- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2000

Many parents have a well-known complaint about grown children: They never call, they never write, and you never get to see your grandchildren. Some grandparents, however, would rather take action than sit around and complain about the miles between them and the ones they love.
In the world of overnight mail, fax machines and computerized communication, keeping in touch with loved ones couldn't be easier. All it takes is a little time, effort and willpower.
"After all," says Charlotte Cross, 67, mother of three and grandmother of five, "I can either complain about my children and grandchildren living far away, or I can funnel the energy into keeping in touch with them. Actions speak louder than words."
Mrs. Cross, a widow of 10 years who lives in Reston, has one grandchild in Virginia, but the other four are scattered from Maine to Texas. "The distance is only in miles," she says. "When it comes to actual family ties, there isn't any distance between us."
The need to be part of their grandchildren's lives has prompted many grandparents to sign up for computer classes or ask friends and relatives for tips on becoming computer savvy.
"My daughter still has to tell me how to hook up to the Internet," says Bill Folk, 63, of Falls Church. "I may not know a whole lot about technology, but I sure can appreciate what it does for us. I was able to see pictures of my grandson only a few moments after he began crawling."
Mr. Folk's daughter and her family live in Chicago.
David Peters and wife Jane King of Alexandria use the highway the information superhighway to keep in touch with their grandchildren. The couple, who are new to grandparenting, keep tabs on their 1-year-old granddaughter, Julia, who lives in Sacramento, Calif., and their 6-month-old grandson, Robert, of Houston, through Web pages the children's parents have posted.
"It is wonderful to be able to watch the children grow," says Ms. King, 59. "We would love to be with our grandchildren and see them in person, but when that's impossible, this is the next best thing."
Mr. Peters saw Robert shortly after he was born, but his wife has yet to hold the youngster. Ms. King says she cannot imagine how long-distance grandparents of yesteryear stood the "torture" of not being able to see their grandchildren more than once or twice a year.
"Our being able to see the children on the Internet isn't the same as being with them," she says, "but it definitely is easier than not being able to see them at all. We are hoping to be able to visit a few times a year and are hoping they can come out here a few times also."
Mrs. Cross says she believes her relationships with her grandchildren are just as strong as if the children were around the corner. The youngsters range in age from 5 to 15. Mrs. Cross says she established a firm place in each grandchild's life from birth and has maintained it through long conversations about school, sports and even romance.
"From the time my grandchildren were infants, I would have their parents put them on the phone so I could talk to them," she says. "I knew that if I did this, when they saw me and heard my voice, they'd recognize it. As they've gotten older, it has been important to be aware of their interests whether it's Barney or 'N Sync I care about what's going on in their lives, and they know it."
Ms. King agrees, pointing out that as their grandchildren get older, she and her husband will find it necessary to keep abreast of fads, trends and "what's cool."
"I don't think grandparents today feel as old as the grandparents of other generations," Ms. King says. "It's necessary to feel young in order to stay connected with your grandchildren."
Grandparents can keep in touch with grandchildren in many ways, but some are more creative than others.
The written word remains the most popular, but Family.com, a Web site specializing in family situations, offers several creative suggestions for grandparents who want to lessen the miles between themselves and their loved ones.
Make a video for your grandchildren, it advises. In the tape, show the grandchildren your home so they can familiarize themselves with your world and your surroundings. Introduce your pets, your favorite items in the home, and even tell the children some important anecdotes about their parents when the parents were growing up.
Blank cassette tapes are inexpensive. By recording one for your grandchildren, you can familiarize them with your voice, your speaking mannerisms and your laugh. Grandparents also can record themselves reading their favorite children's book to be played for a grandchild at bedtime.
Amy Goyer, program coordinator of the Grandparenting Information Center for AARP, points out that it's also important to know what's going on in your grandchildren's lives.
"Grandparents should try to keep on top of important events in their grandchildren's lives," she says. "Whether it's a baseball game or a school play, important ties are created when phone calls are made after these events it shows the grandparent cares about what's going on."
Ms. Goyer also suggests that grandparents keep and maintain scrapbooks with their grandchildren.
"This book can go back and forth between grandparent and grandchild," she says. "It can chronicle important events in the lives of both."
Family.com points out that quite a few grandparents expect their children to bear the burden of communication, but "it's just as important for the grandparents to fill the children and grandchildren in on what's going on in their lives."
"I think grandparents should do whatever it takes to stay in touch with their grandchildren," says Mr. Folk, who is planning a month-long trip to Chicago. "Kids today need role models, and I think grandparents are good ones even if they live far away."

More information

On line
www.cyberparent.com offers wonderful tips and articles on long-distance grandparenting. Once a week, the site posts a creative idea on how to maintain relationships and activities that can be done via the Web and through the mail with grandchildren.
www.family.com has special links to sites dealing with grandparenting and articles pertaining to long-distance grandparenting.
www.todaysgrandparent.com offers emotional support and helpful insight into being a successful long-distance grandparent.
www.aarp.org has several "tip sheets" on grandparenting. A new sheet offers several creative ideas for keeping in touch with grandchildren.
Books
"The Long Distance Grandmother: How to Stay Close to Distant Grandchildren," by Selma Wassermann, Hartley & Marks Publishers, 1996.
"Long-Distance Grandma: How to Stay Connected With Grandkids Far Away," by Janet Colsher Teitsort, Baker Book House, 1998.

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