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4 Ways Grandparents Connect With Grandchildren Today

From technology to travel, it's all about building bonds and memories

spinner image grandfather and grandson fishing on a pier
Terry Vine/Getty Images

​A year into the pandemic, Kim Murstein, 26, moved from New York to Florida to live with her grandparents.

Over time, Murstein found herself asking her grandmother, Gail Rudnick, 80, to weigh in on her romantic prospects after going on some socially distant dates. Their intergenerational differences about dating, sex and relationships were so funny that Kim proposed they make a podcast together.

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“My Grandma Gail is such a character, so everything she says is great material,” Murstein says.

Eventually, they started a TikTok account called Excuse My Grandma, where they posted short videos, some of which got millions of views

“I didn't even know what TikTok was,” Rudnick says. “I thought it was a breath mint, like a Tic Tac.”

Excuse My Grandma is now Kim’s full-time job and the duo gets a kick out of being recognized when they’re out together. “The best part about this is being with my granddaughter 24/7,” says Rudnick.​

The connection between a grandparent and grandchild is unique, and it can reap enormous benefits for both sides.​

“I think grandparents are vitally important,” says gerontologist Carole B. Cox, a professor of social work at Fordham University. “They bring something special into a child’s life.”​

With life expectancy increasing and family sizes decreasing, grandparents have more time to spend with their grandchildren than ever before, says Rachel Dunifon, dean of the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University who studies child and family policy.

In addition to having more time, many grandparents also live very close to their grandchildren. Dunifon coauthored a study that found that half of U.S. teenagers live fewer than 9 miles from their closest grandparent, and 20 percent live less than 1 mile away. “This means that grandparents can and do play important roles in their grandchildren’s lives,” she says.

Even grandparents who live far from their grandchildren are finding ways to stay involved. Here are some ways grandparents connect with their grandkids today:

1. They use technology ​ ​

To close the gap between western Massachusetts, where Carol Steiner lives, and Seattle, where her grandson, Henry, attends preschool, the pair began spending time on Google Meet, doing puzzles and coloring together. “I design, draw and send jigsaw puzzles for him to put together once a month,” she says. “His mom emails me his line drawings, I email her mine, and we color each other’s drawings together online.”

Steiner, 69, also reads virtually to Henry and takes him on video walks with her phone so they can look for bugs together.

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Kathleen Lemoine, 80, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has adult grandchildren and some live thousands of miles away.

“I text my grandkids links to articles, fun videos and anything that makes me think of that grandchild,” she says. She also texts them instructions on how to make jambalaya, gumbo and potato salad — some of their favorite dishes growing up. And her grandson who’s working on his doctorate emails his papers to her to get a layperson’s perspective. The exchange keeps Lemoine engaged in what he’s up to and gives them things to talk about when they see each other.​

“If you cannot be physically in the presence of your grandchild,” Cox says, “you really have to make an effort to get comfortable with technology.” ​

2. They share activities and adventures

Grandparents and their grandkids still enjoy doing things they might have done together a century ago: going fishing, picking berries, swimming in creeks, and searching for edible mushrooms and native plants. Those are some of the activities Susan Willis, 69, and her elementary-school-aged grandsons, Gabe and Tristan, do when they get together in Lake Rosemond, Louisiana.​

“I can't really take credit for any creativity in most of our activities,” Willis says. “The ideas come from my grandsons. I just try to be open to their suggestions and we always have fun.” ​

Ellie FitzPatrick Sifford, of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, sends each of her daughters, ages 9, 5 and 16 months, to Camp Mima at least twice a year for weeklong visits. Camp Mima is the home of Verna FitzPatrick, 69, Ellie’s mom, who lives in New York, New York.​

“With my oldest, they’ve done Broadway shows, sightseeing, a ride on the N.Y.C. ferry, and she has a pool and playroom in her building plus a lot of playgrounds in her neighborhood,” Sifford says. “The girls love the individualized attention from my mom and she makes it super fun for them."​ ​

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3. They do some multigenerational travel

spinner image  grandparents and granddaughter posing for cell phone selfie at a park
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Some grandparents plan special trips with their grandchildren.

Rhonda Holyfield-Mangieri, 70, of Cincinnati, Ohio, recently took her 15-year-old granddaughter, Lucy, on a cruise in Alaska.

“Since we had a break with COVID, I knew I had to break out of the sequestration and go on an adventure,” Holyfield-Mangieri says. “I asked Lucy where she wanted to go and she said Alaska. She loves nature and animals and off we went.” ​

Holyfield-Mangieri especially enjoyed watching Lucy plan excursions and soak it all in. ​ ​

These types of outings create shared experiences, new memories and strong bonds, and they can come with any age combination. The Washington Post recently reported on a grandmother-grandson duo who have visited 62 out of 63 national parks together. Since 2015, Joy Ryan, 92, of Duncan Falls, Ohio, has traveled to the parks with her adult grandson, Brad. Together they have driven through the night, camped, climbed mountains and rolled down dunes. ​ ​

4. They help financially 

​Some grandparents are in a position to contribute to the cost of school tuition, summer camp, a laptop, tablet or smartphone. While this can be nice for grandchildren, Cox says buying expensive gifts won’t necessarily build a strong bond. “Don’t use money as a mechanism to buy love,” she says. “We know this doesn’t work.”​

Grandparents can, however, use financial generosity to endow a gift with lasting meaning and impact. New Orleans resident Andrea Neighbours says that for years her in-laws gave each of her children a birthday present plus $100 they donated to a charity chosen by that grandchild. “It gave both kids a sense of the responsibility to give back that they may not have felt otherwise,” she says. “And they loved that gift as much as their ‘regular’ presents.”​

Some grandparents have used a monetary gift to teach their grandchildren about the stock market by opening a brokerage account in their name and researching and purchasing stocks together. According to Kiplinger, getting a child age 10 or older interested in the stock market can have a profound effect on their wealth as adults.

​Cox says that what grandparents model today is very important for the next generation, and that forging a strong connection can help make their grandchildren better grandparents themselves down the road. Not to mention it builds unforgettable memories. ​

“What you’re doing isn’t just for now,” she says. “You can’t live forever but you can live on in people’s hearts.”​

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