Kerry is a researcher, collaborator and entrepreneur in aging, care and connection. She is the Founder of The Long Distance Grandparent, a mission driven business, helping grandparents build strong bonds with their grandchildren – no matter the distance between.
In this Episode
- The Long Distance Grandparent Society (1:10)
- Nurturing the relationship: similarities in maintaining connection between grandparents and grandkids and maintaining connection with travelling parents & their children (6:30)
- The Five Pillars to Connection (11:40)
- The importance of having a vision for the relationship (11:50)
- The Connection Loop (30:37)
- Starting early (39:11)
- Grief (40:20)
- Two of Kerry’s favourite resources for parenting (44:34)
Resources mentioned in the episode
Kerry has a lot of different blogs on connecting, various topics, inspiration and ideas for staying connected. She sends out a weekly email with those kinds of tips. and you can find out more about the membership at that website as well.
Rhoda Bangerter (00:04):
Welcome to Holding the Fort Abroad, the podcast for expats with travelling partners. My name is Rhoda Bangerter, I am a certified coach and the author of the book Holding the Fort Abroad. In this podcast, I interview men and women who live abroad and have travelling partners so that we can all benefit from their wisdom and experience, I also invite relationship experts to apply their expertise to this topic. Today my guest is Kerry Byrne. Kerry is a researcher, collaborator and entrepreneur in aging, care and connection. She is the Founder of The Long Distance Grandparent, a mission driven business, helping grandparents build strong bonds with their grandchildren – no matter the distance between.
Kerry, welcome to the show!
Kerry Byrne (00:56):
And thank you Rhoda. Just delighted to be here.
Rhoda Bangerter (00:59):
I'm very excited about this conversation. You have a membership for long distance grandparents. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how you came to do it?
Kerry Byrne (01:10):
Sure. As you mentioned in the intro, I'm a researcher. I've been a research scientist in the area of aging and care for over 20 years. And I've always known that the relationship between generations is important and especially actually the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, for all kinds of reasons. When I became a mother, I always say that I birthed six long distance grandparents! We had four grandparents, two honorary grandparents, and things just changed. We were at a distance from the moment that my son was born. And then when he was about two, we got transferred to Dubai. And we became kind of the ultra-long distance from our family in Canada, cause I'm from Canada. My husband is from England. And his parents are in England. Our relatives are here in Canada and they had developed all of them, such a sweet and lovely relationship with my son.
Kerry Byrne (02:10):
I only had one at the time and I just remember thinking, walking away from my dad at the airport, you know, I had left my father many times and traveled in my life, but I had never left him with, a grandchild strapped to me. We can all relate to this, being at the airport, with the child and saying goodbye and you know, the finger puppets ready in your bag for that long flight. And I did have a moment where I thought I'm not going to let this relationship suffer. And we got to Dubai and I managed to keep them connected and I had a second child in Dubai, my oldest is Ben and my youngest is Charlie. And probably about three months into having Charlie. I started to get a little bit stir crazy. Maternity leave is not really my thing.
Kerry Byrne (03:04):
I was at the beach in November and looking around the beach and there were many grandparents there with their grandchildren and I started to call it grandparents season, because of course it's hot in Dubai, over the summer, and then things are beautiful in November. And people start to arrive and I was part of, as I'm sure many listeners are, an expat mom’s group. That was fantastic. You know, really saved me when I first got to Dubai, and I reached out and asked if any of the grandparents who were visiting would be willing to talk to me. And I did a thing called the grandparent interview project and I started to talk to, and just interview grandparents from all over the world, who were there visiting their grandchildren. And the thing that I heard over and over again was that they were worried about not being able to create and nurture a bond with their grandchild, that they wouldn't truly know their grandchild or their grandchild would not truly know them.
Kerry Byrne (04:03):
They compared relationships that their friends had with grandchildren who lived quite close by. There was a lot of sadness around it and a lot of determination, frankly, to build that bond. And I knew that it was really possible. We got transferred to Houston shortly thereafter. And when we were in Houston is really where the idea started to take shape for the Long Distance Grandparent.
And just to test out the idea, would grandparents be interested in practical ideas for staying connected. As a solution focused researcher, a very applied healthcare scientist, I like to take evidence and put it into practice or put it into products. I started through the pandemic hearing from many grandparents who were at a distance, heartbreaking. They were either, you know, having to social distance from their grandchildren.
