One of the hardest things for my family to endure during the last several months has been the lack of in-person interactions between my young children (ages six and eight) and my parents. Before the pandemic, my parents, who live close by were active and consistent participants in my children’s lives. The pandemic changed that.

Beginning in early spring, our families made the mutual decision to practice social distancing until there was a cure or a safe vaccine for COVID-19. It is a personal choice we arrived at together, but it has been difficult for the children to understand why they can no longer see their beloved grandparents in our home on a regular basis. My children have accepted that schools are closed, and that they cannot see their friends, but accepting restrictions regarding close family has been challenging.

I decided I needed to find a way to keep them safe while maintaining a fun level of engagement between these two generations. It was time to depend on technology and a little bit of creativity, and it’s worked out pretty well for us. I thought I’d share some of my ideas and hope they inspire you.

Increasing the Fun Factor on Virtual Calls

We started doing weekly virtual calls with my parents and members of my extended family back in March. However, it became clear we needed to insert a bit more creativity to keep these calls a highlight of the week. Here’s what we came up with:

  • Family Trivia: Fact or Not? Each person takes a turn making a statement and everyone else must guess if it’s true or not. We also find we learn something new about each other each time. “Fact or Not, Grandma used to walk barefoot to school every winter? “ “Fact or Not, your Mom still has her favorite baby blanket hidden in our cupboard.”

  • Classic Games: BINGO! Most of the classic group games can work using video conference technology. BINGO and Scattergories are our favorites. Send sheets via email for the participants to use for the games. Make it a friendly competition by offering a prize! Pictionary can work as well if you have screen-sharing capabilities with your video conference technology.

  • Virtual World: EMeet! There are many online games out there where one can set up a private server and have parents, grandparents, and grandchildren all engage in a virtual world. For the younger set it seems Roblox and Minecraft are the favorites. My son has a friend whose parents set up a private server on Minecraft; the child, his relatives and friends all interacted in that “world” to celebrate a birthday. My son was really thrilled to see there were grandparents in there and asked if he could meet his in a virtual world too. I also satisfied his desire to see his grandparents by allowing both of my children to text and send pictures to my parents through my phone whenever they want.

  • Shared Activities: I would suggest having your kids do an activity while keeping video and audio on so they can “share” it with others. While it can be baking, scrapbooking, gardening, block building, arts, etc. it could also be what is normally a mundane activity. My daughter likes to clean her room while on a virtual chat with her grandparents. She also recently showed them how she decided to move into our guest room so she could have more space.

  • Watch Parties: Netflix Watch Parties can be fun. Essentially you all watch the same content at the same time and can all communicate thoughts and comments through a chat channel.

Getting Out and About

While we are not gathering indoors, we have recently had our first backyard meet-up with my parents last weekend. I also have set up our porch with chairs six feet apart and tables for meetups if there is rain. Taking this step required a mutual comfort in increasing our risk to exposure.

  • Surprise Drive-bys: Both of our families have driven by on many occasions out of the blue (though we did give five minutes notice) to just say hello.

  • Treasure Hunt: I may have placed treats in Pokémon balls all over someone’s property with the help of my children. I’m not admitting it or suggesting it was a good idea, but I heard it was well received. This was inspired by an egg hunt.

  • Shared Art Project: Take a poster board, draw a line down the middle and have a grandchild create their art on one side, then drop off the board at the grandparents and have them create their art on the other side. Some ideas include a family portrait, favorite pastime, animals, etc. Or share the same joint scrapbook with memories from both generations.

I think another way to increase engagement is to get both generations involved in any type of planning. The grandparent can perhaps offer their time and resources, and work on it from afar. Think creatively and outside of your normal comfort level. For instance, my son had a few friends over for social distanced backyard Pokémon Olympics for his birthday. His grandmother offered to make large signs for each of the crazy activities that I conjured up (e.g. Mewtwo’s Bean Bag Toss, Solgaleo’s Star Pass, Elsa Froze Pikachu).  “How does grandma know who these characters and how did she draw him”? It turns out my mom read up on all the characters. She went above and beyond and my son was so surprised and appreciative.

We are truly in unprecedented times and forced to be flexible in such a fluid situation. While we are limited in what we can do in person, I’ve found, if you look for them, the opportunities to engage between generations can be limitless.

Anna Lui is a Senior Marketing Manager at Modera.  She is responsible for managing external firm communications and supporting growth initiatives. 

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