How do I stay close to family when I live far away?
Bridging time and space to stay close to relative and friends at a distance.
We live here in the Bay Area without a village. We have some amazing friends, I adore the group of girl friends I have made here over the last 9+ years! Lucky for me, even my best friend from childhood now lives here. I am truly blessed to have such a wonderful circle, but that doesn’t skate the fact that we do not have actual family here.
There is no mom or dad (grandma or grandpa) to call in for a tight situation or do an overnight with the babies, no auntie or uncle to take the kids for a fun outing. No one is showing up for birthday parties or when the time comes – soccer games, school recitals or other accomplishments — without a lot of planning and money (flights, hotels, transportation, etc.).
We are isolated and alone out here. I won’t get into why or how, but instead, focus on the ways in which we try our best to keep our children’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins integrated into our lives and us – them!
1. Photo Streams
The native iPhone Photo App is my favorite though I have friends who prefer TinyBeans. I love the iPhone app because I didn’t have to download anything new and neither did my recipients to make “shared albums” into a real-time photo stream! TinyBeans has its own perks – especially that you don’t have to have an iPhone.
Every day, I easily and effortlessly post a few photos or videos of the kids, the house (new garden, book shelf, etc.), of my husband and myself or the entire family onto the stream to share with the grandparents. The photos aren’t instagram perfect, but that is the way we want it! Candid/real, and an overabundance.
The grandparents and aunts/uncles truly enjoy the regular posts. Though we don’t normally let our kids play with our phones much, our toddler does love when we hand over the stream for him to glance through. He recognizes his cousins and talks about what they are doing – as if we are a part of it. From afar, we like to think we are!
2. Google Photos
Again with the photos, I know. I downloaded the Google Photo app a few years ago to relieve some much needed storage space on my phone and I am so thankful I did. This is one of my favorite apps – not only does it save me storage but it also saves me time and energy. It helps organize my photos, suggest shares, makes cute collages and fun videos, and reminds me of special times. The face recognition is also an awesome way to categorize and search through my photos!
Google Photos has been another super easy way to share our life with friends and family far away in a private way. Facebook and Instagram don’t necessarily fit the same bill here for us.
We try to Facetime with the families at least once a week. Even if it is brief, it is better than nothing. Sometime we squeeze-in a quick Facetime session with Papa and Grandma while we are eating dinner (like they are with us!), when we are playing on Sunday afternoons or even just a quick hello when we are walking home from the park. Facetiming is a magical way to be a part of each other’s lives. It doesn’t have to be long or perfect (everyone doesn’t have to be present each time) – just making it happen means a lot.
We try to do this with the young cousins and aunties and uncles too. All of our family members have such busy lives, and we all live in different time zones – so it can be tough week to week. Better late than never!
4. Regular Phone Calls
Find a time when you can call your relatives for a quick catch-up on the fly. In the car, on the way to the grocery store, or make it a routine during nap time or when you are doing the dishes. Being able to connect with family for a few minutes each week builds a bond stronger than it feels in the moment. Even if it is just 5-minutes, try to make it a habit.
5. Year Swapping
We decided that we are going to be a “3-year rotation” for the holidays. One year we will be home to celebrate the Christmas holiday at our home (family is always welcome!), the following year we will travel to see family in their location, and the third year we will plan to ‘do anything’ (plan a family trip to Disney, stay home by ourselves, etc.). Laying out a rotation, as we are the only family in our clan that lives far away, helps everyone plan. Of course, years may be influenced by pregnancy, illness, disasters of any sort, but generally we will try to keep to our rotation. Being transparent, open, fair and planning far in advance is both helpful to our families and fair to ourselves.
6. Google Calendar
If you use google calendar to manage your life/family – consider sharing it with your tech-savvy (or may not super savvy) family members (in view only mode!). You might not share your personal or work calendar, but if you have a family calendar that notes children’s activities, celebrations, milestones, reminders and other fun and exciting family info – the grandparents might love eating that stuff right up!
My mother-in-law loves to see what she can on our calendar – whose birthday party we are attending for the weekend, what music class the kid’s go to each week, and more. Your calendar share doesn’t have to be invasive to your own personal space and planning, you can even create a new calendar for them to see easily in google calendar copy over just the events you want them to see.
7. Find My Friends
When we are on a trip – I often share my location with my parents and mother-in-law. This might sound super creepy for some families but we love it. They like to pop open the app and see we made it safely to Tahoe or landed soundly in Arizona. You can adjust the sharing as you’d like along the way.
8. Video Books
This one is one of my favorites! When my son was first born, I sat my parents down in front of my laptop and turned on my Photo Booth app. I handed them a pile of children’s books to choose from and off they went! Together and apart they recorded more than an hour of reading different children’s books. I play these videos for my toddler to read along. He does get a little confused sometimes, thinking Papa is Facetiming him – but overall it has been awesome. My kids are getting “quality time” with their grandparents through books via video whenever they want!
Sending cute notes in the mail has never been easier. Postable is an awesome tool that helps send cards in the mail with the click of a button. I upload photos and send customized photo cards of the kids to the grandparents for special occasions. We often let them know we are thinking of them this way – and it is easy as pie!
10. Family Book
This past year, I used Shutterfly to make a cute hardcopy “family book” for my sons. Each page is dedicated to one family member – a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or cousin. I used the built-in icons to add things that relate to each person (like a sail boat and tractor for my dad) and photos of the family member with the kids on their page. I plan to make a new and updated book every year! Shutterfly often has good deals and I made the original book for under $25. This one is so great, it is their own personal, custom, ever-growing family book! Try Minted for some really high-quality photo printing and book options.