Kerry Byrne (04:59):
They were missing that coveted summer visit with grandchildren. And in the summer, I think the first summer of the pandemic, I launched the Long Distance Grandparent society. And this is a membership program for long distance grandparents. And I call it a digital subscription box with support.
I originally thought of it that it would just be a digital subscription box that I could include grandparents no matter where they lived. They would receive a connection pack digitally every month with mail and you know, all kinds of ideas for how to connect virtual grand dates.
And then when, when I first met with members, the welcome call for the founding of beta members, we had such a lovely conversation. They said ‘Can we do this every month?’. And now we have each month, ‘Grand Zoom Chats’, we call them, they've morphed into a one grand zoom mingle a month as well, where they break it into rooms and talk about specific topics, and then I bring in a guest expert every month. And it is flourishing and it's beautiful. And I think that I underestimated how much grandparents would want to network and socialize around their role as a grandparent and especially from a distance, because of course, grandparenting from a distant is quite different. And that's really the backstory to all of it, but it is a thriving, beautiful group of really engaged grandparents from all over the world.
Rhoda Bangerter (06:26):
Wow. What kind of topics do they cover?
Kerry Byrne (06:30):
Well, each month I base the connection pack on a theme, and I mean, now I think I've got about 20 packs in this portal. And when grandparents join, they actually now get access to this members-only website, that holds all of these different packs of ideas. And we've done everything from, you know, connecting with grandchildren through books, through place, through belonging. Oh gosh, there’s tons of different values that grandparents share with me. For example, they are all very interested in how to play together from a distance with their grandchildren, and so in May, I'll be releasing a pack that's all about a digital play. It's a very collaborative effort. You know, I created the membership based on feedback from the early members and continue to seek feedback always from members who are in it.
Kerry Byrne (07:30):
But, you know, I find that if we have a topic that we focus on for the month and that kind of centers things and helps me in creating the packs as well. They're all created based on evidence though. I'm not just, you know, sending you a picture of a dinosaur to send your grandchild, right. Like I send mail and I call it mail that connects. And I create, you know, each month's snail mail for them to send to their grandchildren because I think that the mailbox is a super powerful place for grandparents. Very few people send our kids mail except for grandparents. But then also ideas for video chatting as well, different games to play, ways to get to know one another.
Rhoda Bangerter (08:11):
Wow. Wow. This is so exciting. And it's really practical, isn't it? And it's geared towards connecting and to building that relationship right. Between the grandkid and the grandparents.
Kerry Byrne (08:23):
Yeah. It's all focused on nurturing the relationship. And I always share that the number one secret to grandparenting from a distance, and I think to developing any, quite like any kind of relationship with a child from a distance is to sweat the small stuff.
And what I mean by this is just to remember the small details, you know, what they don't like on their pizza, or they do like on their pizza or that they, I don't know. I mean, there's just many different, tiny details that you can remember about a child that lets them know ‘I know you’, right? ‘I know you’ and write it down. Like I give them a cheat sheet so that they can…of course, cause some grandparents have multiple grandchildren. And just remembering a friend that they mentioned that when you're talking to them the next time, you know, you can ask them how playing with Holly at the park went, as opposed to just saying, oh, you were at the park. I mean really personalizing it for them highlights to them that you're listening.
Rhoda Bangerter (09:21):
That is, that is fabulous. So do you rope the parents in to provide stuff or not?
Kerry Byrne (09:28):
Well, so I work with the grandparents specifically, but of course creating this relationship requires the parent to be there and to show up and engage as well. And so we definitely talk a lot about how to make things easier for the parents. You know, how to just really ask them ‘How can I make this easier to stay connected? Am I doing anything that's making it harder?’ Like ‘Am I am I calling during, you know, chaotic dinner hour or is that a good time to call because then the kids are expected to at least sit for, you know, three minutes, for that video chat.’ And it is certainly one of the key pillars that I teach is around partnering with the parents.
Rhoda Bangerter (10:10):
Okay. My brain is already going towards the parallels.
Kerry Byrne (10:14):
Rhoda Bangerter (10:15):
Like ‘Ooh that's a good question for the traveling parent to ask the home-based parent’ is, ‘Am I calling at a busy, at the chaotic moment or what can I do to nurture this relationship, from your side.?’
