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Long-Distance Grandparenting

Today, millions of American families are separated by distances that are too vast to make day-to-day grandparenting possible.

Whether or not statistics measure this phenomenon, personal experience hints that it is widespread. You can get a personal idea of the extent of the problem by examining your neighborhood or workplace. How many of your friends, colleagues or neighbors live in families with three generations present? How many grandparents in your locale live near their children and grandchildren? How many parents have their own parents nearby?

Mobile Americans

Why do Americans move so much? The Census Bureau cites many reasons; people move because of need; to make a living, or for health. Others move out of choice; to retire or to heed the call of adventure. Certain regions of the country attract people because they specialize in certain industries or have a specific appeal (Hollywood for the film industry, New York for the financial industry, Silicon Valley for the computer industry, the Sunbelt for retirement). America has always been a nation on the move.

But whatever the reasons, we know that distance adversely affects family closeness and especially the grandparent-grandchild relationship. We know this first-hand because we have been privy to the laments of grandparents, grandchildren, and parents in these circumstances for over twenty years. People of all ages continually call and write asking for suggestions on how to overcome the difficulties distance imposes on their relationships.

Does  “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” Hold True?

Many long-distance grandparents want to know if the axiom “out of sight, out of mind’ holds true. They ask, “does living a long-distance away from a grandchild inevitably relegate me to play only a token role in my grandchild’s life?” A grandfather wanted answers, “When such situations are unavoidable is there is anything I can do to countermand the results of not having frequent contact with my grandchildren? Do we have to be strangers? How do I minimize the negative effects of distance? I don’t want to become obsolete as a grandfather.” This is a serious issue with no easy answers.

What are the negative effects that distance inflicts on the grandparent-grandchild relationship? To answer, first we must understand two of the emotional and spiritual ingredients of the “Vital Connection” between grandparents and grandchildren:

ONE: Time alone in a one-to-one situation. Undivided attention between grandparents and grandchildren is difficult to achieve when grandparents and grandchildren live a long distance from one another.

TWO: Day to day contact. To make the bond flourish, grandparents and grandchildren need to be part of one another’s daily life, especially in the child’s early years. Living far apart, grandparent and grandchild do not come to know another because there is little one-to-one contact, and little time for loving attention.

No matter how far grandparents and grandchildren live from one another there are two things working in their favor that can help to keep their bond alive and kicking.

Nature Helps

First, young children have the ability to expand time. Remember when you were younger how time moved more slowly, and the streets seemed wider, the buildings bigger? This means the time you spend alone with your grandchild is savored by the child, and can nourish your grandchild for a considerable period. Second, believe it or not, technology is a blessing. It has become a great asset in helping to foster emotional relations over distance. Sure, technology can’t help to soothe a fevered brow, go fishing with a grandchild or help out a harried parent, but it can be a boon to foster ongoing communication—the most indispensable factor in keeping grandparent and grandchild as close as possible no matter how far apart they live.


Here are some basic principles and practical ideas that take advantage of the factors cited above, for long-distance grandparents to use to keep a strong attachment over distance:

  • The primary principle is to maintain continuity and communication
  • Convene a family conference with children and grandchildren.
  • Identify the issues and discuss the pitfalls and problems of being geographically apart.
  • Pledge to minimize the damage to the fabric of the family by keeping in constant communication and being physically together as much as possible. The kids will love to hear this.
  • Devise a step-by-step action plan to be together as much as possible. Kids will love this too.
  • Pledge family financial resources to support the plan. Allocate resources to specific activities. Ex. Pay Grandma’s airfare to visit while Mom and Dad go on vacation. Grandparents save all year and pay for themselves and their grandchildren to attend our Grandparent-Grandchild Summer Camp.
  • Allow for as much grandparent-grandchild “alone” time as possible and coordinate this with visits, parent vacations, etc. Plan “alone” outings when together.

To keep an attachment going over distance is to be creative in becoming as much a part of your grandchild’s everyday life as possible. Then, when you get together in person, there will be no gaps in time where you did not know exactly what you both were doing. Young children grow and change quickly. Many tell us that when they don’t talk with their (long-distance) grandparents regularly, and send them pictures, they feel that, when they meet with them, their grandparents don’t really know them. Happily, this changes quickly after a couple of days together. And many complain that their grandparents spend too much time with parents (because they haven’t seen them for so long) and not enough time with the children.

Keeping the connection going is critically important. These modalities allow daily, spontaneous, contact:

Technology, technology, and technology

Technology is a blessing to long-distance grandparents. You can use computers, faxes, or regular (“snail”) mail to keep in meaningful touch with your grandchild.

