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Building The Grandparent and Grandkid Connection from Afar

Is distance or baby boomers' busy lives getting in the way of your parents having a rich relationship with your children? Here are tips to bridge the gap between junior and grandma and grandpa.

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Lamenting that her parents didn't get to see her two girls more often, Nyree Cheff had an idea: a shared journal. As a gift, the Trenton mom bought a journal to send to her parents, Denise and Jerry Bell, who live in Georgia and see the grandkids twice a year at the most.

Both of her daughters – Ava, 7 and Zoe, 4 – wrote or drew a message to their grandparents. The shared journal has now been going back and forth between Michigan and Georgia for the past year. Every two or three weeks, the girls receive a package with the journal and a handwritten message from their grandparents. Along with the shared journal, Ava and Zoe regularly talk on the phone and Skype with their grandparents.

"It does seem like the journal has brought them closer," Cheff says of the pen-pal endeavor between her children and their grandparents. "You learn a lot about someone by seeing what they decided to write versus what they decide to say."

More recently, the journal has been filled with messages about an upcoming visit. The ongoing notes have helped the girls get to know their grandparents, so that they'll have plenty to talk about once they do get together in person, Cheff says.

Today's relationships

Today, going long distances to see grandparents is becoming more the norm. While 69 percent of grandparents live within 50 miles of their closest grandchildren, according to a survey from AARP, another 10 percent said they have to go more than 200 miles to see their nearest grandkids. And 43 percent report that they travel more than 200 miles to see those grandkids that live the farthest away. The survey also revealed that grandmas and grandpas who said they didn't see their grandchildren very often pointed to distance as the reason by 67 percent.

And yet a recent study by Aetna has found distance isn't the only barrier to grandparent-grandkid connection. This generation of grandparents is also opting to spend more time pursuing their own travel and recreation interests and don't necessarily see connecting with the grandkids as a priority.

The good news is that whether it's due to distance or a generational disconnect, the gap can be overcome – with a bit of effort, some creative ideas and a little help from technology.

Using technology to talk

The first time I tried to get my parents, who live over 1,000 miles away, to download Skype to talk to my kids, the answer was "no." My parents explained they didn't feel comfortable downloading an application from the Internet (no, they're not on Facebook, either).

But during a visit I talked them into letting me add the software to their computer and then showing them how to get it to work. Many grandparents may share the same reluctance (or confusion) when it comes to online call services like Skype. And like me, you may need to be the one to install the software when you see your parents or in-laws. Make sure that when you set up the service, you write down the passwords both for your parents or in-laws – and keep a copy for yourself.

Depending on your kids' grandparents' comfort level with technology, you might have to experiment to see what works best for both parties. For example, if you and the grandparents have iPhones or iPads, maybe the best way to chat is through FaceTime. Then again, if the grandparents prefer talking on the telephone, maybe sending regular text messages with pictures or short text videos is a way for them to "see" the grandkids more.

Cheff says that her kids Skype with her parents about once a month. It can be difficult between her kids' and parents' busy schedules to find a good time to chat.

"We usually have to plan about a week ahead of time to coordinate a time that works for everyone," says Cheff. "My kids are crazy busy with activities and my parents are both working."

Keeping it special

When your kids are able to talk to grandparents either on the phone or through online channels, try to think of a way to make it more personal.

Cheff's father has a reading group of sorts with her kids. Each time they chat on Skype, he reads a book to them – and then each of the grandkids reads a book to him.

"His joy is to read books to the kids over Skype," says Cheff, who adds that her youngest daughter tells the story by looking at the pictures when it's her turn to "read." Right now, the group is working their way through the Fancy Nancy book series. When it comes to their time with grandma, Ava and Zoe put on performances.

"My oldest daughter will sing a song, and my little one likes to show off her ballet moves."

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