I'm already sort of working on that parallel, but obviously you believe that a strong relationship even long distance is possible and that there are practical tools to make it happen, right?
Kerry Byrne (10:48):
Yes. I think that you, it requires, and this is for…
I mean, my husband travels as well. I'm the one who's at home trying to navigate the situation. We actually just moved back to Canada in the summer. And that has its own host of challenges, certainly coming back to your home country, but we have the experience of keeping my kids connected, with Dad who travels all over and dealing with the time differences, and also dealing with, you know, that we are still living our life here. And, you know, daddy wants to talk at a certain time before he is popping out or getting those lovely pictures of daddy out enjoying himself!
Rhoda Bangerter (11:34):
Kerry Byrne (11:35):
Talking to other adults when I haven't actually interacted with anybody over seven years old, for the last week, short of a conversation in the schoolyard with other parents. But taken a lot of my own personal experience and keeping my kids connected to their grandparents and also to Dad when he is gone. But, what I will say is that I've also drawn on a lot of research.
When I started the long distance grandparent, I suppose not surprisingly because I'm a researcher, I kinda tucked into research about relationships, and about long-distance grandparenting, long-distance and families, about technology, about kids and attention span, you know, video chat. There's lots of great information out there about video chatting and what you can expect from children, or not expect given their attention span. And based on all of that, I created something called ‘Your Grand Path to Connection.’
And this is a framework that I use, but I describe it as the five key pillars. And so this will apply whether you are a grandparent listening, or trying to keep your child connected to anybody who's at a distance, an auntie or an uncle, or mom or dad.
And the five pillars are plan, partner, prepare, play, and preserve. And I can just briefly describe each one. I think that it's really quite important to have a plan. I talk to grandparents about, you know, what is their vision for this relationship? And it sounds a bit woo, woo. You know what, but we create a grandparent vision statement in the membership because I think it's important to think about what kind of relationship do you wanna have and then what are you willing to do to have that relationship? Are you willing to mail something once a month and make sure that that gets into the mail, right? Or are you willing to sit down every Saturday morning and, you know, plan out that connection? I talk about having kind of a, you know, on a Saturday morning when maybe if the grands live close by or family live close by you, you'd be preparing a big pancake breakfast for them or a Sunday roast. Take that time to work on the relationship and plan the relationship.
Rhoda Bangerter (13:46):
Wait, planning. That can apply for a traveling parent too.
Rhoda Bangerter :
We did some sessions with Sharoya Ham, who's a parenting coach. And my husband was in Kabul, I was in Switzerland, and I think she was in the States. We were on three different time zones, but we were all on one screen. And one of the things she asked both of us, but we did it separately, but it was like, ‘What was our dream for our child? What was our plan for… what kind of relationship we wanted to have with our child as an adult and to sort of work towards that as we're parenting. I don't think anybody had ever asked us that question before. I don't think my husband had ever had the opportunity to express it as the traveling parent. It was really, really powerful just to think, ‘Okay, what kind of relationship do I want with my children now? What kind of relationship do I want with my children when they're adults? What are I dreaming for them? What kind of person, who do I want them to become?’ Those were all great, great questions. That's planning
Kerry Byrne (15:15):
And, and also just about the values that you wanna share. I think that oftentimes, especially for grandparents, they really play a key role in sharing family values and also teaching grandchildren new things. I think if you search family mission statement, you'll find, you know, lots of different templates that you can use and questions that you can ask as a family, as a grandparent. If you search grandparent vision statement, I'm probably gonna come up cause yes, I think that having a plan is really important and these are all related and overlap. They’re best almost thought of as a Venn diagram because they do overlap cuz the second pillar is partner for connection. And of course for grandparents, the key partner is the parents.
Kerry Byrne (16:04):
But there are other people that you can bring into the relationship. And I think that this applies for traveling parents as well. I always say, bring the fun uncle, you know, onto a FaceTime chat and gather the family together from a distance. And for grandparents, oftentimes they are the gatherers, they are the ones that bring people together. And I encourage them that they can still be that person, you know, to bring everybody together, send prizes in the mail to everybody and play a game together are then of course that comes down to preparation the third.
We've got Plan, Partner and then Prepare. And you know, one of the things that I heard from grandparents is that they they'd like more time to video chat and see the grandchildren. And when I talked to parents, cause I did interviews with grandparents and with parents to get the feedback from parents.
