“My grandparents are the coolest!” my 10-year-old daughter shrieked as she received another Marco Polo message from my dad. It always makes me smile when I hear about how much my kids love their grandparents and extended family. Of course, we don’t see them as often as we’d like, but they have a special relationship anyway. Mostly because family shows up for them.
My parents and my in-laws, as well as my grandparents, aunts and uncles of all generations, have had a pretty active role in my children’s’ lives from all over the globe. They have forged traditions with my kids around holidays, they send cards for birthdays and craft ideas when they find something fun. They follow their sports schedules, latest interests and even research the latest xBox games to have something fun to talk about.
My parents were doing Skype long before their peers and have quickly moved on to Facebook Messenger Video and now use the video messaging app Marco Polo. They field text messages full of emjois with grace and tolerate my toddler’s babbling messages with a smile. They are part of the village that helps me raise my kids, even from thousands of miles – and an ocean -- away.
In fact, they aren’t even the first in our family to do so. When I was away at college – um, let’s say more than 10 years, but not quite 20 years ago – I remember friends saying the same thing, “Your grandparents are so cool!” At that point, both of my grandmothers were emailing regularly, and one of them did AOL Instant Messenger – albeit it in the long form including “Love Grandma” at the end of messages.
And they aren’t alone. Grandparents, parents, family members of all types are finding new ways to connect with their loved ones. Something they can certainly learn from their friends.
Here are some of the ways military spouses are seeing grandparents connect.
“We are doing many more FaceTime check-ins so my parents can see their grandson. He’s really missing out on all of that quality time with them and we are PCSing very far away from family and out of state this fall,” said Wendi Iacobello.
Julie Provost and Laura Early are using Portal, Marco Polo and Facetime to stay connected, something Provost said they had been doing regularly but have increased the frequency now.
Stephanie Montague, a retired spouse who spends a lot of time travelling the world, has done some birthday and holiday celebrations over Zoom with her family.
More Creative Ideas
“We have done weekly facetimes with my [mother-in-law] and text daily with her. We have been doing Kidvelope with my parents which has been a fun way to play across the US and keeping the kiddos connected in a different way,” Heather Walsh said. “Also, they both send almost daily links of free tours, activities or recipes they find as a way of sharing resources. They may not physically be here or be able to help with this new normal, but they are doing what they can from across the distance.”
Grandparents love reading to their grandkids, but that’s sometimes hard to do on video chat. Here are two options to make that easier. If the family member is a veteran or retiree – eligible for a TroopID login -- they can use the United Through Reading program to record book readings and send them.
If not, you can do what my dad did and record a YouTube video reading a Dr. Seuss book. My youngest loved it. He heard a familiar voice, saw the pictures in the story and felt like it was something special just for him. And it bought me at least five minutes of peace and quiet.
Enlist the grandparents in some super secret writing practice by having them write letters to your kids. Make sure they include questions that the kids will have to answer in a return letter. Now your kids are writing, looking forward to the mail, learning how to address an envelope, etc.
Grandparents of military kids can help their friends figure out the best ways to communicate, even if they are just down the street and not across the country. Spending time together, even digitally, grows relationships that will continue to flourish when time can be spent together in person.
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