Lockdown is helping us forge deeper connections with our grandparents

One tangible benefit of lockdown is that it is bringing us closer together.

We may be physically distant from each other, but people are calling, video-calling and checking in on friends and loved ones more than ever before. And it feels really nice.

This is particularly true of inter-generational relationships. Many of our grandparents and relatives over the age of 70 are being hit hard by the lockdown – unable to leave their homes they are vulnerable and feel isolated. As a result, younger family members are stepping up to help them – and building stronger connections in the process.

New research has found that 54% of young Brits feel a deeper connection with their grandparents than ever before. 

The study found that we are, on average, checking in with grandparents and elderly relatives four times a week – significantly more often than in pre-lockdown life (an average of once a fortnight).

61% of elderly Brits have felt more loved and cared for by relatives since self-isolation began. 

Of the younger age group surveyed by in-home care provider Home Instead Senior Care, nearly a third have been in contact with relatives they have not spoken to in more than 12 months. 

Danni, a PR executive living in London, has started sending voice notes to her grandma since lockdown began.

‘My Nan lives in Spain, but she actually came over to London to see my aunt just before lockdown and so has been there ever since,’ Danni tells us.

‘I initially gave her a call to see how she was doing, but her phone isn’t great so don’t think WhatsApp calls work very well. So I started just sending voice notes and pictures, which I think she really likes.

‘Her English is a bit rusty so it’s easier for me too! I think she likes having the voice notes to listen to when she wants – little pockets of “lols” for her. I will definitely try to keep it up after lockdown.’

Hannah, a university lecturer from the Midlands, says she started checking in on her grandparents more when she moved to Ireland for work, but lockdown has made it feel even more important.

‘Since the situation with coronavirus developed, I have been conscious that they must feel more isolated,’ Hannah tells Metro.co.uk.

‘My mum managed to set up WhatsApp on an old smartphone for them, and after a couple of attempts my 90-year-old granddad can now answer a call.’

Hannah says it’s lovely to be able to see their faces.

‘I can tell from their expressions that they are pleased to see me too,’ she says. ‘My granddad has always been a keen gardener, and talking about gardening and plants is one way we really connect.

‘I was able to give him a video tour of the developing garden at our new house, which is something he wouldn’t have been able to see, regardless of the restrictions on movement now. I can also send him the odd picture of plants I am growing from seeds he gave me last year.

‘I hope that this is something positive to come from the situation for many people – remembering other ways to connect.’

Karen Dolva is the co-founder and CEO of No Isolation. Their new technology KOMP aims to connect younger people with their grandparents – particularly those who are not great at using technology.

‘We are facing unprecedented circumstances and being able to stay in contact with loved ones has been a lifeline for many,’ says Karen. ‘Not only does contact with family help stave off immediate feelings of loneliness, it also allows families to look forward to being together again, once this has passed.

‘A simple photo sent to a family chat can make someone’s day and a video call between grandparent and grandchild can help both parties to feel less alone. Memories don’t have to be built in person – simply being connected is what matters.’

Karen says that she has been using KOMP to become closer with her own granddad, and she hopes other people will use lockdown as an opportunity to do the same.

‘In my own experience of using KOMP with my grandfather, I found that I was able to share so many more meaningful moments with him – images of my new home that he wasn’t able to visit, a snap of me having lunch with colleagues, and many more.

‘He was able to be a part of everything I did, filling the time between our monthly visits with near constant communication.’

The recent research revealed that half of all age groups surveyed said their relationship with family had been strengthened as a result of the current pandemic, with 54% saying they felt closer to loved ones, despite not being able to physically see them.

One in five over 65s have now joined online video conferencing sites. In fact, three quarters of elderly Brits say that using technology like Zoom, WhatsApp and FaceTime have all helped to make the lockdown more bearable. More than a third (34%) say they feel more connected to the younger generation than ever before – all because of lockdown.

Charlotte* says lockdown has actually helped her to build a relationship with her grandma following a history of tension in the family. She says becoming pen pals with her grandmother has been incredibly healing.

‘My grandma comes from a very strict religious background and my mum and I are sort of the black sheep of the family,’ Charlotte tells us.

‘We only see grandma once a year or so, and conversation is always very sparse with lots of awkward silences, because we simply don’t have anything in common – sometimes all we can talk about is the weather!’

Since lockdown began, Charlotte says she felt bad about her being alone.

‘We may not ever get on superbly, but she’s a vulnerable old lady living alone and she’s still family,’ she explains. ‘So, I started writing her long letters about my work from home routine, and how my friends and I are keeping busy, and all the baking I’ve been doing.

‘She immediately wrote back and we got into a really nice rhythm of talking to each other. Writing letters allows us to keep the conversation on track and think about what to say without any of those awkward silences, and obviously everyone loves getting post.

‘She has been noticeably more affectionate in her letters as time has gone on, which is honestly very heartwarming, and I’m hoping this extends to face-to-face interactions whenever I next see her after lockdown.’

Renee, a south Londoner who works in art and architectural communications, says her family chats in lockdown are both trans-generational and global.

‘I had a four-generation, three-continent Zoom call with my family in the US and Japan for the first time ever the other day,’ Renee tells Metro.co.uk. ‘It’s funny because we could have been doing this pre-lockdown, but we never thought to do it.

Renee was meant to be getting married at Easter in Japan. Sadly, that couldn’t happen, but instead, she met up with her extended family on a video call.

‘My family in the US haven’t met my fiancé, I haven’t visited my American family in seven years – so it was a bit of a meet-the-family thing as well.’

On the call where Renee’s grandparents in the US, four or five aunts and uncles, three cousins, on cousin’s husband and their two kids, and Renee’s parents in Japan.

‘It was a long overdue catch up, so we spoke about general life updates and how we’re all coping in lockdown,’ says Renee.

‘My grandfather, who is in his late 80s, was particularly grateful.

‘It has been amazing; I think the old folk marvelled at how easy it was to talk to people in different countries, so I’ve seen text messages about doing it again this weekend – and this is a family that hasn’t been talking much for over a decade, so it really is actually kind of amazing.’

Lockdown is going to be our reality for the long haul, and for people over 70 who are in long-term isolation, finding ways to stay connected is more important than ever.

If you normally only see your grandparents at Christmas and birthdays, lockdown is a great opportunity to check in with them and increase your contact time.

They will love to see your faces, and it will give you a boost to know that they’re coping as well.

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