Kerry Byrne (16:56):
I mean, I have my perspective in doing this, but I wanted to hear from other parents and they would say that, you know, the grandparents wanna chat and they get on the call and they don't really have anything to say. And that's really common with small children that as a parent, you're going to do something called scaffolding the conversation. We've all done it, like ‘tell Nana what you did today at school’ or …! But you know, I kind of encourage them. Like if Nana showed up with some funny glasses, if Nana was ready to play peek a boo or memory tray, you know, there are multitude of games that work really well from a distance. I have loads of them on my blog and website, but there are lots of things that you can do together from a distance that, you know, you prepare. If they were coming to visit you, you might pick out their favorite foods. You know, you ask a ton of questions about what you should have there for that visit. You might pick up some crafts for them to do. I don't think it's different than when you spend this virtual time together, these are your moments together. And that is really about the preparing piece and then play.
Rhoda Bangerter (18:02):
Hang on hang on! I’m jumping in at every time because it’s so rich! There’s so much about around each one of them. I prepared an article on connecting on video conversations with the traveling parent. And at one point it was like, you can also do role play to prepare for the conversation and use it as an opportunity to teach the child how to have a conversation! Because, yeah, children don't know how to have a conversation!
I'm just curious though, in your research, what did you find out in terms of ages and what you can expect on a video? Because for the moment you're doing children up to five? Seven?
Kerry Byrne (18:56):
So the membership itself is for grandparents to grandchildren ages two to ten. But what I share, and this framework that I'm talking about, works for all ages. So I do have grandparents in the membership who've joined with babies, with younger grandchildren! And some of them, because they've been around now for almost two years, their grandchildren are older than 10. And the basic premise does work. I read, and as a researcher it's hard to even say this because I still cannot find the original source, but that you can expect one minute of attention on a video call per year of life. Now my argument though, is that if you prepare, if you have something to play, then you can expect longer.
Kerry Byrne (19:47):
But you know, we are all like this. I mean, I do encourage grandparents or anyone not to take it personally, like you can call a child and they can be not wanting to talk to you, and it has nothing to do with you. It has to do with the fact that mom just said ‘No’ to having a second cookie. And you're having a family argument about turning off the TV or whatever it might be.
And we have to also be prepared to meet them where they're at. You might show up with the glasses and something fun to play, and they have zero interest in it. But you gotta keep trying. We all feel this way. Sometimes I don't pick up the phone cause I won’t feel like chatting! And I'm sure other people are like this as well. It's just a mood that you, that you can be in. And that's true if you are two, if you are 15, or if you're 50.
Rhoda Bangerter (20:36):
Yeah. And would you say about, that it's not waiting for the child to ask to talk to the grandparent or to be connected, but it's up to the grandparent to initiate the relationship?
Kerry Byrne (20:54):
Yes. Well, I mean, so a couple things. I think that as parents, it's sort of what you mentioned before, right? Which is teaching our kids about conversation, making sure that grandparents are ever present in your day to day life, and that can be through photos of them in your home, bringing them into conversations. And so I'll often just talk about the grandparents around our house, just so that we, especially when a visit is coming up, for sure, we kind of fast forward the conversations a lot around ‘my son is actually going to see his Oma in England, they leave today.’ And so we talk a lot about the family, everybody's names…I think that parents have quite a huge role to play in this.
Kerry Byrne (21:39):
And to remember that, you know, a positive relationship with a grandparent is good for our kids developmentally, when the they're adults. So adults who have a positive relationship with a grandparent, there's tons of studies around increased wellbeing, less depressive symptoms. I mean, this is good for our kids. And so by taking that time, and I know it's tough, I lived the life. We both work full time, we have got a seven year old and an almost four year old. It's very difficult to take that time, but yes, that grandparents need to not give up and to initiate. Whether that be sending a small, you can send a package snack in the mail, depends on what country you're mailing from. And then, you know, just asking them to have a chat together and a snack together. I will share with you just in a moment, something called the connection loop, and I think we'll give a better answer to the question!
