Friday, February 24, 2012

How to keep in touch with distant grandparents

Welcome to February edition of the Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival, hosted by Authentic Parenting and Mudpiemama.

This month, participants have looked into the topic of “Fostering Healthy Attachment”. Please scroll down to the end of this post to find a list of links to the entries of the other participants. Enjoy!

How to keep in touch with distant grandparents == Hobo Mama

Hobo Mama wants you to know she's a professional blogger! Look at how professional she's being!

Our kids' grandparents live across the country from us, and traveling to see each other is feasible only once or twice a year. To maintain the connection the rest of the time with them and other distant relatives and friends, we rely on the following very modern techniques:

Video chats

All you and your relatives both need is a working webcam, computer (or video-chat-compatible smartphone), and speedy internet connection. (What you likely need in addition is unlimited patience in helping your parents set up their webcam and connection, long distance, but that's a tutorial for another day.)

We've used a mix of Skype, Yahoo! Messenger, and Google Video Chat and Hangout. If you and your parents are in the U.S., all these options are free over an internet connection. I'm not sure what international options are best, but I know that even if you have to pay for a VOIP international call, it's usually much cheaper than standard telephone options.

The joy of video chatting for little kids and grandparents is that both sides get to see each other. Kids who would otherwise lose interest in an audio call can be kept captivated for longer by a moving image. My in-laws love to up the amusement factor by displaying their Snoopy animatronics and other bell-and-whistle gewgaws. Kids will also learn what their relatives look and sound like, which is a handy thing when they don't meet them very often. The benefits for the grandparents is getting to talk with and see their grandkids growing in ways still pictures can't convey.


Along the same lines, sending videos back and forth can reinforce those visual ties. We have a small camcorder (a Flip), and our phone has one as well. We used to try to get clever and cutesy with the editing, until we realized it was holding us back from posting things already. Now we just take a little, cohesive clip of something adorable (Alrik crawling for the first time, Mikko doing a magic trick), throw a title card on it, and post it to YouTube.

JibJab e-card video still with baby break dancing

My parents get into the spirit by making JibJab videos, which crack Mikko up. You upload still photos of you and your relatives or friends looking face-on and then use JibJab's editing software to extract the heads. JibJab sticks them onto dancers' bodies in various music videos. Mikko still doesn't get that they aren't really us dancing. He makes comments like, "I don't remember when we were at that party," and "You're a really good dancer, Mama!"


I imagine Facebook's easier than Twitter to get most grandparents to buy into, so that's what I use with my mom. I don't know that my dad's ever been on Facebook, and Sam's parents are definitely not, but Twitter is right out for them.

You can post photos, status updates, and videos, and you can tag your parents or post on their wall to get their attention. Plus, it gives them the opportunity to comment on all the cute stuff you're uploading to show off what proud grandparents they are.


If you have a digital camera or camera phone, it's easy to dump all your week's cute pictures up on a photo site like Flickr or Photobucket to share with your parents. If your parents are old-school and want prints but you're too lazy or cheap to mail them yourself (wait, is that just me?), you can upload them to a place like Snapfish or Shutterfly so your parents can order prints directly from the site.

Every once in awhile, I do print out some photos and actually mail them. That's always well appreciated! Lately, though, I bought a membership at Tiny Prints so that I'll remember to send photo cards at least six times a year. (That's an affiliate link, but that's totally true that I paid for a membership — I need the motivation! Plus, they add the stamps for me and drive the envelopes to the post office.) If that's outside your budget, a sweet photo-collage e-card (I like Smilebox by Hallmark) can be just as appreciated.

We also love to make a hardcover photo book every other year for each child and give them as Christmas gifts to our parents (saving one for us, too, obviously!).

Photo albums

Speaking of photo books, we made a simple little album for Mikko as a baby featuring all his relatives. At first we had a soft squishy one made for the purpose of baby using it as a chew toy, but later I realized any "brag book"-size photo album that could hold 4x6" pictures would do. Sometimes I professionally printed photos to stick in, and sometimes I just ran them off on our color printer; quality doesn't matter to a little tyke so much as boosting the familiarity of these dear faces.


It's free and easy to start your own blog, and for your family's sake, it doesn't need to be anything fancier than a repository of photos, your baby's growth stats, and hilarious things your kids have said. Older kids can run their own to record their thoughts and exercise their writing skills. Enable email subscriptions so each new post goes straight to the grandparents' inbox; that will make sure they see each post when it's hot off the presses!

Mass emails

I have a group contact list for all the email addresses of our parents and siblings. Whenever I want to alert the group to new photos, share news, or pass along a funny story, I just type in the group name and email everyone at once. I have yet to have a family member unsubscribe.


Mikko's favorite thing to do is make "decorations," and he recently fell in love with ceramics, which means we have frequent opportunities to send enchanting crafts to people who will highly appreciate them. Usually the only challenging aspect is figuring out how to finagle them for mailing!

