How to make long-distance grandparenting work

Image: Getty | Words: Sara Conway

Meat Pie Monday happened every week at my nana’s house. She picked us up from school and we came home to the smell of fried onions, stewed meat and pastry. The chip pan fizzed to life while my sisters and I sat glued to The Mysterious Cities of Gold. She swatted our legs and called us the CKs (cheeky kids), eyes twinkling as we found ways to wind her up. We loved her pet name for us, and played up to it as much as we could. Her home was ours, and it was such an important part of our childhood.

Fast-forward 30 years, and I have my own CK. But her grandparents live too far away for them to have a weekly place in her life. And I’m not going to lie – it bothers me. I want my daughter to feel as at home at her grandparents’ (and aunties’ and uncles’) houses as she does at ours. I want our families to have a relationship with her that’s completely separate from us: pet names, special meals and all. We’re the first in our families to move away, so we’re navigating new territory.

Our daughter’s two now, and I’m delighted that her “Gaga”, “Nali” and “Dadas” have a very special place in her heart. I think this is due to a continued effort by all parties to make it work. We’re lucky to have so much technology at our fingertips and we’re putting it to good use. These are the ways we’re keeping those long-distance grandparents close. If you’re in the same position, I hope you find them useful. And I’d love to hear how you make the separation work…

1 Facetime: my daughter is so familiar with Facetime now that she exits her CBeebies app and calls ‘Gaga’ by herself. She then hangs up on her (the red button is too tempting!), but we speak this way often. I find it works well when my daughter’s having dinner so she can’t run away. Often my family are eating, too – the closest we’ll get to Meat Pie Monday. The added benefit is I’m seeing my mum regularly, too.

2 Photographs: my daughter’s addicted to my phone, so I interrupt Peppa Pig to scroll through photographs and find different family members. I was half asleep one morning and heard a little “Disa”! She’d found some pictures of her aunty and cousins and was really pleased with herself. Now I don’t have to prompt her; she finds the app herself.

3 Technology is great, but it can’t beat real life. So my daughter and I have been zipping up and down Virgin’s West Coast Mainline every month since she was born. I’ve watched her grow from her bassinet on the table into the seat next to me. And on each visit, I’ve watched her become more and more at home. The same is true at my husband’s family home. She strides in and finds my husband’s old toys – reliving a bit of his childhood.

4 Treat time: one great benefit of parents that live far away is that they want – beg – for their grandkids to come and stay. And that means one thing – mini-break! I’m not sure if my husband and I are most excited by spending time together or having a big fat lie-in. (OK, definitely the lie-in). But whatever – if you’re in this position, milk it. My mum’s just instructed me to get another booked in. She needn’t ask twice.

5 Family bond: with all my mummy worrying, I overlooked the strength of the innate bond that exists between grandparent (or step-grandparent) and grandchild. Yes, it’s important to make an effort. But they love, love, love, each other, and that – happily – has nothing to do with us.