Rhoda Bangerter (22:39):
Okay, brilliant. We we're going! So plan, partner, prepare…
Kerry Byrne (22:45):
Rhoda Bangerter (22:46):
Kerry Byrne (22:47):
Play, and play can be everything from, like the very small children Peekaboo. You know, covering over the camera and then when you come back on camera, having funny glasses on. To playing… and we sometimes prepare the kids with ‘would you rather questions’? I mean, ‘would you rather’ questions never get old!
Rhoda Bangerter (23:05):
Oh my word, yes!
Kerry Byrne (23:06):
And so for traveling parents, my husband does this all the time with the kids. The ‘would you rather’ questions. And before we chat with family, we would prepare them with some questions that they might want to ask, to whoever we're going to be talking to. Because I see that as something that I wanna teach my kids as well, to be engaging in the conversation and so now they just automatically, sometimes come up with the absolute grossest, I don't know if grossest is a word! But if it is, the ‘would you rather’ questions kind of take a turn..! But play can be like a tongue twister competition, telling jokes. I mean, again, there are so many games that lend themselves well, but also a willingness to be playful, a willingness to be a little bit silly, especially with younger grandchildren, and I think a willingness to step outside of your own comfort zone sometimes. You know, it's okay to say to a child that you've never really asked a deep meaningful question to, like a teenager, for example, you know, is that ‘I've just really been thinking about X topic, I read an article about X topic’. So maybe you know that your grandchild is a vegan, for example, and you find this really great article, you send it to them, right? Like write a few questions in the margins about it. You can send to a 12 year old, would you rather question or ask them what their favorite is, like favorites are, from a very young age, if you hold up a banana and an apple and ask a child on a video call, you know, what would they rather eat or what's their favorite? You know, they'll tell you.
Or draw a little face on the banana. My child won't eat a banana now without a face on it! Cause we talk about how that banana feels. But of course, for older grandchildren, you know, just randomly send them a text and ask them a funny ‘would you rather’, or kind of a deeper… like if you Google ‘conversation starters for teenage children’, there are tons! Try them out! And again, if you don't get much back, sometimes teens don't text back, you know, I say just keep trying, we need grandparents to keep trying with the relationship
Rhoda Bangerter (25:18):
Yes, yes! We have a teenager at home and humor is the way to go because otherwise…Definitely humor connects! Because he kind of smirks and walks off, but at least the connection has been made!
Kerry Byrne (25:36):
Yes, I know. And I guess the other thing is that developmentally, we always have to remember that for tween/teenagers it's developmentally natural for them to be turning more towards their friends. It's a good thing. That’s a developmental stage is being able to kind of create this independence amongst their own friendship group.
So I think of play as being something that we all still need to do. We all need to reach and think about the playful part of ourselves, in any of the relationships that we have.
Rhoda Bangerter (26:11):
Yeah. And I like also thinking of non-tech ways of using play in the connection. Not necessarily just on zoom or on text, but I've been looking for a game to play with my husband when he's away. Something that's not necessarily tech-involved, but something that would be a long, ongoing game to play. So I don't know. That's still out there.
For long distance couples, there's lots of ideas on dating ideas and things like that. A few card games, question games you can ask each other. But I think there's still something there for fun.
Kerry Byrne (26:55):
I think traveling or not, I think that it's an interesting opportunity too. Cause when you're home together, of course it's just kids and it's all the things. But you can play even Scrabble together from a distance or, some of the word games that are out there. My husband and I used to play Scrabble before we had kids and I cannot remember the last time that we actually played a board game! Except if it was a children's game!
Rhoda Bangerter (27:30):
There's a National Institute of Play, I think in the us. And there's all sorts of research on how play is just so important in our life. And we just forget to do it.
Kerry Byrne (27:42):
Yeah. Play and humor. Like I had someone come in and talk to my members about using humor to connect with grandchildren and how important humor is for nurturing connection. And I mean, that's why we play, and if they were with you, you would play! You would do something together that incorporated play.
You can do online quizzes together. I mean, if you do pull up zoom, there are tons of quiz websites. And my son who seven loves these now. You can share your screen, you can do it together on a zoom call and set that up.
But again, that's where the plan and the preparation come in. And what I will say is that I think one of the most important parts of the pillar is the final one, which is to preserve. Like I said, they all very much overlap, but this one is close to my heart because I think about how many more pictures I would really like to have of myself with my own grandparents.
