Staying Connected to Long Distance Family
Hello, friends! We are back to a semi-normal schedule this week and so I am back to writing. (yay!) I say semi-normal because yesterday we had to say goodbye to our long distance family members who were visiting. If you have long distance family, you probably understand the acute loss that is felt the moment they leave.
My daughter has a very tender heart and always cries when we say goodbye to “Grammy and Grampy.” Last night was particularly hard on her for some reason. We put her down for bed and about 15 minutes later I hear her, hysterical, sobbing uncontrollably. I raced in, thinking she had gotten sick or hurt to find her completely physically healthy. Emotionally, she was broken and I had to hold her and try to patch it back up.
We are lucky to spend time with my parents maybe 5 times a year. School, work, finances, distance, they all work against it being more frequent. We also have family and friends in other states and countries. We do make every effort to communicate regularly to stay connected but it isn’t always easy. There are a few things we do to feel connected and stay in touch with long distance family.
Frequent Phone Calls
This one is probably the easiest to implement. We call my parents several times a week. Sometimes we have a lot to talk about, sometimes its just a “Hi Grammy! I love you!” call. But its a connection and can lift our spirits. Most phone plans have free long distance calling now which is a HUGE blessing when your 4 year old decides to chat about Shopkins for an hour. We recently connected our Amazon Echo (afilliate link) and now the kids just have to say “Alexa, call Grampy” and they can talk anytime they like. (note: this can backfire too because my 2yr old is obsessed with telling Alexa what to do.)
When talking isn’t enough and you want to see those smiling faces, use video calls. I know many people who use FaceTime. We tend to use Facebook video messaging because we don’t have Apple products. We have also used Gmail video chat and Skype at times, but Facebook is our current favorite. This usually requires a little coordination because both sides of the call need to have a videocam ready. We are looking into getting an Echo Show (affiliate link) because my in-laws have one they use for calling.
Texts, Messages, Emails about the Day-to-day
Of course you tell everyone on social media about straight A’s or a work promotion, but knowing about small details can help you feel more connected. If the kids do or say something cute, I make sure to tell our long distance family about it in the moment. Then I don\’t forget about it by the time we call and it gives them a small glimpse of what happens in our lives. Just today I sent a message that said we had just been to Aldi and were planning a trip to the greenhouse later. This might seem trivial, but a later conversation may involve a new recipe we are trying or what flowers we are planting and where. Also photos, photos, and more photos!
Any mom knows their kiddos grow so very fast. When family is far away, they miss out on the milestones and the growth spurts. We send or post a lot of photos for family to see. Things like haircuts, a new tooth, or even blowing bubbles or gardening. We send the occasional video too of a new dance routine or song.
Vacation time is often limited so we make our trips to see our long distance family into a vacation as well. Many times, family won\’t be able to be off work the length of your stay anyway so take the pressure off them to entertain you for a week. For example, we live near Gatlinburg, TN which is a huge tourist area. We often have family that will stay in Gatlinburg and we meet up with them during their trip. If we visit my family in Michigan, we may plan a trip to the beach or Frankenmuth or Chicago. We always have several ideas for side trips and try to let family and friends know our tentative plans. Then they can decide if they want to work that day and meet us later or come along for some extra fun.
My daughter is just starting to understand time and finds it helpful to know how many more days until “X” happens. I use an app on my phone (Countdown Days in Google Play) and one screen is completely dedicated to various countdowns. Currently, we have a countdown to the last day of school, our visit to Michigan, birthdays, and Christmas. Last week as we were counting the days until our long distance family arrived, Maddie asked me every morning how many days and then reported that to her Pre-K teacher who got in on the excitement too. Younger kids have trouble understanding timeframes but just knowing they will see those family members again can relieve some anxieties. Last night when my daughter was sobbing, I started telling her about all the fun things we might do on our next visit. As she got excited about swimming, the Christmas store, and the zoo, her sadness was alleviated some.
Dealing with the Aftermath
When you leave or hang up on long distance family, it can sometimes feel like a heartbreak. As in our case yesterday, it can come on quickly and be a strong reaction. After we part from family, I try to read my daughter’s mood. If she is crying, I hold her and remind her we can call them later. Sometimes she is quiet for a while and I try to give her space to process her thoughts. Sometimes I ask if she wants to bake something so her mind is occupied with fun and sweets. What works one visit may not work the next, but I try to help her through her emotions. I hope as she gets older that it gets easier, but I can’t say it really ever is for me. We just try our best and know that we are blessed to have family we love.