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How to Really Stay Connected to Your Grandkids

The love between a grandparent and grandchild can be as precious as the love between a parent and child.

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Grandmother And Her Granddaughter Walking Together On The Beach In Autumn.
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My parents were an essential and ever-present part of my children's childhood. They were the ones we turned to for overnight care and last-minute emergencies. When my son was hospitalized for six days at nine months old, my father, my husband, and I rotated eight-hour shifts staying with him. We didn't even have to ask my dad — he just showed up. A 2018 survey by AARP found that 38 percent of grandparents provide some form of childcare. The roles of grandparents in their grandchildren's lives can vary dramatically from family to family.

Some grandparents struggle with empty nesting as much as the parents of grown and independent young adults do. Because they are not the parents, they don't have as much input into life-changing decisions made for their grandchildren, which can cause them a lot of pain.

Carla Gardiner and her husband were the primary caregivers for their grandson Lucas when he was eight weeks until he was 18 months old. Then her son and his wife moved their family from California to Idaho. Carla and her husband found themselves with a grandparenting empty nest. "My job is mobile, and since my husband is retired, we decided to move to Idaho to be near our grandson," says Carla. Now they are caring for Lucas and his baby sister, too. 

Elizabeth Goff lives in a small town in Texas with her husband. After her daughter became a teen mom, Elizabeth raised her granddaughter. After nine years, Elizabeth's daughter took her granddaughter away to live with her new husband. Elizabeth was angry and depressed. Elizabeth is still struggling with the empty nest and hopes that her granddaughter will choose to return to her home to live with her during high school in a few years. 

Judith Williamson, a retired Marriage Family Therapist and a grandmother of four (including my two grown kids), cautions grandmothers not to become too heavily invested in their grandchildren as a source of personal fulfillment. "As a therapist," Judith says, "I found it wonderful to see the sparkle in a woman's eyes when she became a grandmother. However, my job was to help a woman to hold on to her 'other' self. The one she had nurtured and developed for all of her life ... pre-grandmotherhood." Judith also says, "Because many women are still working when they become grandmothers, it gives them the sense of identity that many grandmothers did not have decades ago." My kids vividly remember my mother spending time behind closed doors on the phone with patients when she would come to visit us for the weekend. I was a stay-at-home mom, so I was glad they could see my mother working hard and earning a good living as an alternate example of how women spend their time.

For most people, grandparenting is a thrilling and fulfilling experience that is only a part of their lives, not their primary job. For some, being apart from their grandkids can be very hard — but others find their part-time roles are enough.

Donna Jefferson, a grandmother, has owned and operated Jefferson Communications, LLC, a family-focused publishing and media company, since its inception in September 1990. In addition to print and online media, the company produces annual family and consumer events. "As a grandparent, that thread of belonging to a family just got a little longer and a little tighter. There are little people made up of the pieces of the family we know. We usually see our granddaughters every two weeks or so." Donna is happy with the amount of time she gets to spend with her grandkids.

Virtual connections are lifesavers for grandparents who live far from their children and grandchildren. Zoom has proven to be essential to my friend Gail Yaksitch, who lives with her husband Fred in Long Beach, CA. Gail's daughter and son-in-law have lived in London since their first child was born. Now with two grandsons, four and two and a half, living so far away, Gail spends a lot of time video chatting. "They like to see the things they remember at our house, like their toys and the pool," says Gail. As difficult as it is to be away from them, Gail and her grandkids remain close virtually between in-person visits.

Bari Adelman, who lives in New Jersey, has one grandchild she Zooms with regularly. Because the baby is only 17 months old, Bari and her husband missed milestones in their grandbaby's life due to COVID-19 restrictions. Bari has found that her volunteer work at ImagineNJ.org, an organization that offers peer-to-peer grief support for children, allows her to focus some of her grandma love on young people who need help. 

For Chris Swindells of Chicago, Zoom was a lifeline not just with her kids but also with her circle of friends when COVID restricted their visits. Her daily group Zoom with her friends kept her going during the pandemic-long separation from her 5 grandchildren who live in Colorado and North Carolina. "My children want me to move closer to them," says Chris. "But I would miss my friends too much. I don't want to have to start over." 

The love between a grandparent and grandchild, especially when the grandparent spends many hours caring for that child, can be as precious as the love between a parent and child. I saw that kind of deep love between my parents and my kids as they were growing up. I found it comforting and reassuring to know that they were always just a phone call away for the good times and the tough times, too. A grandparent can be a huge part of a child's life, no matter the distance or the amount of time spent together. Like Gail Yaksitch and her grandchildren, love can be felt halfway around the world when it's consistent and strong enough.

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