Kerry Byrne (28:46):
And I think that especially now, and perhaps some of the listeners can relate to this is that when you bring your children to visit grandparents or vice versa, they're just constantly taking pictures of the kids. But what the kids will wanna see one day are pictures of themselves with their grandparents. So it is about getting into the photo, you know, doing funny face selfies together.
I mean, your virtual moments together are your moments. And so take screenshots, I've got tons of screenshots of the boys with the funny Facebook filters with daddy, lots of giggles because those are their moments together. And we wanna make sure that we preserve those.
Rhoda Bangerter (29:28):
That is so true for the grandparents and also for the traveling partner. So true. And I remember as well, someone I interviewed, she said her husband traveled so much. She said she realized her kids didn't know her husband like she did. Because he'd traveled all their lives. So he ended up making an album and of his favorite places, all his favorite with stuff and an album about his life and everything. And then when he came home, they would spend time looking at the album and he would tell the kids about his life.
And I thought that's so true. I mean, even for grandparents, we know our parents and we know the in-laws, but our kids haven't got that history with them. So giving them photos that they can then ask questions about, of places that the grandparents know that can be a great conversation starter too.
Kerry Byrne (30:37):
Well. I think it's also that you can use those photos in your connect. And earlier I mentioned something called the connection loop, right? And this is, you know, this is a great example of how to use the connection loop because when you are away from a family member, you have kind of three main modes of interacting with them. And so that will be your in-person visits. You just mentioned the dad who was doing things during the in-person visit, so you have virtual connections. Whether that's video chatting, sending videos to one another, texting, emailing…whatever that is, and then you have snail mail. Whenever possible you wanna try and link those three things together. And so you can imagine that if you were together and you took a series of funny face selfies with either your child or with a grandchild, then turn it into a postcard.
Kerry Byrne (31:30):
And, of course, then send that and describe the moment that you shared together. You can also just take a photo or a selfie somewhere out where you are either working or as a grandparent, living your favorite hiking trail, whatever that might be - the walk with the dog in the morning - take a picture of yourself, a selfie and send that as a postcard and you can do a homemade postcard, just use part of your cereal box to back it! You can get really easy ways to laminate things these days. And then of course there are also applications that can help you, to send postcards on a regular basis, to children from a distance. And so, if you are having an in-person visit, another example of a connection loop would be text something under their mattress before you leave.
Kerry Byrne (32:22):
That might be an envelope that says ‘open this when we chat’, and it could have a few little crafty things if your grandchild likes to craft, it could just be a loving note from mom or dad, saying that they wrote this before they left, knowing how much they were gonna miss you. Think about when we talk, let's talk about these three questions, whatever that might be, you can tuck little post-it notes into their books. And if a teenager’s reading a chapter book, then just get us, you know, get some sticky notes and even doodle funny pictures in there, or for a grandparent, just like ‘Nana loves you’, and you know ‘I'd love to hear about the red truck on page five, call me’.
Kerry Byrne (33:07):
And so you're kind of instigating a video chat as well. So I think that there are a number of ways, like if you're gonna take the time to send something in the mail, try and make it something that results in a video chat, right? like I said, whether it's a small game, I mean, you can send a hot wheels car, you know, they cost a dollar! Take a little video of yourself before you put something in the mail, you know, take a picture of the parcel and say that, you know, ‘Grandma's putting this in the mail right now, call me, cause I wanna play together.’ And make sure you have a hot wheels car so that you can play that together on a video chat. There are just a number of ways that you can connect these three different ways of interacting with children. And certainly grandparents, in the membership have had huge success in doing those kinds of things in terms of nurturing that connection and creating some excitement around a video call so that it's not lik ‘Oh, we have to talk to someone again on a video chat.’
Kerry Byrne (34:05):
And it's also important just to send the kind of one-way mail too right. That has no expectation in it. It's important to send things without necessarily the expectation that you will get a video call out of it. But it's important I think, to be in there, like in their mailbox once a month, if you can.
Rhoda Bangerter (34:23):
Yes. Yes. I think it's about being emotionally present. You know, you're physically absent, but you're emotionally present and that comes with us talking about them, with them being in the mailbox, with just them showing up in different areas of life without necessarily being present. And I think it's powerful and I think it gives hope as well. That being distance doesn't mean being distant. This is something with Ellen Ellis, I said ‘distant’ and she went ‘No, not distant. Distance.’
