Dear heartbroken long-distance grandma,
First, let me say congratulations on your grandma status! Whether you just learned you'd soon have a grandchild, a newborn grandkid recently arrived, or one or more grand-kiddos have long been part of your heart, you are a grandmother, and that's worth celebrating — again and again.
Today, though, I offer my condolences that your grandmother status carries, or soon will, the long-distance modifier. I know how hard that is on you. I know because I am you: a long-distance grandma.
I've been a long-distance grandma for a while, with hundreds of miles separating me from my sweet ones ever since the initial "You're going to be a grandma!" announcement nearly 10 years ago. Considering the survival strategies that I've had to learn the hard way through the years, I'm compelled to share those with grandmas new to such circumstances, to help you survive, too.
How to Handle Being a Long-Distance Grandma
Survival is indeed the name of the game. When my daughter and son-in-law — who live more than 800 miles away from me — first shared the grand news of a grandbaby-to-be for my husband and me, I was heartbroken: thrilled about what was to come, yet disheartened I couldn't be the hands-on grandma I long envisioned I'd be.
I eventually realized I had no choice but to revise that vision. I can't say I'm completely cured of my longing for fewer miles between my grandsons and me, though I have (mostly) mastered must-dos that made a difference. The following must-dos for survival will, I hope, help you, too.
1. You must let go.
Whatever the reason for the distance — the pursuit of dreams and goals by your grandchild's parents, finances, or family rifts — where the child lives is not your decision. No ifs, ands, or buts. You have no choice but to accept that. Do your grieving, then get on with grandparenting.
2. You must quit complaining.
Yes, you must give up the crying, complaining, pleading, pestering, begging, and bribing (and my own go-to tactic, praying for divine intervention to bring your babies closer to Grandma). Such behavior is unbecoming and unsuccessful in romantic affairs; consider it's equally unproductive when it comes to grandparenting affairs. In fact, such silliness leads to increased loneliness as the parents of your grandchildren — the ones who hold the keys to the kiddos — just might sever ties with you.
3. You must forgive your child.
My daughter didn't know this at the time, but I often seethed inside that she would do such a thing as build her home and family so far from my home and family. How could she? We had a good relationship; she had a happy childhood. She was denying me the full grandma role, and it made me flat-out angry at times. Anger builds up walls, though, and walls are the last thing you need to climb when you're already dealing with crossing miles. Cut the crap and forgive your kid for being an adult with his or her own life to live. After all, that's what we raised our kids to do.
That said, I sincerely understand that many grandparents deal with adult children who are not doing what they're supposed to do and are not being the parents to the grand-kiddos they should be. Which puts grandparents in a horrific spot — seeing a grandchild's health and happiness at risk. I wholeheartedly support grandparents stepping in when a child is legitimately in danger. But if the grandchild's health and happiness simply isn't being handled in the manner you think it should be, that's something else entirely. Being angry and unforgiving won't teach your child a lesson; it's too late for that now. That attitude will, though, keep you from developing any relationship with your grandchildren. As justified as your anger may be, forgive your kid — for the sake of your grandkids.
4. You must quit comparing your situation to that of other grandmothers.
Many grandmas got the grandma gig you wanted — that I wanted. I struggle with this every time I see photos on Facebook of grandmas sharing daily doings with local grandkids. Many long-distance grandmas struggle with comparison when the other grandma lives closer to the kids and sees them more often. Your individual grandma gig is what you've been granted, so stop spoiling it by spending time wishing for what another grandma has. "Comparison is the thief of joy," Theodore Roosevelt once said, which is so perfectly (albeit painfully) true for grandmas. Which leads me to my next point.
5. You must find some joy.
Once you quit the behaviors above, you'll better see glimmers of good in your long-distance grandparenting gig, despite not having it your way. Seek out things you can have, and experience and enjoy. Take up a new hobby or delve deeper into a current one. Volunteer or travel, even if it's a simple afternoon road trip to a nearby town. Join a gym or book club, or cooking class or, support group for long-distance grandmas (though steer clear of joy-sucking ones, wherein members simply spout negativity and nastiness). Join an "Adopt-a-Grandma" group at a neighborhood school — for every long-distance grandma there's a long-distance grandchild who might welcome the connection at school functions. You'll be more appealing, entertaining, flat-out fun for your own grandkids — and yourself — if you indulge in joy-producing activities.
6. You must commit to connecting.
Spread your joy and love, and deepen your bond with your grandkids, via FaceTime, Skype, email, text messaging, and more. Of course, techy connections require a parent on the other end — all the more reason to maintain a positive relationship with Mom and Dad. Consider old standbys, too, like telephone calls and snail mail. Kids love special delivery packages from Grandma, even if only a handwritten note with printed pages for coloring (bonus: include a stamped, self-addressed envelope for kids to mail refrigerator art back to you).
Plus, visit as often as you're able — and as you are welcome. I know first-hand that travel is costly, sometimes prohibitively so. Seek ways to make it possible, preferably at least once a year. Sign up for notifications of flight sales, eliminate splurges on stuff in favor of saving for travel, or pay for groceries with credit cards that provide airline miles. Ask the parents if they'd split the cost for Grandma to fly in to watch the grandkids while Mom and Dad take a weekend break together.
7. You must be thankful for what you have.
Regardless of any modifiers attached to the title, being a grandmother is a blessing, a blessing many women aren't granted because an adult child hasn't found an appropriate partner, or has chosen — with a partner or not — to not have children, or due to the faith-shaking circumstances of an adult child's infertility. You may be a long-distance grandmother, but you are a grandmother.
8. You must know it gets easier.
I exaggerate not a whit when I say I was downright distraught at the prospect of being a long-distance grandmother. I thought my heart would never handle it. It didn't at first, yet month by month it became more manageable and less distressing.
That will happen for you, too, dear long-distance grandma. I hope my suggestions help get you through.