The COVID-19 pandemic has created a heartbreaking reality for many grandparents: long-term separation from their grandchildren. Whether grandparents live many miles away or on the same street, family togetherness takes some creativity right now. Birthday parties, holidays, and other special occasions can bring up mixed feelings of joy and uncertainty. And sometimes, these celebrations don’t happen at all.
Nobody knows how long the pandemic will affect how families get together, and it’s easy to start worrying about the future. You may feel like you’re at your wit’s end trying to stay occupied and avoiding worrying. Instead, put your focus on the present moment and try some of these ideas to stay connected.
1. Realize You’ll Feel Sad Sometimes, and That’s OK
It’s normal to have some sadness and frustration when you’re separated from loved ones. And even if you keep yourself in good spirits most of the time, you may feel down now and then. You aren’t failing or weak when you experience sadness right now. It’s real, authentic, and part of the coping process. You miss your grandchildren, and it’s essential to be honest about those feelings.
Be kind to yourself and do your best to name your emotions. Do you feel frustrated, isolated, nostalgic about previous visits? Are you worried about how long it will take to get back to normal? No matter what you feel, acknowledge that it’s a regular part of your reality right now. Once the wave of emotion goes back down, take some time to recover. When you feel more settled, get yourself back into your day and find a positive activity to change your mood.
2. Do Regular Video Call Visits
Catching up with a video call is the next best thing to being together in person. You can see facial expressions, hand gestures, and get a feel for what else may be going on in your grandchild’s home. Video call software and apps have been available for years. But since the pandemic began, people of all ages have been getting more familiar with live video technology.
Plan some video calls and stick to a schedule as much as possible. You’ll create a routine and some anticipation for your call. Some surprise calls can be fun, too, but keep your grandchild’s family schedule in mind. To keep things interesting, consider a few things you can’t do on a regular phone call.
- Give a video tour of your home or yard, especially as the seasons change.
- Show your grandchildren a project you’ve been working on, like one of your hobby or home repair projects.
- Plan on sending a care package in the near future and give them a sneak peek on your call.
- Find creative ways to honor family traditions, holidays, and birthdays through video calls.
3. Do Activities Together Virtually
Having conversations with your grandchildren is important, but you’d also go places and do things if you were visiting in person. When you can’t be in the same space, consider some activities that would work over a video call or a phone app. Some of the ideas below may require shipping or dropping off items at your grandchildren’s home.
- Do a craft or art project together on a video call (with help from a parent)
- Do word games together on an app with multiple players
- Make a snack, treat, or a meal together on a video call (with help from a parent)
- Create a shared virtual photo album of things each of you are doing every week
- Read a book to your grandchild, or have them read to you
- Play charades or a guessing game with pictures
- Go on a walk together
- Sing some favorite songs
- Eat a meal or snack together
4. Start a Penpal Exchange
Start a penpal exchange with your grandchild and teach them how to share stories through letters. Begin your letters with interesting news or stories, and end with a few questions for them to answer in their reply letter. The best questions to ask grandkids will prompt them to share their ideas or tell a story.
If your grandchildren are younger, they'll be able to describe things like their favorite foods or what they do at the park every weekend. For older children, consider asking them "what if" questions about a time in history, having a fun or adventurous job, or traveling in outer space.
Whatever you ask, invite them to brainstorm new ideas, even if they seem silly. This can help turn your pen pal exchange into a creative conversation. Share some of your own daydreams and creations to get the ball rolling and see what you get back. Some kids may be more comfortable doodling or making art out of their letters instead of writing words.
We're all used to instant gratification, so the wait between letters can seem long. But with a little patience, you and your grandchild can learn the art of penpal communication.
5. Send Them Cute or Funny Things in the Mail
Kids love getting things in the mail, especially from grandparents. Consider sending a quarantine care package and try these inexpensive fun ideas to make their day.
- A simple puzzle or riddle to solve
- Postcards from your area with fun messages or corny jokes
- Send cards or packages celebrating unique holidays like National Hotdog Day, Groundhog’s Day, or Earth Day.
- Pictures of yourself (and your spouse or partner) doing silly things
- Pictures of places in your house the grandchildren would remember
- A garden kit for indoors or outdoors
- A handmade storybook
- Send letters or packages to be opened at a specific time or date to celebrate special days or milestones (first day of winter, school activities you’d normally attend).
- Send secret messages for them to decode and encourage them to return coded messages to you.
- Make a recording (video or audio) of you telling them a story, either a fictional or a personal story.
6. Keep Up Hobbies or Other Pursuits to Keep You Occupied
Sometimes video calls have to be rescheduled, phone calls get cut short, or texts aren’t returned right away. While missing your grandchildren can make your heart ache, the good news is that your mind can only pay attention to one thing at a time. Staying occupied during the pandemic can help you keep your spirits up and prevent you from being swallowed by loneliness.
Emotions often come in waves, with some being stronger than others. When you keep your mind occupied during the day, your emotional waves get broken up and don’t build as much momentum. Shorter periods of emotion are easier to deal with and take less energy from you.
It’s also important to build positivity into your life to handle these ups and downs better. You can miss your grandchildren deeply while also making time for happiness in other ways.
7. Lean on Your Social Support Network
While you're used to seeing your grandchildren regularly, months of separation can feel like forever. It's easy for isolation and loneliness to settle in after a while. If there's ever been a time to lean on your social connections, it's now. Text, email, or pick up the phone and call a friend today.
Something changes mentally when you hear a friend's voice or see a text message from a loved one. And as much as you need them, they may need to hear from you even more. We all need social contact to thrive, especially in difficult times like these.
So many grandparents are facing the same sense of longing for their grandchildren. When you start talking openly with others, you'll find out how many of your friends and family members are in the same boat. It’s also a great opportunity to swap creative ideas about spending time with grandchildren from a distance.
8. Remember That This Time of Separation Won’t Last Forever
It’s impossible to know when life will feel normal again, but the COVID-19 pandemic won’t last forever. At some point, we’ll have solutions and ways to manage the situation safely. We’ll eventually feel more at ease about gatherings and activities. It may feel neverending right now, but it will only be a season.
Take every day as it comes and look forward to the next video visit, phone call, or package in the mail. It’s not ideal, but you can still make something meaningful happen between you and your grandchildren during this time. Your next in-person visit will be memorable, but there are plenty of important connections to be made in the meantime.
Coping and Staying Connected With Grandchildren
Since the beginning of this pandemic, you may have felt the sting of separation from your grandchildren. You may even feel like you’re moving through stages of grief, starting with shock, disbelief, and a sense of sadness.
Feeling these emotions is normal and healthy, but it doesn’t have to overwhelm you. Find creative ways to cope with the ups and downs and keep your connections strong. It may not be easy, but you and your loved ones will get through it until you can be together again.
- Kaysen, Ronda. “Grandparents Face Separation Anxiety During Coronavirus.” AARP, 22 June 2020, www.aarp.org/home-family/friends-family/info-2020/grandparents-anxiety-coronavirus.html
- Weisenhorn, David. “Ways to Spend Time With Your Grandchildren During a Pandemic.” University of Kentucky, College of Food, Agriculture, and Environment, 16 April 2020, exclusives.ca.uky.edu/2020/fcs/ways-spend-time-your-grandchildren-during-pandemic