Kerry Byrne (35:02):
Rhoda Bangerter (35:02):
Yes, totally. The distance doesn't mean a disconnect, or that there can't be a relationship there. And I think that that's huge.
Kerry Byrne (35:15):
I think the reality is that geographic proximity is a risk to not having a close relationship. There hasn't really been a lot of recent research about it, because I think that with technology, this will change and I'm talking specifically about grandparents and grandchildren, but that you have to put in some extra work like that. It is definitely ‘Distance does not have to mean distant.’
But I do hear from a lot of grandparents who feel distant from their grandchildren because they're at a distance. And so we talk about how to bridge that distance, how to work a little bit harder. You can't, you know, you can't really just be sitting and waiting for them to connect with you, give them a reason to connect with you.
Kerry Byrne (36:06):
And if you're gonna video chat with them, have pictures of them in the background, so that they can see that they are part of your life as well. You can have your grand wall of fame behind you. You can do a number of different games with that as well. But I think it's just important to, you know if they send you a piece of art, let them know it's on your fridge, it's taking pride of place somewhere. And there are many ways to signal to family at a distance that we're connected. We know each other, we're part of and belong to a common family unit here.
Rhoda Bangerter (36:46):
It is so beautiful. There are so many connections between being in the distance relationship, with grandparents and the distance relationship with a traveling parent or a parent who's living in a different country.
I'm excited about the grandparent part because it's so useful! I hope listeners share it with the grandparents in their lives. But there are also so many parallels with a traveling parent or a parent who's away. So many of these things, like having the kids’ pictures in the background, or showing to them that they're important, or taking a picture when you've received something from them, that kind of thing, that's really, really important.
Sometimes it's hard.
It’s interesting, I was listening to a photojournalist who is a war journalist, and she's gone a lot of the time. And she was saying that she doesn't call her kids because it's doing them a disservice because they get confused and then upset because their mom is gone and then they kind of… What would you say to that?
Kerry Byrne (38:11):
Well, I suppose it depends on their ages. We talked about how you have to meet kids where they're at. But there is some great research that's just been done late around very young children, under 2. That if they are put onto a video chat with an adult over a period of time, that when they're put into a room with a bunch of other adults and that adult that they video chatted with is present in the room, they prefer to go to them. And so, there is, you know, a body of research that's definitely encouraging video chatting with kids and to be able to nurture those relationships.
But like any family, you have to do what works for you. And that kids will … our little humans that we are raising have sensitivities that we only understand as parents.
Kerry Byrne (39:11):
And so we've gotta definitely take that into consideration when being connected. For her, there might be other ways to connect with the children that she feels are less disruptive or less traumatizing for them.
But I think that getting them used to, especially if this is a lifelong way that the family's going to operate, that I actually suggest that… I mean, I've heard from grandparents who are about to become grandparents, and I talk about being prepared for that distance and having that distance relationship, and that is getting the apps downloaded or having that kind of weekly connection with the parents, and setting some things in place. Because I think that if you don't start when they're younger, it's harder to pick up - not impossible - but that it's a kind of lifestyle that you're creating as a family, that we talk to mom every Sunday evening and share our day or have a silly moment or whatever that looks like. That you keep it playful and kind of go from there.
Rhoda Bangerter (40:20):
Yeah. And I think also, if they're missing their parent or their grandparents, it's okay for them to say that they're missing them. I mean, I remember leaving grandparents and then the kids sobbing. They're so sad to leave and I'm sobbing, so we're all crying in the car because we're sad to leave. So it’s okay to be missing people I think. And it’s okay, it's not by not talking on a video that’s gonna make you miss them less. I think it's maybe even more important to have the connection and to acknowledge that it's sad to be apart.
Kerry Byrne (41:12):
Yes, that there's grief.
So we had children's grief expert come in and talk to us in the membership because the reality is that children experience grief when they have to leave family, whether that's parents or grandparents.
My son broke out into tears this past summer just sobbing when we were leaving grandpa. And I realized that I had not prepared him enough to say goodbye. He thought it's gonna be like six months or a year before he'll see grandpa again. But we're home now, things look a little bit different.
And grieving is something that we are still learning so much about and teaching one another about. And it's something to teach kids as well, that having emotions around this is healthy. Of course, you feel sad that mom's gone. Of course you feel sad that you're not gonna get to see grandpa, I'm sad too. Have a good cry about it. Let the emotions out. It's quite healthy, I think.