Lots of kids are computer literate. Grandparents must become computer literate too. Happily, the cost to buy a computer is significantly less than in the past. The opportunities afforded by E-Mail, and now videoconferencing (you can talk with your grandchild real-time, face-to-face) is upon us. E-Mail, computer games, and the ability to send notes back and forth (or recipes, jokes, love letters, gossip) can keep your contact loving, interested, vibrant and relevant. You can even get your own home page on the world-wide-web.

Faxes are useful. One grandmother we know gave all of her grandchildren fax machines so they could keep in touch on a daily basis. Children can fax jokes, report cards, drawings etc. to their grandparents and vice versa. She faxes her grandchildren a little note of encouragement several mornings a week.

Telephone contact is important too. It’s a live voice! But make sure that you call your grandchild alone. Your grandchild wants to feel special, and individual. If you want to call someone else, or talk with everyone in the family make a special call. It’s best to call at a regular time when your grandchild is not rushed, a parent is not harried about getting a meal on the table and people have time to talk.

Mail: Love notes and small tokens are great. If you don’t have a fax or computer, encourage your grandchild to send pictures, report cards etc. Just a note with a piece of chewing gum is O.K. to begin with. Young kids like the thought more than the content. Just the fact they receive a letter is more important than what is in it.

Videotapes & audiotapes. Cameras and tape recorders are excellent ways to establish contact with your grandchild. Your grandchild will treasure videotape or audiotape with you recording the family history, singing a song, and telling a story. Send pictures. Give your grand child his/her own camera to take pictures for you.

Most importantly, be there when your grandchild is born and be there for the important events; graduations, religious passages, recitals, holidays, whatever events your family values highly.

Be creative in using your own ingenuity to keep your grandchild emotionally close. Experience shows when grandparents make the effort to love and care for grandchildren who live far away, the kids know it, and it means the world to them. And when they get older, and are able to travel by themselves, they are eager to take their turn to go to where their grandparents are. “My grandmother really loves and misses me,” ten-year-old Louella writes, “even though I live a thousand miles away from her I hear from her almost every day. She calls and writes and sends me wool for knitting. And every year I spend two weeks with her in the summer. When I get older I am going to go to college in the city where she lives so I can see her a lot.”

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  1. Kristina Unhjem January 7th, 2013

    This article has helped me so much. Really struggling living abroad. We are in Norway and grandparents are in The Bahamas and in the U.S. I haven’t seen my parents since we moved so Thanks goodness for skype. The care packages sent are very special too for our 5 and 8 year old boys. My father feels I have taken his only grandchildren away from him. Thanks again for this wonderful article. I will share on my blog. Warmly from Norway,Kristina Unhjem

  2. Lyn Stone February 20th, 2013

    I find Facetime and Skype to be a wonderful way to communicate. I see my grandaughter talk to her, I even told her a bedtime story while she lay in bed before going to sleep. Her parents are wonderful about reaching out to Grandma and Grandpa and keeping our grandchild connected. Our other children didn’t feel that as much when the grandkids were younger, so the relationship with the grandchildren is more distant now that they’re older. Still, I envy the families that live close to each other and enjoy one anothers company year round.

  3. Marian Hofmann December 29th, 2013

    Can you advise how I (the paternal grandmother) can connect with my 4 yo grandson who soon will be off to the other side of the country (3,000 miles away….) when the child’s mother has decided that he doesn’t necessarily need contact with his fathers family….( My son and her are no longer together and she will be moving in with a new man and his son….) From the beginning I have been in my grandson’s life and I am so afraid that he will feel abandoned by me……..Do I have any legal recourse,I live in New Jersey and they are moving to California….Can she be court ordered to let me speak with him a few times a month at least on Skype????

    • FGP January 2nd, 2014

      Please see the articles on Grandparents Rights and especially log on to
      You will need legal help.
      All the best.

  4. Alice Jungclaus June 7th, 2014

    What a great article with useful tips – especially in the “guideline” section. Maintaining a positive child-grandparent connection is such a gift for any child. Especially when global mobility and long-distances are part of the family context. I recently had an inspiring and wise grandparent featured on my website which can be found here:

  5. Judith Krohn August 11th, 2014

    All these suggestions for staying in touch are very helpful, and I have done most of them. However, the worst barrier to ‘being together for important family events’, and just ordinary visiting, is the lack of finances!! from both sides – inability to afford huge air fares for inter-continental travel means regular visits become impossible. There is no solution to this part of the ‘missing grandparents’ problem, despite all the technological supports we have. Most friends and neighbours in our large retirement complex have children close by, or travel often to visit (no lack of funds) – we just have to smile for them when we hear all the shared fun they have. It’s sad for those of us who don’t have that joyful closeness.

