M’s Grammy lives an ocean away. Actually, it’s a few oceans. I want my toddler to know her very well. That’s why I’m putting together this list of tips for keeping in touch with long distance family.
It’s about more than just chatting occasionally. It’s about keeping a live and real connection. I want my baby to KNOW his grandparents from infant-hood, despite the great distance, and the time difference.
I wish I could say that it’s as simple as just picking up the phone. Time differences get in the way. Busy schedules happen, and before you know it, a few months have gone by… Whether it’s a cousin, a grandparent, or even honorary “family” in the form of a family friend, here are some tips for keeping in touch with long distance relatives:
8 Tips for Keeping in Touch
1. Make regular dates: Oops! It just happened again… A few months have gone by, with no phone calls to Grandma. Making a regular date (including day and time) keeps things going. Time is a factor too, to combat differences in time zone. The first of the month, and right after breakfast or dinner (depending on the time difference) is a great place to start.
2. Create associations: You don’t just want to keep in touch – you want to preserve that person in your life! Create associations in the form of gifts (“do you want to play with the toy that Grandma bought for you?”). For little children, you can create associations in the form of the phone. When you “play” call someone, make it that far away relative.
Another association you can make is to name a doll or stuffed animal after the relative. Having photos of these relatives around the house, and regularly naming them to your child is another simple way to do it.
3. Skype or video chat: This does seem the most obvious solution, but I’d still like to elaborate on how effective it is. When we lived in Israel, I used to Skype with my nieces regularly. When we came to visit, my niece who had only “known” me when she was an infant, right away took to me. Okay, I’ll admit, she panicked at first when she saw the “video” come to life, but after that first moment…
4. Visit! And make a big deal of it: Tickets to visit Grammy and Sabba in Israel cost an arm and a leg, and so it obviously can’t be done regularly. Even the gas and tolls paid for visiting my parents in New Jersey can be too much to do too often. But making these occasional (once every few years?) visits memorable is a great way to get the most out of them.
Bonus tip: Get the right balance of vacation and family time out of a visit to overseas relatives. Take advantage of the free babysitting, and go on a couple of nice trips.
5. Snail Mail: It should not be outdated. There is nothing as exciting for a young child as receiving something in the mail. This etches out very strong memories, directly related to the relative in a young, impressionable child’s mind. Snail mail should definitely not be ruled out as a method of keeping long distance family in your child’s life. Create a pen-pal in that cousin, and send Grandma regular greetings – you’re sure to get some back! (Even if it’s just the latest “artwork” your child has created).
6. When all else fails – Email: From when your child can understand, create him an email account. Or, send emails from him directly from your account. This is not the strongest way to keep in touch, but it is still another way to be connected.
7. Send updates, celebrate special moments: Even if the timing is wrong, or you don’t have a moment to chat, send regular photos and updates on milestones, be it by email, or by snail mail. Involve your child in the act. Celebrate birthdays – even if the birthday girl isn’t there. Say “we’re having a yummy dinner today because it’s Grandma’s birthday”, and you’ll be making Grandma a real part of your child’s life. Keeping in touch visually, and in important moments is powerful.
8. It’s a two-way relationship: The goal is not simply to “talk”. It’s to keep a relationship alive, and a relationship is a two way thing. So keep this in mind when keeping in touch, even if some of the above seem one-sided. By creating one side of the relationship, the other will likely happen, but do make sure it does!