When I was growing up, mum would take me and my two brothers over to my grandparents every Saturday while dad was at work. We’d live it up with every whim catered for – knickerbocker glory? “No problem, let’s make it from scratch.” Want to lie on the sofa and watch Tom and Jerry? “Sure, here’s a blanket.” It was comforting and safe.
Grandparents play a huge role in the lives of so many children the world over. My own mum now looks after my two sons on a Wednesday. She’s here on a Tuesday when they get home from childcare and my four-year-old has a sleepover in Nanny’s bed every week. Not only do the children look forward to her visits but I welcome them for the respite and support they give me. The love between these generations is a special one. Although it took a while for my children to warm to my dad, now they can’t wait for him to be here so they can start the game of twanging his braces.
This week my children asked if Nanny was waiting for them and I had to say no. With underlying health conditions we’d taken the decision that she would only come on Wednesday so I could get some work finished and then go. And we don’t know when she will be back. My own nan turned 86 at the weekend and I was careful to visit her alone, armed with a video of the boys singing happy birthday, and didn’t hug her.
Covid-19 is a bitch. It’s separating families and forcing all of us to adjust to a very different way of life and unsurprisingly many of us are anxious about what’s to come and how long it’s going to last not to mention worried for the health of our loved ones.
So, how do we keep the grandparent-grandchild relationship alive while we can’t physically see each other.
Here are a few ideas I’ve had, and I’m open to further suggestions.
1. Phone calls
This is an old-school option for the grandparents that aren’t down with WhatsApp or FaceTime. Just hearing the voices (or wild screeches) of loved ones is a comfort for the elderly who really shouldn’t have to be dealing with being cooped up alone in their own homes. Leaving a voicemail is also a good idea as it’s something they can listen to whenever they need a boost. You could get the grandparent to read a story over the phone at bedtime.
2. Video chat
One for the more technically minded members of the older generation. We are very lucky to be living in such a digital age that makes it easy to keep in touch. But it’s no substitute for actual human contact.
This one ticks two boxes at once. Creative activity to keep the smalls occupied for half an hour and something lovely for the grandparent to receive. I use the term ‘lovely’ in a very loose sense.
4. Photo postcards
There are plenty of apps or websites that can turn a photo into a card or postcard to be sent direct to a recipient. I plan to take lots of photos of the children wearing outfits or playing with toys bought by the grandparents and send updates on what we’ve been doing.
5. Photo books
Very similar to the above. This forced period of being at home is a great opportunity to get around to sorting the thousands of photos we all have. Turning them into photobooks and having them sent direct to grandparents is a way to brighten their day. And for the children looking at photos of themselves through the baby years is a good way to share memories and stories with them.
It’s terrifying to think about how long we will be unable to see our loved ones, but we need to stay connected for our mental health and so that when we do get together again it’s as though we were never apart.
If there’s one positive that comes out of this dire situation then I think it will be that we can never take for granted being able to see our families. I haven’t visited as much as I could because life gets in the way or I’ve been too tired but now the option of just popping over on a whim has been taken from me I wish I could nip to my nan’s for a knickerbocker glory.