The following post is by contributor Catherine Way.
I live in Darwin in North Australia. My in-laws live around the corner from us. My parents live in Canberra, in the south of Australia. My sister lives in Singapore. My sister- and brother-in-law live in California, USA. In today’s society, this is a common arrangement. Many people live far away from their extended family.
How can you stay in touch when your family is spread around the country or around the world? Does this mean that your children miss out on important connections with family?
There are plenty of ways to stay connected with far away family. And as an added bonus, while you connect with family around the world, your children have an authentic reason to learn about geography and cultural differences.
Sign up for Skype
Skype is a free service that lets you message and video chat with other people on Skype. Even my most tech-phobic relatives love Skype once they have it set up and working on their computer. And these days you can also have Skype on your mobile phone. Skype also allows you make cheaper international phone calls to non-Skype users.
With Skype you can video chat and instantly show off your child’s new haircut or their latest artwork. It lets relatives be nearly ‘in the room’ for birthday or holiday celebrations. My family love to call relatives on their birthday and sing ‘Happy Birthday’ on Skype.
Try other types of social media
Video calling through Skype is a fantastic way to chat with relatives, but I am also in the habit of using Facebook on my phone to keep up to date with my sister and sister-in-law. By checking Facebook regularly, I can have almost real-time updates about the bits and pieces that are important in their lives right now.
Through Facebook I hear that my sister has gone to Vietnam for a couple of days for work, or that my sister-in-law is in the middle of a long power outage. And I can see photos of some of these events very quickly too.
Start a blog
I first started blogging as a way to share family photos and stories with family and friends without having to send ten different emails. It also lets you show lots of different photos without having to worry about attachments and file sizes. Through my personal blog, family and friends know what we are interested in at the moment and can leave comments.
Send gifts that promote connection
If my niece and nephew lived around the corner, I would probably give them the usual toys for their birthdays and other occasions. But since my niece and nephew are on the other side of the world, I have the chance to send some unique gifts that represent the Australian environment and culture.
For example, I give books by Australian authors, Australian music or Australian animal figurines. There are lots more possibilities – a boomerang, maybe – as my niece and nephew get older. These gifts are sure to make my niece and nephew think of me and my family when they use them and they help my niece and nephew to learn about our family and life in Australia.
And now that my children are old enough to participate in gift giving, we often hand-make unique gifts for family, like the embroidered children’s handprints for my mum or artwork painted by the children on canvas. This brings a little bit of us into relative’s homes. At the moment, we are writing and illustrating a book of our family’s favourite songs and nursery rhymes to send to my niece and nephew.
Find ways to bring far away relatives into your home
You could invite them to come and stay, but that is not always financially possible. However, you can have their photographs on your bookshelves or in an accessible photo album.
You can tell your children about these relatives by sharing your memories often. When you make biscuits, talk about how you always used to bake biscuits with your mum when you were growing up. When your children fight, tell them about the time you tricked your sister.
Put up a map in your home and mark where important family and friends live. Have theme dinners or collect mementos from those places to help your children understand what it is like where their relatives live.
Keep up with the interests of your far flung relations. For example, my brother-in-law follows baseball. He gave my sons baseball gloves, a bat and a ball. And even though baseball is not a popular sport in Australia, they love to play baseball and sometimes we try and watch a game on TV.
When my son’s are old enough I hope they will want to go on an adventure and stay with their overseas aunties. The effort that I put into connecting with family now enriches my life and my children’s lives now and into the future.
How do you connect with distant family?