By Kathryn Graves, Crosswalk.com
Favoritism is something we grandparents want to avoid. When one of our children makes a move out of town with their family, the grandkids may feel that we don’t care as much about them.
The distance, along with everyone’s schedules, can make it difficult to visit often, and even FaceTime is just not the same as an in-person conversation. What can we do to make sure out-of-town grandchildren feel as valued as their in-town cousins?
Recognize the Potential for an Appearance of Favoritism
Modern families are much more mobile than in past generations—even those of thirty years ago. Technological innovations not only make it possible to work from home, it’s now almost common to live apart from one’s job location. And, few workers today—especially those currently under 40—will stay with the same career their entire adult lives. This mobility contributes to families living in far-flung spots around the country—and even the globe.
In these circumstances, sticking together as a family unit requires creativity and intentionality.
We usually don’t intend to leave anyone out, but it can happen, especially when we have multiple grandchildren. We get caught up in our daily responsibilities and activities—and before we realize it, it’s somebody’s birthday. We scramble to send an e-card and make a phone call promising a package is in the mail.
While we might think we salvaged the day, the child with the birthday may not agree.
Even if we never forget a special day, it’s still possible to go long stretches without any communication if proactive steps are not taken. This can lead to feeling less loved than a child’s cousins, and foster life-long jealousy between them.
All we need to do is peek into the book of Genesis in the Bible to see how favoritism can play out. Jacob and Esau were twins. Their parents each had a favorite, and ultimately it led to Jacob needing to go live in a distant country. Later on, Jacob treated his son, Joseph, with greater preference than his brothers—even making him a beautiful coat. Because of their father’s attitude, the brothers hated Joseph.
While we know God works all things out for our good (Romans 8:28) and our grandchildren’s, we don’t want to be a cause of misery and angst for them.
Here are some ways we can be proactive for our grandkids and demonstrate their value to us.
Establish a Regular Communication Schedule
“Regular” can mean different things to different people. For some, it may be weekly, while for others it seems more like yearly. Think about how often you speak to your local grandkids. Do you talk on the phone every day? Do you mainly just see them at family functions? Or does your frequency fall somewhere between these?
Whatever routine you have with your nearby grandchildren, you should probably increase the frequency with those who live farther away. Verbal communication takes on more value for these kiddos because there isn’t as much physical interaction.
Show Your Face
If possible, use FaceTime or another app so you can see each other when you talk. We want to be able to look at them, and note how they’ve grown, or a new haircut. This type of tool also enables us to watch facial expressions that help determine the mood of a teenager. And it can facilitate lip-reading to aid hearing and understanding a child who mumbles.
Knowing you desire to see them and their environment makes them feel special. The child can show you around while he talks. She can let you in on behind-the-scenes processes involved with creating a school project. I even know some grandparents who read bedtime stories to their small grandchildren over the phone.
However, this may not work as well for babies and toddlers. It can confuse a very young child if they can see you but not touch or be held by you. And a toddler might carry the phone all over the house babbling constantly, while your view consists of the ceiling, floor, and random other items sideways or upside-down.
Use Social Media and Text (with Parental Permission)
If your grandchildren are allowed to have a phone and social media presence, join them on it. Comment on at least one of their posts every day. Post pictures of your life that you think might be interesting and tag them. If you have pets, this can facilitate the picture sharing.
Make it a “thing” to post a pet picture each night with a silly or sentimental caption.
Send a morning text each day. Maybe include a Bible verse and a short message of encouragement. If you know a child has a test or other big event coming up, text a prayer for them.
Including emojis can make a child laugh when they’re down or feel more loved when they’re stressed.
Don’t Forget the Post Office
Just because we can communicate with our grandkids in cyberspace doesn’t mean they don’t still like to pull items addressed to them out of the mailbox.
One year we took on the challenge of finding and sending postcards from each of our travels. These cards are becoming more rare, and thereby more special. We had as much fun hunting them down as our grandson did receiving them.
Write letters. This is becoming a lost art. But somehow words flow onto a page when they stick in our throats. Ink on a page can almost magically turn into a hug.
And letters can be treasured for years. Have you ever discovered a stack of old family letters? Isn’t it eye-opening to read them? Your letters to your grandchildren can be the ones their grandchildren read—preserving your memory.
Send frequent cards. Set a goal for how often you plan to send cards, and then search for an event to match the date. The internet can turn up obscure holiday lists for almost every day of the year. So for example, if the day you plan to send a card turns out to be “4-Leaf Clover Day” find or make a card with a 4-leaf clover on it and celebrate. Turn the day into a card-worthy event.
Send packages. These don’t have to be limited to birthdays and holidays. Popping a surprise box in the mail with little goodies every so often is a great way to say a lot without any words.
Subscribe to a magazine. There are many children’s magazines to choose from. I selected Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse Magazine for my grandson. When I asked his parents if he liked it, they said he reads every page. And it’s just another reminder that Mimi and Poppy love him.
We sometimes take for granted the people we interact with every day. But when that can’t happen, visits become special. I’ll never forget the evening when my husband and I drove up the street to our son’s new home in another state. Our grandson was just about to turn two.
His parents told him we were coming, and opened the wood front door, allowing him to see out the glass storm door. It was late summer and hot, so they pulled up the lower half of the glass to let the evening breeze flow through the screen.
Our car windows were down, and halfway up the block, we heard little screams. As we rolled closer, we could distinguish words in the screams, “Poppy here! Mimi here!” Then we spotted our little guy jumping up and down in the light glowing from the foyer. While we parked and exited the car, Carson ran circles through the house, still yelling our names.
It had only been a couple of weeks since his family traveled through our city on their way to their new home, but you’d have thought he hadn’t seen us in months.
Try to arrange your calendar so you see your grandkids at least every six months, and preferably every three—especially when they’re younger. These are years you don’t get back when they’re grown.
If the family lives in another country, of course this is more difficult, but visit as often as possible. Even if your grandkids don’t jump up and down and holler, you can bet they are excited about spending time with you.
Focus on Your Grandchild
When you do visit, leave your cell phone in another room. Join your grandkids in the activities they love. Build a Lego set with your grandson. Play Barbies with your granddaughter. If you sew, bring new doll clothes with you.
Roll around on the floor with a toddler and play Peek-A-Boo. Go for walks and to the park or playground. Grab a basketball and start a pick-up game. Make time for board games in the evenings, or afternoons while younger siblings nap.
Search online for a project you can make or do with each grandchild while you’re there—and be sure it is something they are interested in. You might plan it out with them on the phone or by text message before you arrive.
And when the day is done, be sure to tuck them into bed and pray with them. Our grandson expects every adult in the house to take turns each night. Poppy’s turn is extra special because he makes up stories just for Carson.
My own kids only saw my mother about twice a year while they were growing up. And yet they were extremely close to her. I know it was partly because she made an event out of each visit—and they knew she loved them.
These ideas are just a starter-kit for you. Expand on them and accept the challenge to make your faraway grandkids feel as if your world revolves around them. Because doesn’t it?
Kathryn Graves, author of the book Fashioned by God, is a style expert, fashion coach, and Premier Designs jewelry consultant. She is also a pastor’s wife, Bible teacher, and holds a degree in Psychology. Kathryn helps women discover the source of real beauty in Jesus, freeing them to gain confidence in their personal styles. She is Mimi to three grandsons, and loves to play with color, both in fashion and interior design, and painting with pastels. You can learn more at KathrynGraves.com or find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages TeoLazarev