Chester loved living on the West Coast. The mild weather suited him, he had a supportive network of close friends, and he adored his apartment with its view of the San Francisco Bay. The only thing lacking was his beloved grandchildren, Lydia and Harris.
Chester used to see his grandchildren almost every day until six months ago when they moved out east for his son’s work. Since the move, Chester felt a deep sense of emptiness and disconnection from the little ones whom he loved the most. While he couldn’t imagine moving from the West Coast at the age of 82, he longed for the close connection he’d had with his grandchildren.
Many aging adults, like Chester, experience the challenges that come with living far away from their grandchildren. If your aging loved one is struggling with living far from their grandchildren, remind them that physical distance doesn’t have to lead to emotional distance. In fact, in this day and age, there are so many wonderful ways to stay connected. In hopes of helping your aging loved one maintain important relationships with their beloved little ones, let’s explore some creative ideas for staying in touch with grandchildren from afar.
Staying in Touch with Grandchildren: Harnessing the Power of Snail Mail
When Chester’s grandchildren first moved away he planned to write weekly letters to them to stay in touch. After finishing the first one, however, he felt self-conscious about his penmanship. Not only did he have difficulty gripping the pen, he found it hard to stop his hand from shaking as he wrote.
While writing letters is indeed a wonderful way to maintain relationships with loved ones, many aging adults, like Chester, have difficulty writing. Luckily, there are many other ways to stay connected via snail mail without having to write long-form letters.
Here are a few fun ideas for staying in touch with grandkids via mail that will help maintain a connection:
- Send care packages: Who doesn’t like receiving a personalized care package full of goodies in the mail? Take your aging loved one on a shopping trip for little things their grandchildren will enjoy. It doesn’t need to be anything huge—their favorite candy, a cute little toy car, a storybook, and stickers are all great ideas (depending on the age of the kids, of course). For older grandkids, gourmet chocolate, fun fridge magnets, or decorative coasters are a few mail-friendly ideas. Encourage your loved one to write a thoughtful little note, then package it up and send it off. The kids will love knowing that their grandparents are thinking of them!
- Write letters together: If writing is difficult for your loved one but they express the desire to communicate through letters, offer to pen the letters for them while they dictate. Make a fun afternoon out of it with a nice pot of tea and some relaxing music. Your loved one will appreciate you taking the time to help them connect with their grandkids.
- Send photos: If your loved one enjoys taking photos, encourage them to get the photos printed and send them in the mail to their grandkids. The pictures can be of anything—from shots of the birds they saw on their morning walks to pictures of them with friends. Or perhaps your loved one has a collection of old photos of themselves and family members. Encourage them to send some in an envelope and write a note on the back of each picture. Grandkids will love learning more about their grandparents’ lives and can write back with questions. Plus, they can frame the pictures and cherish them for years to come.
- Create original stories: Sometimes writing letters about the goings on of one’s life can get redundant. So, to spice things up a little, help your loved one write stories for their grandchildren. Use blank sheets and a stapler to create a little booklet, and encourage them to get creative! They can even illustrate the story if they enjoy drawing or painting. If your loved one isn’t sure how to start, writing stories about experiences they shared with their grandkids can be an easy way to get going and help keep special memories alive. Plus, it’s also a way for grandparents to be involved in important milestones in their grandchildren’s’ lives, like learning to read!
Everyone loves receiving mail, and if you use it in creative ways, it can be a great way to stay in touch from afar. The downside, however, is that depending on the distance between your aging loved one and their grandkids, it can take a while for things to arrive in the mail.
Using Technology to Connect with Grandchildren from Afar
If instant communication is more your aging loved one’s speed, technology offers a ton of great ways to keep in touch without waiting for weeks for a reply.
Here are a few fun and easy ideas for staying in touch via technology:
- Set up regular Skype or FaceTime dates: Few things connect people more than face to face conversation. Today, Skype and FaceTime can make the distance between people virtually disappear. Encourage your loved one to set up an account and schedule regular dates with their grandchildren in which they establish a routine, like reading them a Sunday night story before bed.
- Send a weekly updates email: Email is a really great way to stay in touch and keep one another up to speed on what is going on in each other’s lives. Exchanging emails works so well because it’s easier to share one’s day-to-day experiences, which increases the feeling of connection and presence in each other’s lives. Writing a weekly email with updates or anecdotes can be a great strategy for staying connected via email—especially if the grandkids are busy
- Try Snapchat: If your aging loved one really embraces technology and has a cell phone, using fun apps to connect might be a really great option. Snapchat is a platform that kids of all ages will love because it is so silly. Grandparents and kids can take photos of themselves using funky filters that change their faces or add fun features (like dog ears and flower crowns). Sending the grandkids a silly snap with a little message will undoubtedly make them smile. If the kids are too young to have their own phones, send snaps to their parents and have them show their little ones.
No matter how your loved one chooses to engage with their grandkids, whether via mail or screens, it’s important to understand that maintaining these relationships supports their health and vitality. It is therefore critical that you help them break down the barriers that get in the way of staying in touch with their grandkids. Offering to mail a care package for them if they aren’t able to get to the post office easily or helping them choose a tablet can make all the difference when it comes to staying in touch. There is, after all, something so special about the connection between grandparents and grandchildren. And sometimes, distance can even have the power to strengthen that connection.
Institute on Aging offers a variety of programs that make it easier for aging adults to live and age independently, healthily, and happily. For more information on how we can help your aging loved one, reach out to us today.