Poppa’s Moment by Phil Larson

This weekend our family had our first birthday party using Zoom, an online video meeting platform. And I must say, I didn’t like it. I definitely understand and agree with the social distancing idea, and it was great to see everyone, but an event like this was difficult since we’re used to being all together for birthdays and other celebrations.

My three-year-old granddaughter, who was just adopted into our clan, had her first full-family birthday party in isolation. These are strange days. As I interacted with all my grandchildren–from the ones in the room with my wife and me to the ones in absentia on the screen—I studied each reaction. Time to up my Poppa game for this latest challenge to being an involved granddad.

Be Age-Sensitive

Three of the grandchildren were there with us. The rest of the family groups were gathered at their homes, on their computers and smartphones, and were showing the “party” on the big TV screen using Zoom.

The youngest, at two years old, just watched and played with balloons. He really was oblivious to it all. The people on the screen meant little to him. A distraction from crawling all over Poppa.

The three-year-old, true to her cognitive development, asked when the people were going to come out from behind the TV and join the party in person. No matter how digital we get, that inability to associate in space and time is still real. She had fun, but she never did quite understand it all.

My three-year-old grandson across town wept with heaving sighs. Why couldn’t he hug his Poppa and Granna? He just didn’t understand. We have always visited face-to-face and hug-to-hug before this. I made hugging motions right up to the camera and he did the same, but it was painful.

Our two under-five grandkids in another state were quite used to this form of contact, but they were frozen as they saw all the other people gathered this way. They apparently didn’t feel they were getting any personal time and held back.

The oldest granddaughter, who was with us, tried to get the younger ones to play. She really got into it and enjoyed it. It was fun for her. Her mom does online school as a teacher and she sees this a lot.

Be Contact-Sensitive

Nothing hurt more than watching my grandson cry since he couldn’t touch us. My wife and I are still brainstorming ways to connect. Maybe we’ll do a parking lot meeting from a safe distance that at least lets him know we are okay and love him but can’t close that hug gap right now. He needs that. Or, we could try a dance together or even pull out the cars at our house while he plays cars at his house. That young heart needs Poppa’s voice and some connect time.

During the party, every grandchild asked for Poppa front and center on the screen so they could see my face and hear my voice just to them. They need that personal contact and attention.

This could be a good time to schedule a once-a-week bedtime book reading for the grandkids. Maybe a new tradition will start.

Be Emotionally Sensitive

Stay in tune with those grandchildren’s hearts. Serve them. Go the extra mile. Send a card with a smile on it. Call more often. Take the initiative. It’s an honor to be a treasured part of their family.

Pray for them daily. Be specific in your prayers for your grandchildren and children. As we left our children’s house, we were aware that it might be a month or more before we can touch any of them again. That’s hard for all of us. Pray specifically. Remember their favorite toys and how tough this situation is for them. Speak blessings with authority from heaven, because you have special authority as the Poppa over their hearts and over the growing generations.


Phil Larson serves as the SW Director of Benefits and Conferences for Grandkids Matter and GrandparentBenefits.org. He and his wife, Dian, live in Oklahoma City and have four children of their own as well as many that call them mom and dad from the community. Three of those children are married, giving them a mix of six grandchildren of multi-racial background by both birth and adoption. You can contact him at 405.494.0637 or phil@grandparentbenefits.org.