Even spending a week at Grandma’s house can help strengthen relationships in ways harder to achieve during flyby visits, and compensates somewhat for distance.
Use the very technology that can drive you crazy.
By fifth or sixth grade, many children have cellphones, and younger kids may send messages via tablet or computer; they no longer require parents as facilitators or mediators.
So at least once a week, Betsy Buchalter Adler and her husband text their 14-year-old grandson, who lives hours from their home in Pacific Grove, Calif. “With a phone call, he has to respond,” she explained. “With a text, we’re not interrupting.” They keep their banter light and jokey, sometimes including memes and photos; he replies when he wants to.
“We want him to know we have his back, and texting is the least intrusive way to show him that,” Ms. Adler said.
Other grandparents mentioned using WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, FaceTime and Skype to stay in touch.
One caution: Parents set the rules for children’s devices, and we need to respect those. “We want parents to feel comfortable with the role grandparents play, and not feel second-guessed,” Dr. Dunifon advised.
Celebrate the events and interests that matter to them.
If the grandkids are not available to come to you, that doesn’t mean you can’t spend time together. The Lynches show up at games, recitals, concerts — whatever their grandchildren get involved in. They applaud, express their pride and take the kids out for a meal or treat afterward.
Entering children’s worlds works particularly well with shared interests. Ms. Reece confessed that her attempt to learn the video game Minecraft, a favorite of her 11-year-old grandson in St. Petersburg, Fla., utterly failed. But he loves taking pictures and sends her those he’s particularly proud of; they both follow a favorite photographer on Instagram. When they’re together, ordinary walks become photo excursions. The framed photos she sent as a Christmas gift now hang in his room.