Not all grandparents have the luxury of living close to see their grandchildren grow up. Sometimes it requires traveling. My mom and dad live 15 minutes away, so they take the grandkids for lunch or an afternoon of special one-on-one time, or we just hang out at their house on a Sunday without too much planning involved.
My mother-in-law, however, lives in Florida. It’s not an easy car ride away…more like a 2.5-hour flight. She recently asked if my 8 year old could come and visit over summer vacation. We’ve been to her house many times as a family, but she was hoping for some one on one time over the summer. Her friend had her 8-year-old granddaughter coming to visit the same week, and they thought it would be fun to get the girls together.
I asked WGN-TV’s Dina Bair about sending a child on a flight solo. She offered valuable tips and, more importantly, insight on the bond it creates between grandparents and grandchildren when they have so much distance between them.
“My parents have always lived in another state,” shares Ms. Bair. “It has been challenging to help them develop the type of relationship I know they would have [with my children] if they got to experience day to day activities and events.” She adds that this is why they always make it a point to share vacations and spend quality time together.
Ms. Bair says her kids get a great sense of independence when they travel alone…it’s a confidence builder. “While they try to impress their grandparents, they realize the whole new potential for themselves,” she explains, noting that her sons have picked up new interests, including acting and tennis, after being with their grandparents.
After calling several airlines and researching on the web, I decided to fly my daughter on Southwest Airlines, which charges a $100 fee for unaccompanied minors. I received a gate pass and was able to walk my daughter to the gate, watch her get on the airplane and wait 15 minutes until the plane was out of sight.
Southwest provides snacks and drinks, although my daughter loved picking her own stuff out for the flight and her stepdad was sure to load great music and movies on her kindle for the flight.
“I’m just so excited,” said my mother-in-law Sherry Nuijten. “We’ve been planning fun activities and really wanted to do things she would enjoy.” I’m sure it’s always better for a grandparent to experience one on one time without the parents hovering so to speak.
“As they say, having kids around always make you feel young,” shares Dina Bair’s mom, Christine Short, who often has her grandkids in the summer (pictured above). “It’s so nice to see and feel that you are part of their life. Hearing and seeing them work toward their goals and seeing that your influence is also present in their life. They were able to talk to us in a more relaxed way without others here. We seemed to bond, not only as grandparents, but as people who will always be there for them whenever they need us. It was great to see that they enjoyed playing sports with us. We taught them tennis and played football in the pool at night…laughing and talking together”
While my daughter was at Oma’s (Dutch for Grandma), she enjoyed bonding over late night slumber parties, shopping and fun activities. (my next blog will be about her adventures with Oma at Legoland Florida).
But what my daughter will always remember is her first independent trip and the bond and memories she created with my mother-in-law. And we’ll look forward to many more summers when all the girls can go and visit, just like Ms. Bair and her mom have experienced. “Just to see how they’ve matured and how grateful they are for all we have given them will stay with me,” says Ms. Short. “Family is very important to us, and it was rewarding to see that it was also very important to them. I feel more involved in their life now, and it also gives me more chances to talk to them to keep our friendship ongoing.”
Here are a few tips, from our experience:
- Write down all of your contact information and any other instructions so your child can share it with a flight attendant and their grandparents. Note any medications, fears or helpful tips in case another adult needs to help soothe your child.
- Get your child involved in packing for the trip and, for comfort, include his/her favorite toy and book.
- Explain what to expect when using the airplane bathroom (aka lavatory). Many of us can forget to talk about waiting for the fasten seat belt light to go off, rules on the plane and, most importantly, the way the toilet flushes and how the sink works.
- Talk with the airline prior to your child leaving. As all airlines are different, you’ll want to be prepared.
- Feel free to check in with your child via phone, facetime or tango. But remember, it’s a bonding trip so try to limit your calls to once a day unless your child wants to see/speak with you.