By Deb Howcroft
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in an impossibly short timeframe. I was prepared for self-isolation and even lockdown, with a bounteous supply of toilet paper and tinned tomatoes collected over a number of months. I was even prepared for the possibility of financial hits, having experienced that during the GFC. I was not, however, anticipating the loss of contact with my grandchildren.
Whether grandparents live on the other side of the world or around the corner, families have made the tough call to stop physical contact to protect their older family members from contracting COVID-19. Even grandparents in the same house are in self-isolation, cut off from the family.
But physical isolation does not have to mean social isolation. Technology already plays in integral role in family communications, binding families together in ways which would not have been possible just a decade ago. Usually, these calls are somewhat ad hoc, calling and hoping it’s a convenient time. But now these connections seem more important.
Thinking about the best tools and activities to maintain those relationships with your grandchildren while we are separated could be important to bridge the gap when we all come out of the pandemic.
Take a glass half full approach, and learn some lessons from grandparents who have learned to cross the geographical divide with their children.
Long-distance grandparents often become incredibly capable and creative with FaceTime, Skype, and other ways of connecting face-to-face. They have learned it is about changing their frame of mind to focus on the bond and the social connection, rather than focusing on the physical distance.
Guided by the age of the grandchildren, their interests, and the nature of the relationships, many grandparents have taken the same path during COVID-19. Separated from family, they have established regular meet-ups online to read books, play games or do activities.
The activities can be as high-tech or old-school as required; hangman can be played with pen and paper over video chat or using an interactive online App. Virtual birthdays, cooking lessons and family Zoom catch-ups are assisting the generations to enjoy each other’s company.
There are stories of grandparents assisting older children with lessons and homework, and being available for teenagers who are feeling the stress, disappointment and uncertainty for the year ahead.
Most grandparents will have experienced hardship or sadness – and the lessons of resilience and optimism will be important to share with grandchildren, and to support their parents who are dealing daily with an unnerving reality.
Long-distance grandparents must keep in mind that the parents are portals to their grandchildren. They must also recognize the anxiety many families will be experiencing, not the least helping the kids with their home schooling and trying to stretch the budget to put food on the table.
They may not respond well to suggestions of daily video chat – adding yet another task during the day. Introducing new ways to meet-up needs to be done in partnership with the parents, who are at the frontline at the moment.
Be guided by them and over time the reading, help with homework or playing games will become more frequent when there are positive outcomes.
There are plenty of ways that technology can help grandparents and their grandchildren maintain their special relationships and find new ways to strengthen that bond. And it will be a positive action we can take as grandparents, because I know we are all grieving at the moment.
It might take a while for grandparents to regain physical access to their families, so establishing these connections as routines now could be just what we all need to get through the months ahead.
Some ideas from the book:
Schedule a regular time that suits all family members, so everyone has something to look forward to, and that does not put extra strain on parents who are managing the upheavals brought about by COVID-19.
For younger grandchildren, seeing grandparents provides recognition and comfort that they are not really “gone”. And even for older grandkids, seeing each other can help grandparents feel more in tune with the other’s moods and surroundings, which helps when they seek out an empathetic “ear”.
What should I say?
Grandparents always express their love – don’t stop because you are not together. It’s important your grandchild learns they are loved by plenty of people as well as Mom and Dad.
Online drawing games such as Draw Something and Drawize are an alternative for primary school children and tech-savvy grandparents, and plenty of them are free.
Board games have been brought out of the cupboard during lockdown and families are rediscovering “new” old ways to play together. Almost any game will do! Let your grandchild choose their favorite board game. They can set up the board on their side and move the pieces.
This game could be a hoot! The I Spy “rules” can be adapted to match the age of the grandkids, or even have the older children helping their younger ones. This can be played with a webcam, with the grandkids picking an object in view in your house – make sure it’s not pointing at a blank wall! To make it a bit more interesting for older children, use a mobile device to scan around your room or the yard so they can pick an “I Spy” item from a 360° arc. If this is too hard, you might need to play Hot and Cold to track down the answer!
Grandparents who live a long way from their families have often already worked out that physical separation doesn’t mean they miss out on the fun. There are ways to participate in the celebration and even become part of the child’s happy memories.
Shop online together to find a gift that can be delivered to the child’s home.
- Grandparents can now open gifts “virtually together” on birthdays – schedule a time for the gift giving and receiving for all to enjoy.
- Even if the presents are opened offline, they can be shown at a later time, and connection made to the gift giver.
Deb Howcroft is a journalist and a grandmother of three young children. She is the author of Connected Grandparents: A practical how-to guide for ‘virtual’ grandparents – great ideas to keep grandkids entertained and connected to far-away family. Available as a Kindle book on Amazon.