Letters and packages

Particularly as your kids get older, you can encourage them to carry on a correspondence with their grandparents. Get some appealing stationery and make the experience fun by encouraging your children to write about anything interesting to them. Children too young to write can draw a picture that you caption for them, or dictate a story. Remind your parents to write back and suggest perhaps including small gifts like a sheet of stickers or a bookmark. As a fancier gift suggestion, my son loves High Five, Puzzle Buzz, and National Geographic Little Kids magazine subscriptions (I swear that last one isn't even an affiliate link; it's just bizarre), all from Grandma, which I remind him whenever they arrive at our home. You could even go more three-dimensional with a care package — maybe your little ones would like to help you bake Grandpa his favorite cookies or finger knit Nana a scarf. Everyone loves getting (good) mail.

Story readings

This goes back to my much younger days, but I remember when my long-distance friends and I would record audio tapes for each other to send through the mail. You can carry on this esteemed tradition by suggesting your parents record themselves reading a storybook you have at home and send you the audio or video file. If they want to shell out some dough, Hallmark has recordable storybooks to buy.

Mix tapes

You want to suggest mix tapes aren't "very modern" technology? Well, the Bront√ęs sure didn't have them. I remember my grandmother making a mix tape for my brother and me when we were little of their favorite folksy songs. For years, I assumed it was my grandmother and grandfather singing on the tape, a fact that greatly amused my mother when she found out. You and your loved ones could offer up an exchange of favorite music, so that thoughts of your relative go through your mind as you enjoy each other's tunes, although I'll allow it could be of the CD or mp3 variety.

There are a lot of enjoyable and simple ways to stay in touch even if you don't live near your loved ones. And these tips can work for grandparents and grandchildren or any other relation: favorite cousins (Mikko's the cutest stalker my niece has ever had the pleasure to know), parents who are service people deployed by the military, divorced parents who live distantly, godparents or other mentors, and anyone else with a kinship you wish to foster.

Be creative, follow your kids' interests, and make family connections fun!

How do you help your children keep in touch with distant loved ones?

Visit Authentic Parenting and Mudpiemama to find out how you can participate in the next Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon February 24 with all the carnival links.)

Disclosure: Some links are affiliate links,
because I looked up all the companies
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See my full disclosure policy here.


Anonymous said...

Love this, and we do many of these, too. We are also far away from grandparents/relatives (not that it's *always* a bad thing . . . ahem).
My MIL does video chats with us, and although she's not on FB I send her the links to any pictures I post. My parents, however, are not computer savvy at all. We did a video chat once or twice when they were at my brother's house, but it was all very Jetsons for them. So, about once every month or two I upload photos to and have them mailed to their house. (You can have them sent to a local store and picked up, but really the postage is minimal.) They won't get on a plane, so we haven't seen them in two years. Sigh. Anyway, loved the post . . . lots of good ideas. Hubby does the story reading before he deploys.

Cassie said...

Awesome ideas!! My in laws live close but my parents live down south about 5 hours. We see them pretty often but not as often as they'd probably like to see the kids. My parents just bought iPhones this summer because after they saw the FaceTime (video chat) feature they were sold. Even though thy could hardly work their previous non smart phones they really picked up on their iPhones. So now video chat, texting and pictures are just so easy! They even got a printer and figured out how to wirelessly send it pictures to print. They are like in technology grandparent heaven. Lol

Crunchy Con Mommy said...

We do lots of phone calls on speakerphone. I like speakerphone better than webcams because then my mom can't tell that I'm nursing my toddler in my pajamas even though it's like noon, or that there's a giant pile of dirty laundry sitting right behind me, etc. lol. I feel like I have to get ready for a video chat like I would for a playdate or something, and make sure the house and my son and I look nice. My mom got Twitter after I told her for the bazillionth time about some prize I'd won, but I don't think she really gets it. She still has an egg for a picture, several months later.
Oh and one more random thought I had-a lot of stores like Walmart and Walgreens have the ability on their website for you to upload and order pics to be printed at a store, pay online, and then pick any store you want. So I've done that before and I paid with my credit card, but had them printed and sent to the store where my parents shop regularly anyway, and told them when they were ready!

Anonymous said...

I love this post! My inlaws live across the ocean from us, so we've always had to rely on the technology. I take a TON of photos, and share them via Picasa. We Skype almost once a week, too. And now that AT&T got some decently priced packages for texting internationally, I can send photos and the infrequent video (all the kinks aren't worked out yet).

Whenever a package arrives at the house, my daughter asks, "grandma?" :) It's such a great idea to remind them who gave them a present in general. Whenever we brush our teeth she says, "Laura toothpaste" since my sister Laura gave her the toothpaste at Christmas. Obviously that tube is gone now- but she'll probably forever think Aunty Laura supplied her toothpaste!

Becky said...

Those are a lot of suggestions! I think the older the kids get, the more resources you need to keep in contact because the kids will be more involved in communicating as well.

