandmother really loves and misses me... I hear from her almost every day... I know she cares."
There's also Doug and Robin Hewitt's The Joyous Gift of Grandparenting, full of fun activities from storytelling to music to building sand castles. Both books discuss "cybergrandparenting" and the how the computer can provide many shared activities, from making YouTube videos to playing games together. For grandparents who need to refresh their computer skills, many branches of NYPL offer a range of computer classes.
For entertaining children's books about this special connection, some of my favorites include Sally-Lloyd-Jones The Ultimate Guide to Grandmas and Grandpas and Abuelo by Arthur Dorros. A search on the NYPL catalog will reveal many more great titles.
Over the past two months I've learned that maintaining the connection across many miles is a very personal and constantly evolving process, limited only by one's motivation and creativity.
So, Mommy and I (Oma, Grandma in German) started finding some books we loved in common for Aiya. We both love Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton https://browse.nypl.org/iii/encore/search/C__Sblue%20hat%20green%20hat__Orightresult__U?lang=eng&suite=def She's heard it often, so she recognizes it when I read it to her over the "web", looking back at Mom with a huge smile.
As she grows, we're able to interact more online, though her initial excitement soon fades, since what's there is of course more enticing. But music and anything familiar always gets her attention, and Grandma's voice will always be familiar. And what fun it is to watch her progress!
One of our favorite songs is "Juanito" from Jose Luis Orozco's LIRICA INFANTIL cd's. (They are a bilingual family) I substitute "Aiyana" for Juanito (cuando baila...etc.) . I suggest you find your favorite songs to share in person and online.
Becoming a grandma has made me part of a network of friends whose children have also become parents. Few grandparents have the pleasure (and challenges) of seeing their grandchildren daily, so their progress constantly amazes us when we do spend time with them (in person or virtually).
In this forum I'd like to share some indisputable evidence of the value of talking to your child and including him or her in daily living activities.
Aiyana's little brother needed frequent medical check-ups for a while. One morning Aiya asked mom for a pen, and began a series of questions. "What did Omari eat today? Wait.....let me write that down". "How many hours did he sleep. wait a minute, I'm writing that down." etc. etc.
A friend's favorite moment was when he told his granddaughter, age 3, that they couldn't go to the park, because he didn't have the key to the apartment. She promptly went to a drawer and retrieved the key for him. He was stunned, and also glad he had taken the time to explain why they couldn't go out.
As I share some of the latest and best literature on how to maximize your children's (read, grandchildren's) brain power, please feel free to share some moments that amazed you also.