As if you didn’t already know it, scientific research confirms that maintaining healthy relationships with adult children can be difficult. A 2009 study published in the journal “Psychology and Aging” found a majority of respondents admitted to stress in the parent-adult child relationship. And navigating that terrain long-distance doesn’t necessarily make it easier. In fact, it might complicate matters further when parents, children and grandchildren find themselves all under one roof for family get-togethers on the heels of a long-distance absence.
Communication is the foundation of all good relationships. If you’re far away from your children and grandchildren, make a decided effort to keep in touch. Phone calls are fine, but with today's technologies available to you, your options don’t end there. Your grandchildren would probably prefer a text anyway, so if your fingers aren’t already used to texting technology, this may be time to get on board. There’s also FaceTime, Skype, Facebook and Twitter as social-media tools for staying aware of what’s happening in the lives of the grandkids. But don’t fall into the voyeuristic trap. Your job is not to simply watch. Your job is to participate. Schedule regular times and ways to communicate that become part of your family's routine.
Regardless of how inconvenient it may occasionally be for all parties involved, sometimes you just want to reach out and touch, in person. Visit when you can, but be willing to extend invitations, too. Your children might even appreciate an offer to babysit. By taking care of the grandkids, you forge a relationship with the little ones as you are nurturing the relationship you have with your grown children.
3. Respect Boundaries
Hand-in-hand with communication is the establishment and respect of boundaries. It’s great if your son or daughter has an open guest room and truly makes you feel at home when you visit. However, you shouldn’t assume that room is exclusively yours. You also need to respect your child’s adult status in her own child’s life. Just because your kids don't parent the way you did doesn’t mean they don’t have a handle on the job. Give them credit for the good they are doing and limit your criticism. If you want a good relationship with your adult child, you’ve got to respect that he is indeed an adult and no longer a child.
Just because you can’t physically be there for all the milestones your children and grandchildren achieve, doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate in their accomplishments. When your son gets a promotion, congratulate him. Tell him you’re proud. When your granddaughter scores well at her gymnastics meet, call her and cheer her on. And when things aren’t so good, reach out so that your kids and grandkids all know that you’re there and you love them, no matter what.
- Psychology and Aging: Tensions in the Parent and Adult Child Relationship, K. Birditt, L. Miller, K. Fingerman, E. Lefkowitz (2009)
- Kansas State University: Loving LongDistance: Families Separated by Distance
- Help Guide: Grandparenting
- Psychology Today: Over The River & Through The Woods: Long Distance Grandparenting
- AARP: Are You a Good Friend to Your Grown-up Kid?
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