My in-laws live in Germany, and so far, we've chatted on Skype (only once or twice a year), I've started a family blog (which they all love), and I send pictures and/or art work with their birthday cards. We have the goal to see them personally every year. I think while my in-laws aren't "too old" to travel internationally and we have at least one young child, we can fly over there every other year (hoping they come over here the opposite years.) When the kid(s) are older we can go every year. I guess we'll see what happens! The long distance is hard on my mother-in-law but it also makes the visits a lot more special.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Crunchy Con Mommy: I hear you on the video thing! I personally hate video chatting b/c I'm usually (ok, always) in my jammies with my house a mess. Plus, I like to play computer solitaire while I listen. ;) But my four-year-old has really connected over the screen, and our parents love seeing the kids, so we do it for them. But, last time we chatted w/my mom, I carefully faced the screen toward the one section of clean living room, but then Mikko HAD to show her something in another section, so I made the mistake of swiveling the screen toward him. "It looks like a tornado went off in your house" was her comment. Uh, thanks, Mom. Way to make me want to video chat more… :P

I love the idea of sending the pictures to THEIR store! Next time I'm motivated to at least get the pictures ready, I'll give that a try. That will at least save me finding an envelope and stamps!

Lauren Wayne said...

I just had a random funny-ish comment to make (on my own post): I started this post in 2009. Wha—? Good thing carnivals come around to make me finish my drafts! :)

Thanks for commenting, all!

Lauren Wayne said...

@Momma in Progress: As to your second sentence, I was trying to keep it positive, ahem. But I totally agree! ;)

For the longest time, we could not get my MIL to video chat properly. She had to have her son (Sam's older brother) there to set it up, or else she and Sam would be on the phone for an hour Every Single Time with him trying to coach her through it before they finally gave up and just talked on the phone like normal. She's terrified of computers so afraid to try clicking on anything or searching around in menus, and she can't do anything to help us help her like send screenshots. Finally, after about a year, they have it set up now where it works every time. I shudder to think of what will happen when next they upgrade their computers…

Lauren Wayne said...

@Cassie: That's why my dad got an iPhone, too. :) Before realizing that I don't have video chat on my phone! But we solved that by having me chat on my laptop, so all is well. "Technology grandparent heaven" — priceless.

Lauren Wayne said...

@lovenotesmama: Laura toothpaste — that's so sweet. I love the connections kids make to little things like that, and it's so easy for us to keep that up with them if we just think about it.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Becky: It can definitely be challenging to travel overseas, but what a great opportunity for your kids! So far we haven't been brave enough to leave the country with our kids, but then again, we don't have that level of motivation. :)

Jenn said...

My mother in law lives 2200 miles away, and she has no computer and is homebound, so this has been a real challenge. We have subscribed to a service called Presto. She has a little Presto machine at her house and every few days we can log into the Presto site and upload a photo, some words, etc., and it will print out on her Presto machine. She loves getting new photos on her machine.

Patricia said...

I read this post hoping to learn something but found I actually do most of the suggestions anyway.

I'm the grandparent-on-the-other-side-of-the-ocean and just wish my daughter had a webcam on her laptop! My son-in-law has one so we can connect using video sometimes, as opposed to on the phone or skype audio.

I've bought a USA Skype phone number so my daughter can phone me (in England) without it costing her extra money. I also have a subscription to call USA phones via Skype so it costs very little money to call her cell phone. Of course Skype-to-Skype is free.

Christmas day seemed like my other daughter and I were in their living room as they opened presents and we were just conversing as if we were there - and sometimes just observing as you do when you are all in the same room.

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

What a fun list!!! I had completely forgotten about Jib Jab - we are totally making one of those videos for Kieran. ;)

Shannon said...

I only ever print photos through flickr, and only usually when it's going to be mailed directly to a great grandparent. Fortunately our parents are all internet savvy enough to be able to print their own pics from my Flickr account.

Marisa said...

My toddler would totally dig hearing her Abuelitos read her a story. Making a recording seems doable. I've got to try this.

Unknown said...

I just peed myself over the JibJab video. Love that!

This was a very timely post as I have been trying to find ways to help Tiny stay connected to her grandparents and aunt who are 8 hours away. We see them half a dozen times per year but I want her to grow a relationship with them now that she is old enough to do so. There are all some really creative and practical suggestions. We already do Skype and pictures. Tiny send artwork. We call a lot. But your list opens some new doors for us to have fun with! Thanks for all these suggestions.

Kerry McDonald, M.Ed. said...

Such a great post on maintaining and boosting attachment, even with geographical distance. We are fortunate that most of our loved ones live nearby, but my husband travels out-of-town for work a lot and we rely heavily on FaceTime on the iPhone to keep in touch!

-Kerry @ City Kids Homeschooling

Unknown said...

I must admit we could do better when keeping in touch with my Mom. But as she's technically challenged, hard of hearing, and doesn't see that well. It's difficult. We send pictures, and we've visited a couple of times. I've also called her to say thanks for Christmas gifts. But that's about it.

She lives pretty far away (627 km/389.6 miles), and she's too insecure to come here. So we go there. But it's only possible to go during vacations, to get any quality time.

We were never that close, because we had a lot of disagreements as I grew up. So there's really no good foundation to the relationship. But We keep in touch anyway, because she's more 'tame' now, and our daughter has a right to know her maternal grandmother.

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