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Building and Maintaining Family Connections

Simple ways to build and maintain family connections.


Johnny playing “Spot It” with my brother and nephew.

I’m from a big family, but we don’t have the luxury of living near one another. I have the closest sibling, with a sister about thirty minutes away – and, of course, I’m moving very far from her this fall. The next closest distance between family members is 7 hours, and one sister lives far, far away in China.

In spite of the distance, my family is one of my strongest support systems. Here are a few of the ways we stay close in spite of distance.

Simple Ways to Build and Maintain Family Connections

Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts are free! You can have up to 10 people in a hangout, and we have maxed out that allowance! We try to have live hangouts every few weeks, with as many people making it live as possible. We ALL managed to get on at once for Christmas day last year – spread across three continents.


We have a top secret Facebook group. Supposedly the in-laws have an even more top secret in-law support group. I think they should, if they don’t – wouldn’t you need one, if you married somebody with nine siblings?

Don’t like Facebook? We also created a MeWe group. MeWe protects your data and isn’t stuffed with ads. I also like that I *only* use it for my family group, so there aren’t distractions. My siblings and I have long chats on there nearly every day.

Phone calls

Free long distance is my friend! I had to pay over $2/minute to call home (Nicaragua, at the time) when I went to college. I spent all of my spare money calling home once a month, for maybe half an hour – often with a miserable connection. I love being able to call family now without breaking the bank!

Family Reunions

These only work out every few years, but they are amazing when they happen. This summer we went camping in Vermont, and it was awesome. Here are a few things that make our family reunions really great:

  • Keep it simple. We plan a few outings, but spend a lot of time hanging out – playing board games, talking, and cooking meals.
  • Spend time outside. ALL of my kids’ fondest reunion memories are of time spent outside with aunts, uncles, and cousins.
  • Prep kids. My kids had 28 people to meet at the reunion – some they knew well, a few they had met too long ago to remember, and a few they had never met! We talked about each family set before driving up, so they at least knew who everyone was before we got there.
  • Build memories. We make cheesy shirts for our family reunions, because they are a fun way to be geeky together while we are there, and an even funner way to remember the reunion! This year we made shirts full of inside jokes from growing up – a great way to teach grandchildren bits and pieces of family history.

 Snail Mail!

My kids feel very strong connections to the cousins we have put together packages or written letters for. Technology is wonderful, but there is something about old-fashioned letters and packages that is extra special!

It doesn’t take much

I remember easily falling into a comfortable relationship with my cousins, even when we hadn’t seen each other for years – and my kids do the same with theirs. There are plenty of differences between my family and those of my siblings, but there is enough common familiarity that relationships can last even when physical distance makes time spent together a rare event.

How do you maintain family connections?

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MaryAnne at Mama Smiles
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MaryAnne is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

15 thoughts on “Building and Maintaining Family Connections”

  1. I love these ideas to stay in touch! We use Google and Skype on a regular basis to reach family and friends who have moved away (the down side of the Bay Area = transitional nature). We just got back from a wedding reception and our twin niece/nephew’s second bday. I love spending time with family and just hanging out. We also did a lot outside (it happens when you have 15 people in a 3 bd house).

    1. 15 people in a 3bd house would be exciting! We had a similar reunion out here when my son was born – but it was the middle of winter, so not as easy to spend a lot of time outside!

  2. You’ve made some very important points. They are especially relevant to us because we stay far away from home!

  3. Such great ideas! I’m actually not that great about keeping in touch. We do Skype with the grandparents and the kids write postcards every once in a while. My favorite thing is Facetime. The kids can Facetime their grandparents and the connection is usually better than Skype!

    1. I’ve heard great things about Facetime. Mike has never owned an Apple product and has no interest in trying them – for now, at least ;)

  4. I have to admit my family has never been particularly good at this. So, I haven’t been close to anyone but in my immediate nuclear family.

  5. You are so lucky to have such a big family. We mostly maintain connections via old-fashioned phone calls and occasional face to face meetings.

  6. I think that it’s so funny that the in-laws have a super secret Facebook page! Google Hangouts are a great idea. I skyped my sister and her family for the first time this past Christmas. It was fun … until her kitchen caught on fire! My poor mom was there too. Everyone is fine and now she has a new kitchen but what a crazy Skype call that was!

  7. Elisa | blissfulE

    We have always used Skype – the only free alternative for international calls when we left the US 10 years ago. Our US families have free mobile phone calls to each other, so when they use Skype (or potentially Google hangouts) it is a new technology they are learning just for us. We have had various complaints from all our family members about Skype over the years (my friends have found it much more congenial). Our families would prefer we spend money calling their mobile phones direct. Are Google hangouts significantly different than Skype? Does everyone involved need an @gmail address? I have found Skype much more reliable and clear in recent years, but it’s hard to convince some people to give it another chance.

    1. I definitely prefer Google Hangouts over Skype, and find it very easy to use if you have an @gmail address. I do think you have to have gmail for it to work – or at least a Google+ account.

  8. I agree in that I think it is extremely important to keep family relationships close even when distance is an issue. My kids Skype their cousins & grandparents. They also send snail mail. I have never tried Google hangout but I think I will.

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