Long-distance grandparents can, and do, feature prominently in the lives of their grandchildren. Of course, maintaining or building a close family relationship when you’re miles away from each other can be a challenge, but then again, family relationships in general are not always a piece of cake!

While nothing beats being in the same physical space as your loved ones, there are plenty of creative ways to bridge that gap. As one grandparent says: “It’s hard, but in these days of instant communication and quick travel, not as hard as it once was.”

So, in lieu of a working teleporter, we’ve rounded up the top 10 tips for long-distance grandparenting, complete with quotes from our astute users and commenters at gransnet.com.

  1.   Plan regular visits.

One of the perks of being a long-distance grandparent is the holiday atmosphere (usually) and the intense quality time when you do get to visit each other. Saying goodbye is hard, but, as one grandparent says: “It may be less difficult to say goodbye if everyone knows when the next trip will be.”

This requires a bit of planning to ensure that everyone is happy with the arrangements, and you may find that these are some helpful questions to consider:

  • What is the right number of visits? Are they prepared to come see you as often as you think they should?
  • Do you agree about who is going to visit whom—whether you’ll take turns or whether they will always come and see you? (Someone is going to be the guest and someone the host, and that may affect your relationship.)
  • Do they have room for you to stay, or do you have to organize accommodations?
  • Do you want to stay there, or would you rather be able to come and go as you please? Conversely, do you want all the work of entertaining them?

Here are more related ideas from grandparents on our forum:

“It is important not to outstay your welcome and do what we always say: bite your tongue. [Parents] have all these books, you see, that tell them how to do things properly.”

“I think this is a question of what makes you and your family happy and not what is right or common practice.”

“It is important to make every effort.”

One grandmother says she spends “a fortune travelling back and forth,” to the extent that her grandson told his teacher that she lives at the airport!

  1.   Set up a home away from home.

The degree to which you choose to do this may depend on space and finances, but having some familiar items dotted about will help the grandchildren feel at home when they visit. This could be a small box of old toys—not just theirs, but their parents’ as well, because they usually enjoy seeing what their mom/dad played with.

It works both ways, so ensure that they have reminders of you at their home: “We’ve always made a point of having photos around the house of people that are no longer with us, because I realized that, as I grew up, people I’d never met (some of them I’d met when very young so didn’t remember) became part of my life because I’d grown up with an image of their face.”

Whichever you choose, whether it’s a few toys or an entire bedroom set aside for the little darlings, do bear in mind these words of wisdom: “Lego pieces have a habit of being fatally attracted to the underside of bare feet!”

  1.   Video calls.

Of course, face-to-face online chat using Skype/FaceTime/Oovoo is an easy, cheap way of ensuring you feature as more than a bit player in the lives of your grandchildren.

“We all have iPhones and we find that FaceTime is excellent for keeping in touch, as one can wander around while chatting. Our youngest grandchild is five; our oldest 23. They are all at ease using the iPhone, even the five-year-old who chats away quite happily. It is most definitely not the same as having them in the same country, but it helps, I guess.”

“We have recently bought fancy Skype cameras which enable us to clearly see the whole room on full TV screens both here and in Melbourne. We can also zoom in or out and pan around. It’s a practical help to keep us in touch with our rapidly changing two-year-old granddaughter, as is having regular catch-up times and following the Aussies on Facebook. Thank God for technology.”

Here’s a creative suggestion: “For the little grandchildren, my old linguistics professor has the right idea. He buys two copies of a children’s book, then reads his copy to them on Skype while they look at their own copy.”

  1.   Useful apps.

Apart from the usual suspects (Facebook and Twitter), here’s an app you may not have heard of:

“We just started using this free application called Moment Garden (momentgarden.com) to get real-time updates on our new grandson, Mark. Our son and daughter-in-law have created a ‘garden’ for Mark that is completely private and only available to see by invitation. We get an email every day with any new photo about Mark or an update about him. It is truly the highlight of my day. We can also add ‘moments’ to Mark’s garden or send comments to him or his parents. It’s a wonderful application, especially important to me because of the privacy. In this day and age I prefer not to have my personal information all over the internet for everyone to see.”

