By Scott Sager
When my older daughter started college, she moved away from home and she also moved off the family calendar.
Suddenly her schedule didn’t match up with ours — her summer job/internship commitments and vacations were out of sync with her younger sister’s high school timetable. While I’d anticipated some of this, the changes it made on her relationship with her grandparents caught me by surprise.
Our extended family is dispersed. From our home in New York, my wife’s parents are 200 miles away in Massachusetts while my mother is far south in sunny Florida. Our travel is often planned around visiting grandparents and we depend on them to make pilgrimages to see our children.
We are not alone. According to a 2012 report by the AARP, more than three quarters of grandparents live 50+ miles from at least one grandchild and 43% live 200+ miles from a grandchild.
In other families, grandparents live close by. A 2010 Pew Center Study found that one in ten children grow up in a home with at least one grandparent living there. When a student leaves for college in another part of the state, country or world, suddenly that daily contact ends.
In every situation, college disrupts traditions and transfers responsibility to students to continue building their connections with grandparents. Parents can lend a hand during this transition and support these special family ties.
First, make sure your student understands that keeping up with Grandma and Grandpa is on her shoulders now. If she is going to miss visits because of school or activities, it will require her effort to make contact. Together, you can strategize ways to stay in touch.
Technology is a powerful tool and one students are comfortable using. Video calls (such as Skype), emails, texts — especially with photos — can help grandparents feel informed and involved in a student’s life. Seeing and hearing about each other’s lives will make both generations feel connected to each other and to places rarely visited. This may be the grandparents’ only opportunity to “visit” your student’s campus!
You may need to help your parents get comfortable with new technology. Even better, your student can tutor Nana on how to text or video chat.
When in-person visits are possible, guide your student in making the most of them. In her Psychology Today blog, Dr. Nancy Kalish points out that, “research on grandparenting confirms that attachments are best formed by being with one grandchild at a time.” Time alone with grandparents — a weekend visit or dinner together — may fit right in with your student’s new independence and schedule.
For some students, feeling connected may require finding a common interest. My mother, during her annual visits, always took my girls to see a show. Now, in college, my daughter finds herself immersed in and passionate about theater, giving her and her grandmother a shared pursuit. Whether sports, history, or a summer job in business, encourage your student to communicate her interests and encourage your parents to participate in those interests. Instagram and Pinterest offer easy forums to share images, and even just emailing links can build a foundation for a future conversation in person or on the phone.
At the end of freshman year, my daughter realized she would miss our family’s summer trip to Massachusetts so she got herself on a bus and visited Gram and Grandpa for a weekend before her summer job began. It was a joyful visit for all, but more it signaled a turning point for her as she took charge of keeping her bonds with her grandparents strong through her own effort. It required a little parental help — money for the ticket, and putting up with the pile of her college stuff in the dining room for a few extra days — but it was more than worth it.
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