  6. Nancy Savory January 3rd, 2015

    Thank you for the wonderful tips. My husband retired a year ago and we are seriously contemplating moving 71/2 hr from our children and grandchildren. We have lived close all of their lives and they love coming to stay with Oma and Papa. And we love having them here. Weekly. We have 5 between the ages of 8-12. Some are excited to be able to visit us in a new place and some really don’t want us leaving. We are happy being close but not happy at all with the area. We will be moving to an area where there will be lots to do with them when they visit. (There is NOTHING here. Literally.) We are excited about moving but I keep wondering if we will regret not being close to them any more. Our children are very supportive of us and are also excited about having a nice place to come visit. My husband says I will be able to come here and my daughter plans to come see us often. I plan to use these suggestions to the fullest, so again, thank you.

    • FGP January 14th, 2015

      Thanks for sharing
      Very complicated.
      Depends what you are you moving TO?

  7. jUDY sHEMNITZ July 11th, 2015

    Living eight hours away from my only grandchild is extremely stressful, sad and depressing. The one thing that truly makes me happy is something I cannot have: constant contact with my beautiful granddaughter. My daughter and son in law have no intentions of ever coming back to live near me. I have been dealing with this since she moved seven years ago. skyping,phone calls are only superficial ways to keep in contact. Holding a baby is what I crave. I travel as much as possible but plane fares are expensive and driving that long is a drag. What to do?

  8. Kerry October 5th, 2015

    I have just heard the incredible news that my eldest daughter is pregnant…my first foray into grandmotherhood! Am finding the concept wonderful…and very frightening…so much seems hidden in the idea, not least my own ‘ageing’….and then…and then, there is this immutable fact that I live in South Africa and my girl lives in Calgary,Canada. Add to getting my head around becoming a gran is the very real knowledge that,at best, we may see one another every 3 to 4 years….(it’s just too expensive)…how am I to survive this journey with the parameters facing me?

    • FGP October 6th, 2015

      Thanks for writing
      Grandparents in the same boat save their money for visits and learn how to SKYPE
      They also send Dr. Kornhaber’s book “The Grandparent Solution” (Amazon) to the parents to help them understand how
      important it is to keep their kids connected with grandparents.
      All the best.
      All the best.

  9. Sara kidd October 30th, 2015

    I am having a terrible time dealing with my daughter moving 5 hours away taking our 3 grands. I realize it’s her life and this was necessary but I still have such heart wrenching days. She loved family and we were such a support group for her but this is my life. I just have to deal with it the best I can. Face timing does help and I do my best to send treats every holiday.

    • FGP October 30th, 2015

      Never quit

  10. Michele Brown November 10th, 2015

    I have three children, two daughters and a son (youngest). Middle daughter moved with my two granddaughters with her husband to Parker, CO. three years ago for her husband’s job. They are currently moving again–to San Francisco. I live in Maryland. We do face time but with the girls now 5 and 7 and not seeing me but about once a year, they are already too busy or not interested in talking as much. It is definitely not the same as spending time with them. Oldest daughter currently lives in NJ and I have helped her a lot due to surgeries and IVF, etc., that helped her have a daughter and just this past July a set of twins (boy and girl). I have traveled there to help her out and visit frequently since the twins were born while also trying to help my aging father who lives two hours from me in the opposite direction from my daughter. (Yes, I am the sandwich generation!) I was just informed that she and her family made the decision to possibly relocate to Casper, WY! This is the daughter that was very keen on making sure that her siblings spent holidays with family and that family was more important than friends, etc. This move would involve a job change for her husband (their choice) not a requirement. She just wants to live out west. My son is also in NJ and is single. He is not close to me at all. I am remarried to a man that had no children so there is no competition with step-children. I feel used and very sad that my life decisions have been on hold so that I was available to my children and my father and that, in turn, my sacrifices will not be reciprocated and I will lose any closeness I have had with my current grandchildren. I have become very entwined with the twin babies! I am extremely depressed about this as I already know that face time, etc., is just not the same no matter what people say! Families get busy and have less and less time to devote to these things. It seems that our children, today, don’t find aging parents or grandchild-grandparent relationships palatable, important or valuable. I do have a life and have activities that I value but I put a lot on hold to take care of a parent and my daughter this year and I feel like I got sucker-punched!


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