How to survive being a long-distance grandma ... of a baby

Bubby celebrates his second birthday this week, which means I've made it a full two years playing grandma from 819 miles away. At first I didn't think I would make it -- at least not without a maxed-out credit card from hundreds of flights to visit Bubby or hundreds of visits to a therapist to help me deal with the distance.

It was upon learning I'd be a grandma that I fully grasped the definition of the word 'bittersweet.' I was thrilled to have a grandbaby on the way, but it literally hurt my heart to know I'd be only a minor player in the baby's daily life, due to distance. My search for books and websites related to my plight turned up primarily information on how to stay connected to grandchildren of a more advanced age, very little on connecting with a newborn or baby.

So I plodded along, making up my own rules, my own way of coping with the distance between myself and my newborn grandson. Now that time has passed and I'm a seasoned long-distance grandma of a baby -- a baby who has grown into a toddler -- I feel qualified to pass along a few tips on how I survived the less-than-ideal situation, in hopes of helping other grandmas dealt the same bittersweet hand I was two years ago.

Get there often ... with permission. Visit the websites of the airlines that provide service between you and the little one, then sign up for their newsletters highlighting special deals. Take advantage of those deals, visiting as often as your budget -- and the baby's parents -- allow. Never, ever surprise the little family with a visit, though, as there's nothing more unnerving than unexpected guests, even when it's Grandma.

Use that webcam. Most newer computers come with a built-in webcam; learn to use it to Skype on a regular basis. Sure, the baby can't interact much in the first year or so, but you can see live shots of the little one. And slowly but surely that baby will sprout into a toddler and be happy to see Grandma's smiling face on the monitor. It's the next best thing to being there.

The telephone still comes in handy. Mom and Dad are busy raising Junior and won't have as much time to sit in front of the webcam as you'd like. So telephone calls are great for quickly touching base and keeping your voice top of mind for the baby -- as long as Mom or Dad don't mind holding the receiver up to the ear of the oblivious kiddo.

Can't beat Picasa for pictures. Save Mom and Dad some time -- and some long-winded begging from you for photos of the baby -- by encouraging the use of Picasa. If they'll upload photos on a regular basis, you can download them to your computer then print any and all those you want for framing and displaying, all without Mom or Dad having to pay for printing and/or postage. Picasa also makes it possible to display the photos on your computer desktop. I'd be lost without Picasa ... or at least just really sad and lonely for my Bubby.

Send pictures of yourself to be placed in baby's view. As soon as Bubby was born, I got busy creating a photo frame to be placed in his room so he could see it on a regular basis. The words "My Grandma & Grandpa" outline the photo of me and Jim, providing a constant reminder of Grandma and Grandpa, despite the miles between us.

A mommy or daddy blog ups the ante. Some grandparents advise others to get on Facebook with their adult children to make it simple to share photos and news of the grandkids. To me, that's not private enough; I don't like that all the "friends" on either end, some not really friends at all, just mere acquaintances, can see everything shared. Yeah, privacy settings can be set to the max, but it's much more private and personal when Mom or Dad create a blog for sharing the news with real friends and family. is an easy and free place to blog and integrates well with Picasa. Plus, a blog creates a wonderful record of the baby's growth.

Give them space, stay outta their face. The baby is the most important thing in lives of the new mom and dad right now, not pleasing grandma. Despite all the opportunities for making yourself a part of the baby's life, don't make a nuisance of yourself just because you simply can't get enough of that kid. Be happy with what you're given, and don't take offense if it's not as much as you'd like. 

Get busy. As noted above, you don't want to be a thorn in the side of the new parents, and the best way to avoid being one is to get on with your life. Find other things to keep you busy, other things to take your mind off missing your grandchild. Racking up experiences unrelated to grandparenting makes you a much more interesting -- and happy -- person, which goes a long way in making the moments you do have with your grandchild far more enjoyable.

Being a long-distance grandma of a baby is harder on the heart than it looks, but you can survive. I did. There really is no other choice. But take heart that there really is a light at the end of the tunnel, for the older your grandchild gets, the easier it is to stay connected, despite those unforgiving miles in between.

Today's question:

What do you consider the ideal distance for adult children to live from their parents?

My answer: I definitely don't want my kids living next door or even on the same block -- we all need a little space -- but my preference would be for my daughters to live a max of a one-hour drive away. Hey, I can dream!