Categorized | Features, Grandparenting

Has technology changed grandparenting?

Rayna and her Dad visit with Grandma and Grandpa via Skype

By Ellen L. Weingart

When our first child, Harris, was born 38 years ago, my husband and I were living 1,000 miles away from the new grandparents. Our closest relatives, my brother and his wife, were 500 miles away.

Although phone calls were immediately made announcing the birth, no relative saw the baby — the first grandchild on both sides —for several days. Soon after that first visit, they all went home. Months would pass before they’d see him again.

Keeping up meant long-distance phone calls, perhaps once a week. Photos meant buying and using up a 24- to 36-exposure roll of film, getting it developed with no idea of whether the pictures were any good, perhaps making reprints, then mailing photos to eager relatives. It was expensive and it was slow. More than a month would pass and the baby seen in the photo had changed drastically by the time the photos were viewed by long-distance relatives.

Sitting up, first steps, first words were just part of our report on how the baby was doing. First-hand observation for the relatives would have to wait until the next visit.

When our second child, Andrew, was born three plus years later, we were living only 175 miles from the grandparents, but not much else had changed. The grandparents arrived a little more quickly, but updates were still through weekly long-distance phone calls and photos that could take more than a month between the taking and the sending — although with two children, we used the film a little more quickly.


Although 600 miles away, thanks to digital photos and the Internet, Grandma and Grandpa were able to see Aaron within hours of his birth.

Fast forward to today. Although we live 400 miles from one son and more than 600 from the other, thanks to digital photography, we were able to see each of our grandchildren within hours of his or her birth. Thanks to the ubiquitous cell phone and its picture-taking abilities, we get frequent, sometimes daily, photos of the children. Add in the numerous videos and we’ve seen Miriam learning to ice skate, Josie discovering Peek-a-boo Panda, Rayna doing her “ottoman flip” and baby Aaron enjoying tummy time. E-mail has brought us a torrent of “quotes of the day” from those grandchildren old enough to talk.

Even more rewarding, thanks to Skype and other video-phone technology, still a science fiction dream when our children were small, we are very much part of our grandchildren’s lives. Rather than the early, stilted phone calls our children had with their grandparents — with my husband or me in the background urging the child to say hello — or the static photo pointed out as “Grandma” or “Grandpa,” we can interact with our grandchildren. We can watch their newest accomplishments, ask about their activities, sing songs together and even play peek-a-boo. And while a “computer hug” or a blown kiss is not as good as the real thing, it does hold us over until the next in-person visit. We get to know the grandchildren. And they get to know us as real people who move and speak and are familiar to them when we see them in person.

Still, I can’t help but wonder, do they ever think, “If Grandma and Grandpa can come off the screen to visit with me, will Big Bird drop in one day too?”

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