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Another useful one is called Touchnote (touchnote.com), which lets you customize cards with pictures from your phone, and the cards can then be sent all over the world. Which brings us to the next tip…

  1.   Send stuff.

It’s rare to receive a letter these days, so the grandchildren will appreciate the novelty and hopefully hold on to them for reference at a later date.

“What I have been doing for about a year now is to send my granddaughter little gifts, cards and letters about once a month. Her parents read these to her, and I have asked them to keep them for my granddaughter to see when she’s older, so that she knows her grandmother was thinking of her even if she didn’t see her.”

“I am sending monthly books (free postage through the Book Depository) and I wrote her a letter when she was born that I want her to have when she is older.”

“How about also writing some stories for them and illustrating them yourself?”

Whatever you send will be a reminder of you (especially if it’s a nice framed photo).

  1.   Cultural differences.

Language barriers may be an issue if the grandchildren are growing up in another country and/or speaking another first language to yours. It’s worth taking lessons in their language, because “not only will they all appreciate the effort, but the small ones will likely take great pride in helping Granny with the basics.”

The more familiar you are with the place, the easier it is to communicate with the grandchildren: “Become as widely read on their new country of residence as you can, study the photos on Google and maps, and use the web like you’ve never done before!”

  1.   Difficult decisions.

Here’s how one grandparent faced a common dilemma:

“I desperately want to live by the sea. In a couple of years I will be able to realize my dream, but know that I will miss [my grandchildren] terribly. [They] don’t really want me to go, especially the eldest one, and of course I do provide childcare.
I worry I will be crabby and resentful if I don’t go, and who will want to see me then? But if I do go, I will be miserable and missed.
On balance, I think I must go and manage the consequences just as I would have to if [my children] had opportunities to move away and enjoy a better life. For me, I will be able to offer summer childcare, holidays and just as much love as ever.”

You do have a life; that’s important. But weigh these decisions carefully. The rewards of having close relationships with your grandchildren and investing in their lives can be very difficult to match, and often the other things we want to chase can’t really compare. At this stage of life especially, make sure you’re living with no regrets.

  1.   The other grandparents.

You don’t have to see your grandchildren every day to be close to them, so don’t fret if you’re not getting the same amount of time as the other grandparents, who may live closer. Your way of bonding with the grandchildren will be different, but that won’t necessarily be because of distance.

“Children go through phases, and your time will come. If you stay interested, you will find a way to bond and become the special person who shares something they care about and that they will remember for the rest of their lives.”

  1.   Be happy for them.

This bit of advice appears repeatedly on our forums as a way of dealing with occasional bouts of sadness caused by distance.

“My daughter’s life is so much better where she is than it would have been if she had stayed in the UK. When I feel sad or am desperately missing her and the children, I remember this and it rejoices my heart.”

“It took time for me to adjust to the change in circumstances, and I won’t deny there is a depth of longing which stays with me, but I’ve found that embracing their happiness helps enormously.”

“I know that life for them is better where they are and, strangely, I think we are closer than we were before she left home. Job opportunities are good and, of course, the weather is more conducive to a healthy outdoor family life. They are only ‘yours’ for a brief period and to see them off on their way in the world knowing they are happy and doing well and producing their own families is enough.”

  1.   Share your thoughts with others in the same situation.

Join Gransnet.com or connect with other grandparents through social media. Letting off some steam on an online forum can be a big help, especially when others are in the same situation.

“I would LOVE to get together with other grandparents in this situation, as I often feel so isolated.”

But you can also take it a step further and meet those you’ve been chatting with. Be outgoing and make friends with other grandparents who understand your situation and who can offer encouragement and support.

Gransnet is the UK’s busiest social networking site for the over 50s. At its heart, it’s a buzzing forum where users debate the hot topics of the day, support each other through tough times and share a laugh. Brimming with useful content covering everything from fashion to grandparenting, travel to technology, as well as competitions and an incredibly popular book club, there is something on the site for everyone. Visit them at gransnet.com.