When I was a kid, all we had to do was walk across the street to go visit grandma and grandpa. In fact, grandpa had a barber shop on our street where I got my haircut. Grandma enjoyed gardening and cooking so I could usually find her in the backyard weeding the flower beds or in the kitchen baking a cake. Today, things aren't always so simple.

We live in a very mobile society so it's not uncommon for grandparents like you to be states or countries away from your grandchildren. You may have retired in a distant place, or, perhaps, college or work caused your family to move away from where you live. OR maybe you live close by but you'd still like to connect in a deeper way.

Here are 3 tips for building a strong bond between you and your grandchildren:

1) Write letters. Letters may have been replaced by Email most of the time, but there is still nothing like getting mail in the mailbox for children and teenagers! Send mail regularly that is addressed to each grandchild once a month would be great. Tell them a story about you when you were little in each letter.

Stories can even start with something like, Once upon a time, grandma climbed an apple tree when she was a little girl. The simple tale you write, about what happened next, can take some twists and turns in the plot and make for great bedtime reading. Be sure to save a copy of the series of handwritten letters you send they most certainly could become a precious keepsake. Be sure to ask for letters to come back to you containing your grandchild's school artwork, that first A of the school year, or a letter in the grandchild's own handwriting.

2) Take phone conversations to a new level. Instead of the normal everyday small talk on the phone (How was school? What's the weather like? How did you do in soccer?), don't hesitate to relate your own life to their lives. Tell them about...

your best friend when you were little
a favorite game you played (marbles, jacks, baseball)
your neighborhood or life on a farm
what school was like for you
playing in the school band or singing in the choir
sports you played
a time you got in trouble with your mom and dad
a motto you live by
your grandparents (that's their great-great grandparents!)
how historical events impacted your life (war, civil rights, elections, etc.)
and much more.

Grandchildren may not initiate these conversations (we wish they would), but that doesn't mean that they aren't open to talking about these things. When you tell them a story, they may think of something new to tell you. By starting a deeper discussion, perhaps grandchildren may see you in a new way (you were once a child too after all!) and start to ask more questions and look forward to your talks by phone. You may even want to set a time for your weekly chats. Even if you're not sure if they are listening or if they care right now, you may be surprised at what they remember someday and it could impact them years down the road.

3) Plan vacations or long weekends together. This summer we vacationed with the grandparents for one week to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. They only get to see my children, their grandchildren, every couple of months because we live four hours apart. The trip involved a fast flight and then over 2,000 miles of driving. My son and grandpa actually figured out a way to play baseball in the car! Mom enjoyed the wagon train ride and the wax museum as much as the kids did.

We had plenty of time for storytelling and questions about outhouses, farming, and life before TV. We even learned, for the first time, about a relative named Waldo who had disappeared years ago (now Where's Waldo? has new meaning for my kids). It was unforgettable for all of us there's nothing like a crowded minivan and hours of driving to bring a family together!

As you consider how you can connect over long distances with your grandchildren, keep in mind that YOU, as the grandparent, have an important job to do. You are the keeper of your family's legacy traditions, stories, memories of people, times, and places that no one but you can share. Don't leave your legacy to chance. It's important to be intentional about making this connection, or you and your grandchildren may never know each other in a deeper and lasting way. It's critical to build relationships to last for generations and that involves new conversations, telling (and writing down) your life stories, and sharing more than just photo albums.