Grandparents, grandkids get creative to keep close while apart

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT)– Stay at home orders are keeping families apart, which can be especially challenging for grandparents.  Having to figure out new technology to stay connected or missing out on important milestones can be difficult.

Up until Thursday, Mary Kay Wolf hadn’t been close to her grandkids since late March.

“My daughter and her husband are essential workers and they’ve worked it out– but today we broke down and had to watch them,” said Wolf, a grandparent and the executive director for Great Rivers United Way.

They’ve done birthday drivebys, video chats and lots of Facebook messages. Any time they have seen their grandkids, who live nearby, they’re respected social distancing.

“We try really hard to make the connection but it’s tough,” Wolf said.

During a “Safer-at-Home” version of Coffee and Conversation through Always United, an affinity group of Great Rivers United Way, The Parenting Place gave some helpful tips.

“I have a wonderful coworker– with her grandson who lives on the east coast, he’s five-years-old, they make up stories together,” said Heather Pfaff, a parent educator for The Parenting Place.

She’s encouraging people to make meaningful moments with their family members through technology. Be sure to engage with them by asking questions that go beyond asking about their day.

“‘You got a new dog,’ or, ‘I heard you’re in charge of feeding the dog now. Can you show me what you have to do to feed the dog?’ And they can take the camera and they can show you,” Pfaff said.

But sometimes that doesn’t work out.

“My parents are both in their 80’s and getting them to do technology is an impossibly– so that doesn’t work well for them,” Wolf said.

So you may have to go a little old school. Instead of an email, have the kids send their grandparents a letter. That helps them practice their handwriting, spelling and grammar. It also helps the grandparent know family members are thinking of them.

For those living nearby, there are ways to say hi. Luckily, Wolf’s parents live on the first floor at an assisted living home, so they can skip the technology.

“We are able to go to the window, and call them and talk through the window,” Wolf said.

Pfaff recently took her teenager to met her mother-in-law in the park. They brought separate meals and sat far apart from each other for a quick lunch.

“But we still got to talk and see in person each other and that was really nice,” Pfaff said.

It might not be perfect but little things can make a big difference for families.

“So there are ways, there are ways. We just have to be creative though,” Pfaff said.