Sometimes I worry about what my grandchildren will remember about me. I don’t live near them, and I don’t get to see them often. Does this worry you, too?
In today’s world – with grandparents living far away from their grandkids, and grandparents often needing to work well into what should be their retirement years – what can we do to reinvent grandma and make good connections with our grandchildren?
In recent conversations with my friends, I have found that they all have fond memories of their grandparents, whether they lived near them or not. It has helped me to worry less frequently.
Let me share a few memories with you, along with five ways to connect with distant grandkids.
When I grew up in the 1950s, most families lived their whole lives near their relatives. Children grew up knowing their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and many other distant relatives because their parents continued to live and work in the communities in which they grew up, and they saw these people often.
During my early years, I lived near my paternal grandparents and maternal great-grandparents. Later, we lived several hours’ drive from them and did not see them frequently.
I especially have fond memories of my dad’s mom, Grandma Sadie, even though she never got down on the floor and played with me, and I can’t remember her ever reading me a story. We did occasionally play cards and watch television together.
She and Grandpa Wilferd were kind, hard-working, religious people and they never drank alcohol. They smiled a lot, had a huge vegetable and flower garden, and let us walk by ourselves to the grocery store and swimming hole a few blocks away. They had an interesting house with a cuckoo clock and a fully floored attic, filled with stacks of comic books.
Grandma Sadie was a terrific cook. She made the best Brown Sugar Sugar Cookies, excellent venison steak fried in butter, and would even fry the frog’s legs for us when we brought frogs home from the river. Before bed each night, she would give us toast and jam, sometimes with a little ginger ale, which we never had at home. Meals were eaten together and everyone ate whatever was served.
My Great Grandma Martin had a huge flower garden that covered the whole yard. When I was an adult, I visited the homestead and found that the yard was actually tiny, which surprised me – everything looks bigger when you’re a kid, right?
She made amazing raised doughnuts, glazed or sugared, and fabulous Blueberry Pie. If we didn’t behave, she hit us on top of the head with a thimble, so we quickly learned to do as she asked. The upstairs was unheated, but there were flannel sheets and feather blankets to keep us warm.
Grandma Sylvia, my mother’s mom, lived far away from us, and I didn’t know her well. She had a terrific laugh that my mother inherited and she seemed to always be up to something. I do not remember eating at her house; she generally came to our house for special dinners.
As you can see, most of my happy memories of my grandmothers revolve around food. Perhaps that’s why I love to cook and share food and recipes.
I wonder what my grandchildren will remember about me.
For one of my grandkids, I’m “the science grandma.” He lives far away and when I was able to go visit him before the pandemic I would bring a project or a science experiment to do with him. I’m not a scientist, and it probably won’t be long before he knows more than I do.
My grandson knows I am willing to help him catch bugs and that I know quite a bit about animals and the outdoors. Although I don’t like to pick them up, I’m not afraid of bugs or worms, and I enjoy fishing. I learned to love the outdoors from my dad, who was a sportsman, and I readily share my enthusiasm with my grandkids.
For the other grandchildren, I’m the one who loves to cook and serve them foods they do not eat at home. We love to make cookies and cakes together or cook simple foods.
We would go for walks and take my dog to the dog park. I’ve taken them to the children’s museum, the playground, the pool, and occasional plays or musical performances. I loved to read them stories before bed when they were little and listened to them reading when they grew older. We all miss this routine.
So, what can I do now to connect with my grandchildren, especially the ones who live a plane ride away? How do you maintain your connections? Here are 5 ways to reinvent grandma for distant grandkids.
Enthusiasm is contagious. It doesn’t matter what you are excited about – art, food, museums, travel, fishing or postage stamps. If you are thrilled and animated about a subject, your grandchildren will catch the “bug.”
Food makes memories, especially if it inspires multiple senses (taste, smell, sight, touch etc.). The camaraderie of making, smelling, and eating popcorn during a night of family activities; the fun of baking cupcakes and licking the bowl and the stimulation of awakening taste buds become embedded in the cells of young children. The mind may not remember the details, but the cells will remember the feeling.
You may think you aren’t a teacher, but you are one of the most influential teachers your grandchildren will ever know. They watch you and learn. Make a point of sharing your hobbies with them.
Do you know how to do finger knitting or wood burning? Can you teach them how to make a counted cross-stitch ornament? Do you know how to fish? Are you an American history enthusiast? Your grandchildren will likely be on fire to learn from you. Share your talents.
My neighbor starts communicating with her grandchildren in utero. That’s right. She telephones them and asks their mom to put the phone to her abdomen so she can talk to her unborn grandchild. She has an awesome relationship with each of them and I think these telephone conversations helped her grandchildren connect with her.
You may not be willing to go as far as telephoning your awaited grandchild, but after they arrive, consider using Skype or FaceTime to regularly connect. Early in their lives let your grandchild hear your voice and see you on the screen. When they get their own phones, text them daily to see how their day went. Play games with them on the Internet. Get them a FitBit and compete with them to see who can reach the most steps per day.
In today’s world, getting a card or a letter in the mail can be the highlight of someone’s day, especially children, who rarely receive mail. They learn how to manipulate a tablet computer or smartphone well before they learn to read, but they are less familiar with handwritten communications. Be different; send a physical card or letter, and ask them to write to you. Make it happen by gifting them each a box of notecards – with stamps!
These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg. What do you do to enhance your grandparent-grandchild relationships? Have you found any unique ways to make memories? Please join the conversation.