Opinion: Dear Susi Q

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Staying Bonded With Grandchildren Who Live Far Away

Dear Susi Q,
My young grandchildren (under the age of 10) live on the opposite coast. I see them maybe twice a year in person. How can I stay bonded with them over the years, given the distance?

Kathleen “Kay” Wenger. Photo courtesy of Laguna Beach Seniors

Kathleen Wenger, clinical supervisor of behavioral health programs at the Susi Q; Owner, LagunaBeachCounseling.com responds:

Although I don’t have grandchildren, I do have 24 nephews and nieces. I’ve found several great ways to stay bonded with them—probably the most effective and fun has been filming short videos on my phone with a puppet I’ve named Barry Potter. Using Facetime or Zoom, Barry Potter and I talk with them about what’s going on in their lives. They adore chatting to him—and me!

If you’re not comfortable with technology, that’s not a problem. Send cards or postcards by snail mail with a fun note, or stickers, or even a small check once in a while, even when it isn’t a special occasion. Don’t underestimate the power of letters and postcards! Kids love to get them. Texting is good too.

My grandmother, whom I adored, kept all the cards and letters I sent her over the years, and I saved hers, too. Re-reading them when she died meant the world to me. I strongly recommend all grandparents and grandchildren create a similar two-way communication—creating a photobook of your experiences together is another wonderful idea.

It’s also useful to keep a notebook for each child so that you remember their favorite toys or activities. Be ready with specific questions about their latest news, or activities, or friends they’ve told you about in a previous call. Use their names as much as possible.

Relationships with grandparents can be such stabilizing, loving, nurturing forces for young children. It’s important, if you’ve had issues with your adult children in the past, to seek therapy now to try to resolve conflicts, and let them know how much you want to be a positive part of their kids’ lives.

Realize that no matter how hard you try to stay in touch and relevant in their lives, it’s not easy when young grandkids live far away. Their attention span can be short. Contact the Susi Q if you’d like to talk through these issues. Our donation-based Feeling the Blues therapists are here to help.

Martha Hernandez. Photo courtesy of Laguna Beach Seniors

Martha Hernandez, director of care management at the Susi Q responds:
FaceTime and Zoom are two great ways to stay connected with young grandchildren. FaceTime is useful for a short chat, less than five minutes, but Zoom can be used for lengthier activities. I know that technology can be challenging, so please take advantage of Susi Q’s free Drop-in Computer Assistance Program every Thursday from noon to 2 p.m. Our volunteers can show you how to set up Zoom and use it so you have a flawless, easy, fun chat with your grandkids.

Snail mail is great too. My brother used to send my daughter (his niece) a postcard every month with something silly written on the card. She still has all of those cards! They show your grandchildren that they matter, and it’s always fun to receive something in the mail. That might include sending a package of materials for an art project that you work on together via Zoom. Just make sure you both have all the necessary tools.

Another idea: go for a walk in a garden or the beach or natural preserve and take video clips with your phone. Send this to your grandchild via text or email and then either Zoom or phone them and discuss what flowers and birds (or other animals) you saw. Encourage your grandchild to reciprocate by sending you their videotaped adventures with the help of their parents. This builds the bond and ensures that the relationship isn’t one-sided – and that you have plenty to talk about when you see them in person!

“Dear Susi Q,” brought to you by nonprofit Laguna Beach Seniors, is intended to provide helpful advice for readers on matters including relationships, retirement, home safety, transportation, mental/physical health, and local entertainment and educational resources.

Qualified staff, support group leaders, and volunteers stand ready to answer your questions, so please send them to [email protected] We can’t wait to help. Visit thesusiq.org to learn about all our programs. No identifying names will ever be used. Some questions, such as today’s, may be a composite of several submitted.

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