I have lived at least three days’ drive from my grandparents and most of my extended family my entire life. Though it didn’t surprise my mother, I know it was hard for her when I followed in her footsteps and moved across the continent from her and my dad. The independence that motivated her to move from Virginia in the United States to Ontario, Canada, sight unseen, also motivates me go where I want to go — even if it means a long distance relationship with loved ones.
I have a great relationship with my parents, but I wasn’t always good at maintaining this bond. My days in college were spent procrastinating about calling home and rolling my eyes when my father not-so-subtly mentioned that they never heard from me. But as my family has grown and changed, and I’ve made the transition from college student to married adult – with a whole new set of family to keep track of – I’ve come to value the connection with family much more.
I’ve had to come up with ways to stay connected across the miles. This is even more important at Christmas. Splitting my time between my husband’s family and mine means we’re always spending the holidays without one group or the other. I’ve found these 9 ways to stay connected, no matter how far apart we are.
1. Get everyone online.
It’s taken time, but one by one my in-laws, parents, and some siblings have gotten a free Skype account. Skype lets you connect through instant messages and video chats for free online. I talk to my parents while I cook dinner and take my laptop around the apartment to show them my Christmas decorations. When they are all together watching football on Sunday one of them sends me a message and that makes me feel included in their family time. On Christmas Day I plan to video chat with the whole family. You could video chat while you open gifts. I know other people who make a daily date for grandparents and grand-babies to “play” on the computer. It’s free, easy to learn and once everyone has the hang of it, it can bring your distant loved ones right into your home.
You can also use Google’s Hang-outs. If everyone has Iphones and pads, you can all get the Facetime chat app. Here is a link that shows you all of the different ways you and your loved ones can chat, even if they have Android phones and your have Iphones.
Of course, you can simply post pictures and messages on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram. Or get your own You-Tube channel. Talk about putting it out there for the world to see! While many find Facebook antiquated, one nice feature is this: you can set up a closed group of just family members so all of your and their friends do not see your inter-family posts. You can always share a post to your own public Facebook account. Facebook also has a private messenger, sort of like group-texting.
2. Start a blog.
Wordpress and Blogspot are the two most popular and user friendly. However, there is a learning curve to both of them. At first my blog was just a fun way to experiment with the little code knowledge I was picking up at work, but it developed into a way to share my life with my family. I write about what’s going on in my life, put up pictures, and even connect my posts to my Twitter account and Facebook so that my parents can enjoy the small updates I do there. It saves me time from having to write lengthy emails about the same event to different family members and is a great way to share photos without worrying about email size and attachments. Recently my dad even started his own travel blog and is now returning the favor, letting me stay updated on his trips.
3. Start a newsletter.
MailChimp and Constant Contact are two of the most popular types of newsletters. Again there is a learning curve, but both have ready-to-fill-in templates. Think of the people who send novellas on typed paper at Christmas highlighting their year. You can email out your timely news throughout the year. Let people know of exciting stuff, or just catch up. You can send pictures and links to websites, too in case there is a recipe you want everyone to try or a game to play or a hilarious video to watch. You simply setup your email list once and hit a button. These two send them out automatically as emails.
4. Get phone cards.
If you’re like my husband and I, you don’t have much need for a home phone line. We both have smart phones and spend more of our time texting than calling. But this has put a barrier up for us when it comes to calling grandma and grandpa and other family members who don’t have Skype, blogs, or even computers. We started buying phone cards and keeping them by the phone and in our wallets. For the occasional call to Grandma, it’s much cheaper than getting a long distance plan or getting the unlimited long distance option on your cell phone plan.
5. Find inexpensive and simple ways to wish them well at holidays.
Now, I live in Canada and my parents, sister and brother all live in the States. You wouldn’t believe how annoying shipping across the border can be (don’t get me started on gift cards). I’ve had to look for ways to wish them Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas that work across borders and arrive on time. Some websites, like Etsy, will accept Canadian PayPal payments and delivery to the US — and vice versa — so I can have gifts shipped directly to my family and they can ship to me. E-cards are another great option.
There are all kinds of cheap or even free Ecard websites that will email them birthday, anniversary, holiday or thank you cards. Some are even animated with music. One that older people who have computers love is Jacquie Lawson, a cartoon artist from England. If all else fails, start an arrangement with a family member (in my case, my shopaholic, sale-finding sister) who is willing to be your personal elf and save you the cost of shipping
6 Put family in your calendar.
I am not good at remembering important dates and have forgotten more than a couple family birthdays. I am trying to schedule events in my email calendar in advance of the special occasion. This alerts me to the birthday, holiday or anniversary in enough time to mail a card or call my “family elf” (see Tip #4!) and arrange to have something there on the special day. I have found if I don’t make these events as important as the work meetings I schedule, they get forgotten and I miss an opportunity to show my family I am thinking of them. Smart phones have calendars with reminders in them as well. You can program it to notify you up to five days in advance of an upcoming event.
7. Sign up for seat sale alerts.
Most airlines and discount ticket websites will allow you to specify what cities you’re keeping your eye of for cheap flights and will email alert you if the price falls. I recommend Travelocity, Orbitz, and Hotwire. Staying on top of the ups and downs of travel costs helps my husband and me maximize the times we can see our relatives each year. Get your family involved in looking too.
8. Do something together.
How do you do something together when you don’t even live in the same country? I’ve found that there are ways to share a common bond or activity that don’t require two people are in the same room at the same time. My sister and I are putting together our family photo calendar, a yearly tradition we took over last year. Our extended relatives email us the photos, we both upload to Snapfish and work on designing it as a team. It’s like a sisters’ scrapbooking project without paper! Other options might be making a family fantasy sports pool or doing the same craft and uploading photos on Facebook of your progress for the others to see.
9. Keep the lines of communication open and the relationship a priority.
Whatever your reasons for being away from loved ones, they can cause some negative emotions from time to time about why you wouldn’t want to be closer to them. Perhaps most of your family lives close together and you are the one consistently absent from family functions because life has carried you elsewhere. Whatever the situation, resist the temptation to let the lines of communication go quiet. Initiate connections even when it may be hard or when you feel out of the loop. Pulling back will only add to the miles between you and feed the fears that the relationship may be lost. Take opportunities, like Christmas, to show them with the efforts you make that they are a valuable part of your life and that your relationship can continue to grow — even if you live far apart.
This article was written by: Sarah HauPhoto Credit: Pavan Trikutam