“High Risk.” Nobody likes labels or being lumped into a category that makes it sound like you are “less strong” than another demographic.  It is not something anyone is comfortable with. Yet, as parents in the sandwich generation, many of us find ourselves struggling with how to navigate responsibly limiting exposure (aka time) with grandparents.

We love, highly value and often depend upon these people. We are protective of the health of those we love most.

Grandparents = high risk

For many grandparents, the fact is simply that they are “high risk,” according to science. So out of an abundance of caution, like many other families around the world, we have been “taking a break” from our regularly scheduled grandparent programs.  It has been so hard in so many ways.

I miss you.

The kids miss you. 

But we have to recognize that toddlers, especially, don’t get social distancing. Let’s be honest, my kids sneeze in my face on a regular basis and lick things for no reason.

I have always been a homebody and my parents are my best friends. Since I left for college more than 15 years ago, my life has bloomed in a community away from my parents. But I have made it a priority to get back to see them an average of one weekend a month and a week a year. They also come stay with us to visit and bear witness to special occasions. They live on a farm 4 hours away. This routine is something my kids have always looked forward to and are really missing right now.

My in-laws live here in Colorado Springs. They have been an integral part of our lives, attending weeknight school functions, helping with pick up and drop off and getting the kids to activities. (Donna — I know I haven’t shown as much appreciation as I should for ALL THE BABYSITTING, but I sure do know what I am missing now!)

Being apart

Being apart in a stressful time, especially with the fear associated with this pandemic, has been hard. We all know the reason we are staying apart is because we don’t want to accidentally expose the most important people in our lives to this virus. We’ve all read enough news articles to know there is some risk.

But staying meaningfully connected over so much time has been a challenge. Before, we called to check in and “fill in” each other on our lives. But the time we spent together was really the meat of our interactions. Today, those interactions look a little bit different.

If you are like us and are looking for ways to fill in the gaps that your relationship with your parents, or your kids relationships with their grandparents are facing, here are some suggestion we have been trying.

Embrace the video calling with grandparents

If you are not already doing this, I highly recommend setting up your parents to be able to video conference with your kids. The Facebook Messenger app is an easy, free way to video call with your family and has added features like screenshare and group video chatrooms. Google Hangouts is also free and has the same capabilities. Most android users have a google account associated with their phone and can access these tools in the Google Suite. 

A good tip is to set up your camera on a stable platform and work on training your children to speak to the camera while not touching it.  This will help the grandparents avoid the nauseous feeling that comes with trying to talk to and watch grandchildren while the kids walk around the house with Grandma in the stroller or fight over who gets to show Grandpa their nostrils.

Let the kids teach the grandparents

My kids have been the students in online lessons for months now.

Recently, we decided to flip the script and have them choose something to teach their grandparent “students.” (Thanks, Grandma, for showing your support.) This was a great activity that really boosted my six-year-old (dramatic, outgoing, extroverted) kid’s spirits.

Do a study course together

With all the negativity in the news and stress and concerns, I was finding that the time I spent one on one with my mom was fixating on bad “current” news and was bringing everyone down. I was given a workbook resource through work to help work through the stress and anxiety related to the Covid pandemic and we decided to use that as our fist “online buddy course” to work through. I provided her with a copy and we walked through it together, going through the exercises and trying to manage our anxiety together, even if we are apart.  There is a lot of fear of the unknown out there, so if you or someone you know is struggling with this, here is a link to the workbook

Another area we focus on is art because we both love to create and my mom is a phenomenal artist.  We do together is mini art lessons.  We pick a subject and study it together on our calls.  This week we are working on brush technique.  We found a tutorial on YouTube and agreed to meet at a set time, brushes and paint in ready in hand.

Go on a virtual dinner date

This is actually pretty fun. It’s the next best thing to being able to go our to dinner with family.  Set up cameras in a safe location (away from grubby fingers) during mealtime and explore screen casting options.  My parents have a smart tv that allows them to project a video call to it (called casting).  When I set up my camera at dinner, they can cast the video to the TV in their kitchen. It creates the feeling of being right there.  Get dinner on the table, grab a glass of wine and see how everyone’s day was.

Do a socially distant back yard activity

If you have family nearby, try setting up an activity they can do with your kids in the back yard.  You can sanitize the supplies and keep a safe social distance and masks while you complete the project.  We did mosaic garden pavers and added a special twist.

Good luck staying in touch!

grandparents

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Rachel is a native Coloradoan, though originally from the Western Slope. She followed her husband Chris to his hometown of Colorado Springs after having met in engineering school at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. Together they have four beautiful children, Tommy (2011), Tazzy (2014), Zach (2015) and Zinny (2018). Having a young and active family keeps Rachel on her toes trying to find ways to keep the ship sailing while still meeting all the demands of motherhood. Though Rachel loves her most important role as Mommy most, she also works full time outside the home as a Water Resources Engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources. This role helps keep her life centered, bouncing from detailed and complex discussions relating to Colorado Water Law with her husband ( a mechanical engineer) to daycare and preschool drop off and pick up schedules, while being constantly interrupted by the equally complex musings of her 4 year.