If there’s one thing military families know about, it’s the strain distance can put on a relationship and how hard those “goodbye” moments can be for everyone involved. The same is true for grandparents. According to AARP, more than 66% of grandparents live more than a day’s drive away from their grandchildren. Though the miles between your parents and your children can make communication tougher, it doesn’t mean communication has to end. No matter how far your parents live from you and your children, they can still play a vital role in shaping your child’s character.
Susan Newman, Ph.D., and author of several parenting books said a recent study shows “as many as nine out of ten adult grandchildren feel their grandparents influenced their standards and morals.” The Legacy Project analyzed intergenerational relationships and found “in order for children to completely develop socially and emotionally, they need at least four to six involved, concerned adults to interact with them.
Military families don’t need an expert to tell them that can be challenging when families are constantly being uprooted. The unique lifestyle of a military family presents the perfect opportunity for grandparents to get involved in their grandchildren’s lives…helping lessen the blow of saying goodbye to a parent who is leaving for a deployment.
“I keep my relationship strong with my grandchildren by communicating with them as often as possible,” Kathy Olmstead said. Her grandchildren, ages two and four, affectionately call her “Gaga” and look forward to their Skype sessions with her. “Thank goodness for Skype!” Kathy said. “It is a heartwarming to see their precious faces, blow a kiss or wrap their arms around the computer screen or iPad.” Kathy doesn’t take a single second for granted when it comes to spending time with her grandchildren and sharing in all of those milestones that come one after the other as children grow. “Children grow and change so quickly. One moment they’re infants and in the blink of an eye they become toddlers. So whether it’s their first steps, riding a bike, going to school, dance recitals or excitement of holidays…its tough to miss out on the special events in their lives.” So Kathy doesn’t miss out. She travels to see her grandchildren as often as possible and if she can’t make it to a special event, she usually squeezes in a phone call or quick video chat. Her grandchildren love sharing their milestones with her just as much and often ask to call “Gaga” to tell her about school or riding their bikes.
Newman said interactions like that are crucial for young children. “The pluses and sense of security grandparents give can be monumental in a child’s life, but it can be difficult for grandparents to gage how much participation is appropriate and how much you want it.” That is why it is important for parents to verbally express their desires and show appreciation for grandparents’ involvement.
To make sure your child doesn’t lose the desire to keep in touch with your parents, Newman suggests keeping photographs of grandparents displayed throughout the house and allowing children to pick out greeting cards for special occasions, such as grandparent birthdays and grandparent’s day. And it never hurts to feed the ego: point out similarities between your child and a grandparent, such as an interest, physical trait or a talent.
Paul Olmstead is a great example to use when it comes to pointing out similarities. He is a wonderful artist and both his granddaughter and grandson love to paint, sculpt and draw, so he takes advantage of their shared love for creating works of art. Paul gives them drawing lessons via Skype and sends them art supplies and projects to work on in the mail. Most recently he sent the two of them a big book filled with tips on how to draw, because he wanted to see their faces light up as they told him all about their new techniques. Though the children are still perfecting stick figures and shapes, their talent will only grow and it is a passion they’ll all share as the kids grow older. But distance still makes it tough on everyone. “The toughest part about living so far away from my two grandchildren is not being able to be with them on a regular basis,” Paul said. “As fate would have it, each time they move to a new base it is farther away than the last one. So we have fewer, “in person” visits either at my house our theirs.” But that hasn’t changed the strong love his grandchildren have for him. They call their Papa often and he keeps them high on his priority list. “To keep our relationship strong, we take advantage of every kind of communication technology available: snail mail, email, texting, phone calls and Skype. I try to at least get a quick ‘Good Morning’ or something in every day.” Both he and Gaga love every ounce of their grandchildren, every fiber of their being and every giggle that comes out of their mouths. “There is nothing I appreciate more from the kids than just knowing that they want to have a relationship with me,” he said. “I believe really young kids appreciate having an adult in their lives who listens to them, cares about them, has fun with them and is not just another authority figure. I think they need people, other than parents and siblings, who they have a constant relationship with, someone who is still there even after they move again.”
It is easy to lessen the pain and heartbreak that come with the distance by giving your child’s grandparents something special to smile about. Celebrate Grandparents Day Sunday, September 7, by calling your parents and letting your children have a loving conversation with them. Enjoy free printable activities online to help your child materialize their favorite qualities about their grandparents.
Create a one-of-a-kind photo frame by taking your parents’ favorite photo of their grandchildren and using scrabble letters to spell out “I LOVE YOU” then insert in the frame. You’re sure to score a smile with this gift!
Let your child run wild with his or her imagination by painting a masterpiece for grandma or grandpa. Snap a photo of your child working on the art project and frame that right along with the artwork. It captures the moment and the masterpiece.