Rhoda Bangerter (42:06):
Yeah..and then let's have a plan in place!
Kerry Byrne (42:09):
Yes. Let's have a plan in place. And also spontaneity. I talk surprise and delight, because I think that I talk a lot about planning or creating connection habits, but also we know that kids remember moments better if there, if there's a surprise component to it. So never be afraid to surprise the kids with something as well!
Rhoda Bangerter (42:29):
Oh, this is great. That's brilliant. Thank you so much for sharing from all your research, all your experience, all the conversations and the interviews you've had. Thank you so much. This was really, really precious and very, very useful. Is there anything you'd like to add, and then can you share where people can find you?
Kerry Byrne (42:52):
I think I've shared everything. One of the things that I'm really focused on lately is just amplifying the kind of awareness about the importance of the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, for a number of reasons. That it's not a ‘nice to have’, but that it's quite critical for our kids and can do a lot of good for our children, developmentally, self-esteem, all of the things.
I often see these viral videos of grandparents and grandchildren. We all saw the ones where they got to hug after a year finally. And those are, those are wonderful and beautiful. And I do the same. I share them widely and cry, but I think we have to remember that behind that moment is grandparent and very likely a parent who prioritized that relationship, put the time and effort into it and that the sweet moments are great, but that it's not just a fluffy and sweet relationship. It's something that can really impact our kids and they need their grandparents now more than ever.
Rhoda Bangerter (43:55):
Thank you. Thank you.
Kerry Byrne (43:57):
And you can find me, you can find firstname.lastname@example.org. I have a lot of different blogs on connecting, various topics, inspiration and ideas for staying connected. I send out a weekly email with those kinds of tips. and then you can find out more about the membership at that website as well.
Rhoda Bangerter (44:21):
Fantastic. And I usually, at the end of the podcast episode, ask my guest for a favorite resource in parenting or personal wellness. Do you have something you can share?
Kerry Byrne (44:34):
Oh my goodness, many! I'm Googling things a hundred times a day about parents, right! I dunno how they did it before the internet, but you know what, a couple things, we really try (and aren't always successful at it), but we've tried to be peaceful parents. And Sarah Rosensweet has a beautiful website and she's a wonderful resource for peaceful parenting. You can find her on Instagram, even just the things that she shows on her website.
The second one would be a nutritionist. I don't know. I really didn't wanna face the kind of picky eating situ with my kids. And when you're trying to feed your kids and dad's gone away, I don't know, I just wanted them also to be kind of adventurous eaters. And I follow Danielle Binns, Danielle Binns.com and I'm part of her membership which is called ‘Raising Adventurous Eaters’. And my children, consequently, I would say are pretty good eaters. We still get the yuck and, you know, the faces at dinner!
But there are a lot of different apps that you can use to stay connected as well. I oftentimes will review those on my blog, but a new one that I'm just trying out is called Peekabond.
Rhoda Bangerter (45:50):
Kerry Byrne (45:50):
I like it because it is asynchronous video, let's say like Marco polo, which is a favorite one for us. But in Peekabond, they also provide tips for what to video your grandchild. And they give these little play cards that say try sending a video like this. And so I'm definitely keeping an eye on that company. Cause I think it's a… I don't know, I like what they're doing.
Rhoda Bangerter (46:19):
Is it really for grandparents?
Kerry Byrne (46:21):
It can be for anyone from a distance. So this would work for traveling parents, a hundred percent, and it's a free app that you can download on the Apple store, Peekabond. And we just colllaborated on writing a couple of things together, because we've been connected through a shared mission. The founder is a long distance aunty.
Rhoda Bangerter (46:43):
Ok, there you go!
Kerry Byrne (46:43):
They actually have a play scientist who works on the app. And so listen, I could give you a resource a minute here Rhoda, but I'll leave it at that!
Rhoda Bangerter (46:54):
Thank you so so much for everything you shared, it’s really, really, really useful! Thank you so much.
Kerry Byrne (47:03):
Thank you for having me.
Rhoda Bangerter is a coach who has lived abroad with a travelling husband for over 16 years. She helps home based mums and dads live an intentional life and build family togetherness even when their partner is away a lot for work.