8 Ways to Connect with Faraway Family

Written by Sarah Hau

farawayfamP2CI 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 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 hear 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 8 ways to stay connected, no matter how far apart we are:

1. Get everyone to use Skype.

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.

2. Start a blog.

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 connected my Twitter account to my blog so that my parents (who are not into Twitter… yet!) can even 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. 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.

4. Find inexpensive and simple ways to wish them well at holidays.

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 so I can have gifts shipped directly to my family. E-cards are another great option.  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

5. 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.

6. 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.  My mother-in-law has emailed us more than once with WestJet deals and we’ve been able to visit her more affordable.

7. 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’ scrap-booking 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 other to see.

8. Keep the lines of communication open and the relationship a priority.

Whatever your reasons for being away from loved ones, they can cause some to feel 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 connection 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.

devo-interact-icon-42x42How to be home alone for the holidays
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14 Responses to “8 Ways to Connect with Faraway Family”

  • Susan says:

    I just put a puzzle together and then mailed sections to an aunt. She loved finding the puzzle pieces in her mail and we got lots of family involved with Facebook updates. The last 4 pieces were sent to her son who hid them throughout her house. I gave her a clue a day to find the missing pieces. We both had a lot of fun!

  • Sharon says:

    thank you for the article good one

  • john says:

    Have you seen iTagged. They use Augmented Reality to allow you to spend Christmas or any event with family. Leave a digital postcard in your family home, even if you are in a different country!

  • Andi says:

    I LOVE the idea of saving the songs to listen to over and over. Thanks!

  • Deebee says:

    Singing Happy Birthday is always fun! On key or off key! We even save those phone messages when the kids call and sing to us so it goes both ways!

  • Andi says:

    don’t know how I wrote ‘Angel’ above; my husband is ‘Andy’…must have been thinking ‘what an angel to let me go’ when I wrote it? lol
    Saturday we phoned our six year old grand-daughter in Norway to sing Happy Birthday to her. Somehow we knew she was old enuf that it really made an impression on her this year :-)
    We call family and friends near and far to sing to them ….it’s become a tradition that they all look forward to inspite of their groans if we deliberately sing out of tune for some of them.
    Deebee you’re so right; saying good-bye isn’t easy at all :-( Sometimes it’s tuff to be grand-parents eh?

  • Deebee says:

    What great ideas ladies!! I just got back from visiting our two granddaughters and saying goodbye never gets any easier. But as they get older it’s neat to see their response when we do get together and their big smiles when we skype. Even the little one at 10 months had a big smile for us yesterday on skype.

  • Andi says:

    Hi Angel, wow what a shock for both of you but praise God for how you’re building relationship.
    I send stickies, and other flat items in the envelopes. The girls send me pictures they’ve coloured of their house so I will know what it looks like. An interesting book; things that are light weight and not too heavy on postage.
    Hair baubles; our daughter found the most amazing dress up dolls w/sticky for changing costumes that are flat
    Can you afford a digital frame and send her a ‘stick’ w/photos of her dad and siblings, your home, etc??? That’s more expensive but seeing how you live would be huge for her.

    Please keep in touch ladies as you think of other things?

    I’m off to Norway the end of April thanks to a seat sale and my husband saying ‘Go!’
    Angel, my husband is in college again at age 57; we’re victims of this Global Recession so are w/God’s help re-inventing our lives.

  • Angel says:

    I have a step daughter that lives in New york and we live in Mississippi. We have 5 children here. I get on the computer and get clip art pics and coloring sheets , then add letters to them. Some plant thinking of you cards and post cards. I try to get the kids to write her once a month and I send something out for my husband twice a week to her. My husband works for Ambulnace service and goes to college so he doesnt have a lot of time. We have her during the summer but I like for her to know all year round we think of her. He does talk to her atleast once or twice a week on his cell phone. I try to think of what I could send her in the mail. Ive been doing this for 2 years now. My husband didnt even know about her until then . They were seeing each other then she had family issues and moved to New york. 6 yrs letter he gets a call saying by the way I had your child. We are doing everything we can to make up time . Shes only 8 and they are already very close. I just wish I had a few more ideas for the letters.

  • Andi says:

    How wonderful. It’s good to hear follow ups as they don’t often happen on line like this.

  • Deebee says:

    I just wanted to follow up on what I had said before Christmas. We had our family altogether in one place for the holidays and it was wonderful. The first skype video call after our daughter and her family returned home her two girls, 2 1/2 and 7 months both had the biggest smiles on their faces. They knew us! Yeah for staying connected with faraway family!

  • Andi says:

    Ah SKYPE. We have tried it but the quality is so rotten our son and his family in Norway will no longer even try it. Wonder why it’s so bad?? We just call on land lines and have a special reduced rate for frequent calling.
    I like the photo scrap book idea and will test it out w/our Norse daughter-in-law as she is a photo person.
    And yes to Seat Sales! They keep us connected physically at least 3 weeks of every year!

    We use the mail system as well.
    We find that an automated digital photo frame filled w/tons of pics keeps us feeling even more connected than a stationary photo album does. So we like to upload lots of recent pics that share our daily lives…..and feel we are ‘watching the grand-children’ as they grow up before our eyes!

  • Sarah Hau Sarah Hau says:

    Thanks Deebee. Its a work in progress, staying connected. The day after I published this my sister got Skype. One more small step!

    Do you have any advice for things that have worked for you living away from family over the years? What about things that you tried and totally failed!

  • Deebee says:

    Awesome ideas! I too have always lived far away from both my family and my husband’s family. These are some great tips!

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