When Carolyn Hax is on vacation, her column consists of advice from readers on topics that have come up in the past. Here’s one on being a grandma (mostly) by phone:
My way of keeping a close relationship with my five grandkids is to have a journal for each child. Every few months, we have our journal time, where I ask about classes, best friends, favorite movies and video games, frustrations, teachers, cartoons, etc. They also have to supply me with a writing sample each year and photos — all of which go into the journal. It has been a great way to get alone time on the phone and certainly when I visit. On my recent visit, the 13-year-old asked if I’d brought the journal with me because he had new info. Who knew?
Something else I do to stay involved: I have my daughters e-mail me the spelling test for the week. Each Thursday, I call to go over the newest words in preparation for their Friday quiz. One boy is struggling a bit with reading, so he calls me weekly to read from a book that we both have (thanks to public libraries). I read a chapter and then he reads the next. The 3-year-old gets a bedtime story twice a week — again with a book we both share so I can ask questions about the pictures. It’s no more energy than what I would expend if they lived here, it’s a thousand times better than e-mail/Facebook.
This is so smart. I remember being young and taking my turn to talk to grandma on the phone–I loved my grandparents, but it was very intimidating, and I had no idea what to say! How’s school? …..Fine. What’s new? …..Nothing. What do I want for Christmas? …..oh, anything. They were likely disappointed, and I was terribly uncomfortably. It’s true that I’ve never exactly been a person who sparkles on the phone, but I think this is a common source of frustration for grandparents, and discomfort for grandchildren. The fact that there is a journal, a concrete record of their conversations, might help to remind the grandkids to let grandma know their news.
The journal that she makes gives direction to her questions–so she can say not just “how’s school?” but ask about a teacher, project, trip, etc. But it’s the reading together over the phone and spelling practice over the phone that really stand out to me. It’s impressive that this grandma has gone out of her way to find out where her grandkids are–what kind of interaction helps them thrive–and then figured out how she can be involved in that. It sounds like she’s developing a kind of closeness with her grandkids that many grandparents–even local ones–would envy.
That’s what I really like about all of this: that it serves to develop an ongoing and dynamic relationship between the grandma and her grandkids. It’s not a weekly phone call to the family where everyone must pass the phone around and make a perfunctory contribution. And since the grandkids, as they get older, suddenly are reaching out to grandma in return, it looks like it’s working.
It also indicates a lot of commitment and openness from grandma’s daughters (the moms of the kids), who prioritize emailing the weekly spelling list, story time with grandma, etc…which brings me to my only hesitation about all of this: grandma sounds a bit commanding. They “have” to send her a writing sample each year? She “has” her daughters email the spelling list each week? Clearly, this is a grandma-inspired and grandma-driven project, and if her suggestions work for everyone else, too, that’s perfectly fine–I just hope she doesn’t flip out if mom forgets to send the list one week.