You never feel the sting of living far away from family quite like you do when you’re a new parent. Visits never seem to be as frequent as you’d like and holidays are often too far apart. We live twelve hours away from one set of grandparents and have to hop on a plane for six hours to get to the others. So, ever since our son Lincoln was born two years ago, we’ve been trying to find ways to keep him connected with the people we care about most.
Whether you’re three or thirty hours away from the grandparents, here are some ideas to keep you connected all year long.
Video Calls: Since having my first baby I’ve started almost exclusively calling my own mom on FaceTime. It means Lincoln can see her face while we chat and often they spend a few minutes of the call talking themselves. My mom does a great job interacting directly with my son on the video call so he feels included and always looks forward to FaceTiming.
Create FaceTime Routines: Consider having there be things you do every time you’re on FaceTime with the grandparents. For example, you could end the call with grandma singing “itsy bitsy spider” or another favorite nursery rhyme. However you spend the call, give the grandparents time to talk to the baby just like they would in person instead of just having your child observe your conversation. Lincoln loves to practice his animal sounds for his grandparents and will often just ramble on, telling an unintelligible story. Encourage this kind of communication to get your little one excited about and comfortable with talking to grandparents. Also, this creates special memories and routines they will share with their grandparents that they otherwise wouldn’t have.
Make-believing: Kids start pretend play at an early age and this is a great opportunity to include long-distance grandparents in their day-to-day games. When my toddler first started holding the remote control up to his ear and pretending it was a phone, I’d ask him if he was calling grandma. We’d come up with conversations we could pretend to have with her over the phone. Similarly, when playing airplane (you know, while I’m lying on the ground and he’s ‘flying’ in the air on my upstretched feet), I often suggest we’re flying to New Hampshire to visit grandma and we talk about the things we could do when we get there.
Maybe in your family it’s tea parties and your daughter can pretend grandma is joining her as the teddy bear or it might be pirates and you’re setting sail to go find grandpa. However they like to play, keep the grandparents relevant by including them in your games of make believe.
Differentiate: If you have multiple sets of grandparents, consider having your little one call them by different names. One grandma could be nana while they other is simply grandma, or maybe one is pop-pop while the other is grandpa. As you can imagine, it’s a bit confusing for a little guy when grandma refers to different people at different times and different names will help him keep things straight.
If you’re looking for alternate names for grandma and grandpa, consider your family heritage. There are a lot of beautiful names coming from other languages that are easy for young children to say. Looking for something a bit simpler? Grams and gramps are still used frequently in the United States and Nana and Papa work just as well.
Remember though, ultimately what your little one calls his grandparents is up to him. For example, Lincoln calls my mom “gra” because grandma is a bit too much of a mouthful right now. Differentiating is more about what you are calling them than what he is calling them.
Display Pictures: Having photos around the house will help your little one remember Grandma and Grandpa’s face between visits. Even better than a picture of them on their cruise to Hawaii is a shot from the last time you were all together. Even if your child doesn’t remember the specific event, showing them a picture of Grandma and Grandpa with them smiling is a good reminder about how much fun they have together. It creates a feeling of trust in addition to familiarity for when you’re all back together.
When the pictures are up, reference them often. Remind your little one the names of the people in the picture and what was happening when it was taken. This is a great time to remind her how much Grandma and Grandpa love her and how excited they are to see her. Tell her stories of things you did together or the things you’re excited to do with them in the future.
Consider Photo Books: Similar to displaying photos, photo books are a great way to keep the memories alive and faces familiar between visits. You could create a book about your last trip to see the grandparents or you could create a book especially for your little one, featuring all the important people in his life. I designed one for Lincoln that had pictures of him as a baby, all his extended family members, and photos of him doing a few of his favorite things. It is so fun to pull this book out and “read” along with other story books before bed. Lincoln loves to point out the various faces and name the people in the pictures.
You’ve Got Mail: Everyone loves getting mail, even little ones. Encourage grandparents to send cards or trinkets through the mail for holidays or just because. If your child is too young to write a thank you card, coloring a thank you picture is a perfect alternative. We spend so much time coloring these days and Lincoln gets excited when I suggest we color pictures for grandparents or aunts and uncles (now, if I could just get on top of mailing them!).
I hope this helps narrow the distance between you and long distance loved-ones! I sure am grateful for the ways we’ve found to keep grandparents familiar even when the miles are long. It makes the reunions that much sweeter because I can tell that Lincoln recognize these people that love him so much!