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Staying close to family from afar

The kids enjoy storytime with Grandpa via webcam

Storytime with Grandpa via webcam.

A highlight of my early childhood was living close enough to both sets of grandparents to visit frequently. I spent hours and hours at my dad’s parents’ home especially, since they were a mere mile away. My kids don’t have the luxury of grandparents living nearby. Since my eighteenth birthday, I’ve only lived in the same country as my parents for one year – and for that year, we were on opposite sides of the country (they were in DC and I was in California). Most of the time, we’ve lived oceans apart. In the absence of family get-togethers for Sunday dinner or the holidays, we’ve come up with come creative ways of staying close to family.

High-tech methods:

  • Webcam My kids enjoy webcam sessions with both grandparents, as well as several aunts and uncles. I’m thinking we should try to do more cousin sessions now that they are getting older!
  • Email At the end of every day I write a couple sentences about our day. Then I send it off once a week, along with favorite photos from the week. We also send out links to family videos. Several siblings send out family emails as well, and I love finding out what they’re up to. My kids recognize family members from email pictures and videos.
  • Phone Thanks to the magic that is VOIP telephones, I can now talk to my parents in Austria for as long as I want – by dialing a US number! I talk to my mom several times a week, and my kids talk to all of their grandparents occasionally (they prefer webcam). This is a HUGE change from my first year of college, when I called maybe once a month because it cost over $2/minute to talk to my parents in Nicaragua. I also call my siblings regularly, and one sister’s kids in particular love to get in on the conversation.
  • Facebook I’m sure it’s due to the combination of a geeky family and a large family, but we have our own sibling (including in-laws) facebook group. Mike claims that there is a second, secret, in-laws-only facebook support group. =) Facebook is also a nice way to stay in touch with extended family members.

And a few old-school methods:

  • Snail mail I don’t send letters as often as I should, but I’m a big believer in the magic of getting a REAL paper letter in the mail! I need to get better at printing physical photos, too.
  • The Christmas Book was the brainchild of my oldest sister. Every Christmas she asks each of us to submit something – pictures, writing, poetry – WHAT we send is our choice, but if we don’t send something in she will get (kindly) creative. She rarely has to get creative. Everyone’s entries are compiled, with all the sheets in page protectors. This Christmas will mark ten years of this tradition, and I treasure my family’s collection of annual “snapshots of who we are, experiences we’ve shared, and things about which we care.”
  • The magic of family I am always amazed at how well my kids get along with their cousins when we all get together. My kids tend to be quite shy, but with their cousins they are always friendly and quick to start playing.

Mike travels a lot (he spent this week in Berlin, with two other trips in June), and we use phone conversations and email to keep in touch with him. The extra money we spent on the 3G version of the Kindle for him is worth every cent, because it means he can send us short email messages from anywhere in the world.

I AM lucky enough to have one sister and one brother (plus his awesome wife!) within an hour’s drive of our home, and we try to get together with them at least once a month.

How do you stay connected to family – no matter how far away they live?

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

11 thoughts on “Staying close to family from afar”

  1. Your family has some wonderful ways to stay connected, Mary Anne. This was a fun post to read.

    I absolutely love story time with Grandpa via the webcam!

    We are blessed to live nearby all of our family. The furthest away are my brother–only a couple hours, and my mom’s sister lives in Utah. I am very thankful to have my parent’s so near.

  2. I was also lucky enough to grow up very close to my maternal grandparents. They moved to be about two and half blocks away from us, to help out with my younger brother who has cerebral palsy. I have many wonderful memories of them and spent a lot of time with them. In high school I used to walk over every weekend to spend time with them and once I started dating Brad he became part of the tradition too. I love the Christmas book tradition your family has started, so fun and unique.

  3. These are wonderful ideas. My mom lives a thousand miles away, so we only see her about once a year. That’s hard. My dad lives about an hour away and Hub’s parents lives about 20 minutes. We see them quite often.

  4. So many great ways to communicate and share your daily happenings with family members. They must get such a thrill to hear from you and see what you have all been up to.

    Storytime with Grandpa via webcam is an awesome idea. Would he consider recording any stories so that you can always keep them?

    I never flew far from the nest so to speak. My parents live a couple of minutes from us and Troy’s family isn’t that far away either.

    Even though our family is close we still send letters and drawings to grandparents. I like the idea of our children creating something and posting it off. Sav, Blakie and Taleea are learning that taking the time to write a little note and post it brightens someones day.

    1. I should see if Grandpa is willing to record stories – thanks for the suggestion!

      I think it’s wonderful that you send letters by post even though your family lives nearby. There’s something very special about getting and sending a physical letter in the mail.

  5. I’m lucky that my Mom lives in town, and Jeff’s parents don’t live too far from us.

    That’s cool your parents are in Austria and you can still talk to them on the phone. Have you ever visited them there? Austria is on my list of places I want to visit.

    1. Yes! We visited in December 2009. My family (including me, of course) lived there for all four years I was in high school, but then moved away for a decade or so. They leave (probably forever, this time) this summer, so I’m glad we were able to make it back.

      You can see photos from our trip in 2009 here:

      and here:

      If you’re interested. I loved living in Austria – and making it back to visit! =)

      Now, if only somebody would invent that teleportation device and make it FREE so we could go visit again…

  6. First of all, I am always amazed about how connected you are with your family. We are also far removed, but our main mode of communication is phone. Lars doesn’t like FB or Webcam, because he is a very private person. We even keep arguing about my blog which is another way to stay connected.

  7. Fantastic ideas! I love the Christmas idea. We are in the same boat having lived away from family pretty much ever since we got married. Unfortunately we are still trying to convince both sets of grandparents how easy it is to talk via skype. We do make it a point to talk regularly about our family and when we are near the grandparents we have the kids spend time with them without us around to create that bond.

    1. It amazes me how well a bond can form with limited interaction. I wasn’t around my grandparents much after my seventh birthday – I saw them less than once a year, and didn’t have access to email and skype, but still felt close to them.

  8. Elisa | blissfulE

    Wow! What a great, thorough, and creative list! It’s wonderful your family manages to stay in touch so well.

    We are oceans away from any family, and since I can’t stand FB’s “privacy” policy we don’t see pictures of cousins (though I don’t know how often our family posts on there, so we might not be missing much). Even birth announcements are via my mother-in-law and copied/pasted from FB (often without pictures).

    Both sets of grandparents check my blog for pictures of our kids, and some other extended family checks in occasionally, too.

    We use Skype (with and without a webcam) with my parents, sometimes with my sister (usually after her boys are in bed due to the time zones), and occasionally with some of the in-laws. Since the in-laws all live in the same state, and most of them within a few miles of each other, they haven’t embraced free internet calls in the same way we have. Nor do they, with the exception of my mother-in-law, email much (except Christmas wish lists!).

    We use a simple kid-friendly photo album with pictures of each nuclear family within the extended family (pictures we took on our last visit to the US), so our kids have some idea what their aunts, uncles, and cousins (used to) look like.

    Thankfully, my friends are much better about staying in touch than most of our extended family is, probably because they have moved more and realise that long-distance relationships require some effort, and also that the effort reaps many beautiful rewards!

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