Editor’s note: Originally written in 2016!
“Hi, Granny,” my daughter said in a mournful voice. “I’m feeling sick again.”
From the other room, I listened while my mother consoled my daughter and gave her some of the same medical advice I had already told her. After a few moments my daughter brightened up. “Thanks Granny!” she said cheerfully. “I always feel better after I talk to you!”
Then she handed the phone back to me. Even though we live 3,000 miles from my parents, I love that my children still have a great relationship with them. In fact, their bond is stronger than mine was with my own grandparents, who lived nearby.
For military kids who move often, living near grandparents is usually not an option. The pain of distance is especially challenging around the holidays, but including the grandparents in your holiday celebrations is possible no matter where you live. These are 15 tried-and-tested ways that military families keep in touch with grandparents:
Spend time together:
Visit each other. The best way to build a relationship is by spending time together. Even if the visits are once a year, this will build lasting memories. If you are stationed overseas, ask the grandparents to save up frequent flier miles or credit card points to visit. If you live in the US, use your own leave/vacations to see them.
Make a date. It’s easy to put off making a phone call or sending an email. Schedule regular phone calls or Skype sessions with the grandparents. Whether they are once a week or on special holidays, everyone will look forward to them.
Plan a Family Reunion. Sometimes the grandparents can’t take trips to visit their grandchildren scattered around the country. Make it easy by bringing everyone to them. Talk to your siblings about renting a vacation house at a convenient location and enjoy the time together. When we lived in Spain, we convinced everyone that the halfway point was Ireland, and we had an amazing family vacation there.
Share the big moments: If the grandparents lived nearby, how would they want to be involved in your children’s lives? Holidays, soccer games, recitals, and school projects are activities that grandparents miss when they are far away. Connect with them and share these celebrations.
Use technology to stay in touch
Share photos. Every mom has tons of cute photos of her kids. Grandparents would like to see those, too. Facebook and Instagram are easy ways to share photos with your relatives. If they don’t have accounts, send some by email or text message to keep them up-to-date.
Email. This is a quick, convenient form of communication for grandparents who have email accounts. Children in preschool or kindergarten can dictate a message for you to type, and older children can practice keyboard skills when sending their own messages.
Skype/Facetime. Skype is not our family’s most successful form of communication. I have four young children, so they all crowd the screen at once, scream, or run in circles. This makes a very loud and blurry conversation, but it has been a good way for them to see inside their grandparents’ house, discuss their memories of visiting the home, and share drawings or holiday decorations. You might also want the grandparents to read or tell a story. If the grandparents have sent something in the mail, open it together on a video call.
Facebook Messenger video chats. Messenger can be used as an alternative to Skype or Facetime if the grandparents don’t have those apps. It’s still free and in some places has an even better connection speed.
Facebook Live. Make a Facebook Live video of the next big game, trip to the zoo, or playing at the park. The grandparents can watch it anytime, but they can also watch it in real-time. If you don’t want it to be visible to all your friends, create a private group for live feeds.
Recorded books or stuffed animals. Very young children who can’t have conversations can still recognize their grandparent’s voice from a pre-recorded book or a stuffed animal with a recordable chip. (These are great for the military member in your house to record before deployment, too.)
For grandparents who don’t use technology
Phone Calls. The grandkids can call on a holiday, a time when they are feeling upset, or just to talk about the weather. Grandparents will always be glad to hear from them.
Send mail. If the kids won’t sit down to write a letter or draw a picture, send some of their school work. The grandparents will probably put the spelling test or book report up on their fridge.
Tell a story. One military spouse shared with me a fun project she does with her kids. They collect cards or magazine clippings, make a collage, tell a story about it, then send it to their grandparents. The grandparents add to the story and send something new back. It’s like having a pen-pal!
Send monthly subscriptions or care packages. My mom got our family a monthly subscription to a children’s magazine. The kids are so excited to check the mailbox and find it waiting for them. Kids can set up a similar monthly subscription service for their grandparents. It’s an easy way to let someone know you are thinking of them, without making frequent trips to the post office.
Photo books. These make perfect gifts for grandparents. It’s also good to keep some at your home. My kids love to flip through pictures of the last vacation we spent with the grandparents. The Shutterfly website lets you create your own photobooks. An app like Groovebook will send you a book each month with photos from your phone.
Find a way to connect with the grandparents at least once. If it has been a while since you talked to your parents, it is never too late to start. Ask your kids if they would like to try one of these ideas. When military kids build relationships with their grandparents, everyone wins.
Lizann Lightfoot is the Seasoned Spouse, a military wife who has been with her husband since before Boot Camp—15 years ago! Together they have been through 6 deployments and 4 different duty stations (including 1 overseas in Spain). Lizann spends her days at home wrangling their 4 young children, cooking somewhat healthy meals, writing about military life, and wondering where the family will end up next. She is the author of the book ‘Welcome to Rota,’ and of the Seasoned Spouse blog. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram. Find military encouragement on her Facebook page. Find inspiration for care packages, deployments, and more on her Pinterest page.