Q: Our son is in the military. The past few years he's been stationed close to us, so we've enjoyed seeing our grandchildren fairly often. But now their family is being rotated overseas for several years. How can we remain connected and engaged with our grandkids?
Jim: Families often used to reside in the same community for generations, but not so much anymore. And of course, situations like the one you described have always been tough. Here are a few ideas for staying connected:
First, make the most of technology. Over the past few years most of us have had at least some experience with video calls and conferences over the Internet. This gives you and your grandkids a good way to bridge the miles and "see" each other. Ask questions about their friends, hobbies, sports and school activities. Let them give you a virtual tour of their new home and surroundings. Take notes each time and request updates the next time you call. Utilize social media, emails and text messages to stay up-to-date on your son's family (and keep them informed about your activities).
Second, send the occasional surprise "love package." It doesn't have to be expensive. Try coloring books, holiday candy, puzzles and so on. And definitely include hand-written notes and cards. This is a great way to say, "I miss you and love you."
Third, consider giving each grandchild a gift subscription to an age-appropriate magazine -- and doubling up a copy for yourself. When each issue arrives, you can go through it by video or phone call, read articles together, etc. Younger kids may enjoy doing hands-on puzzles and activities "with" you as you chat. (See FocusOnTheFamily.com for various publications.)
Grandparenting across the miles takes a little effort, but it's certainly worth it. And you'll all be the richer for it.
Q: My husband and I have had significant marital problems, and we're currently separated. Under the circumstances, do you think we should spend Christmas morning together (at his invitation) with the kids at his parents' house? I'd love for both of us to watch our girls open their presents, but I'm afraid this might send them mixed messages about the difficulties we're all experiencing.
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Marriage & Family Formation: This is certainly a tough situation. I would say that much depends on your specific circumstances and your goals with respect to the future of your marriage.
For example: Are you and your husband actively working on your relationship during this separation? Are you each getting counseling help and taking steps to resolve your differences? Do you both want to put the marriage back together? If so, I'd suggest it's probably a good idea to maintain some holiday traditions and keep the celebration of Christmas as normal as possible. Rather than sending mixed messages to your children, this will demonstrate solidarity and unity, show the kids that you're working together to navigate troubled waters and give them hope that the family is going to remain intact.
On the other hand, if you see little hope for reconciliation at this point, I'd advise you to think twice about accepting your husband's invitation. Under those circumstances, there's a significant chance that the celebration could come across as fake -- a phony attempt to assume an appearance of normality but ignore the very real concerns affecting everyone. This could be very confusing for the kids and ultimately make things worse.
Whatever the situation, Focus on the Family has a staff of counselors who would be happy to help you sort through these considerations. I'd strongly encourage you to give our team a call at 855-771-4357 for a free consultation. And I wish you the best.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at jimdalyblog.focusonthefamily.com or at Facebook.com/JimDalyFocus.
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