For many years we have been distant grandparents to four of our six young grandchildren. Distant geographically, that is, as we love all of them to bits and happily it’s mutual.

So we have always made a big effort to make sure that we get to be with our more remote ones as much as possible, with the aspiration being monthly visits in one direction or the other, with each pair (and their lovely parents too, of course). And in between there have been random FaceTime and phone calls.

But the pandemic has changed that, and to our surprise some of that has been in a good way – better than before, in fact. When it hit, we’d been in the process of organising a big family gathering for a birthday party. In pretty short order that was converted to a gathering by zoom. And, of course, monthly visits were out.

Instead, a wealth of suggestions sprang up for suddenly distant grandparents, on how to maintain links, such as by reading stories on FaceTime or similar, texting and email, writing letters, sending little gifts, making dedicated phone call time with individual children, to keep that special link with each, and so on and so forth. Something for every level of technology and/or the old-fashioned, tried and true methods of communicating.

And with everyone in some level of lockdown, and parents juggling home schooling and youthful boredom while working from home, we actually distant grandparents wanted to be there for them and be a part of their lives in some way. And with all four of those grandchildren being of an age to have regular storytime, that seemed like a good idea all round. And so we got right into it, finding out what sort of books each wanted to have read to them, and setting up a daily routine for doing that by FaceTime.

Suddenly, we’d moved on from periodic visits and calls to getting together every day, and we all enjoyed it, with lots of chat and joking as well. Occasionally, we even got to do some remote child minding while one mum took a younger child to their child care centre, as they could stay open. We all got engrossed in the stories, and my husband and I read alternate pages in each chapter, with a chapter a day unless a cliff hanger was too much to bear, and we crept into the beginning of the next.

With the passage of time, as Australia has proved to do so well in controlling the virus, the restrictions have lessened, and right now we have the joy of actually being physically with one out-of-town family while being disappointed by the cancelled visit at the same time by the other, as they are living in one of Melbourne’s hotspots and have suddenly become persona non grata to NSW.

Nonetheless, for both families, what we are also continuing to do on a regular basis, even though school is now back, is reading to one pair of children each morning before they set off, and reading to the other pair on weekends.

This has now become a new habit that we are not going to let go of – catching up and doing something enjoyable so regularly with them is just too much fun. And a great way to be strengthening our relationships with them from afar.

While a pandemic is a heavy price to pay for such a discovery (and yes, we could have thought of it before. But didn’t.), at least this is something positive that has come out of it for us. And it’s something that we can now highly recommend to other distant grandparents, whatever the reason for the physical separation.

Image: NoSystem Images, iStock. Models are posed and do not represent actual people or events.

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