I grew up in a sleepy little town in Tennessee. My maternal grandparents lived states away in New Jersey. Still, as a little girl I remember feeling just as close to them as I did my Granny, with whom I spent every Friday night. I remember visiting and walking to the store one summer with my Grandpa. He bought me soda, candy, and ice cream. And, despite my mother’s protests, he let me eat it all right before dinner! I remember the long winter ride to New Jerseyand being welcomed by the large plastic nativity set on the front lawn and Santa and his reindeer on the roof. I remember the excitement of receiving letters from them, which my mother would read to me, and how I would painstakingly “write” letters to return. My Grandpa died when I was five, and soon after, my Grandma came to live with us. How sad it would have been if my parents had not already nurtured those relationships.
It’s a fact of life. The people we love the most do not always live nearby. In years past, families—even extended families—often lived in close proximity to one another. Many even lived in the same house, but today things are different. In some sense, Americans have almost become nomadic. Most adults follow the money. They have to go where their careers take them, where the jobs are. This means that many children do not grow up near their aunts and uncles, cousins, or grandparents. In addition, military service and divorce often separate nuclear families, sometimes by miles, sometimes by states, sometimes by oceans. Older siblings may get married or go to college and move away. How can parents and other caregivers ensure that children stay connected and still maintain those important emotional ties with the ones they love?
While long-distance relationships may never be easy, they are definitely easier than ever with today’s technological advances. It sounds like the “dark ages” to my children, but my family didn’t actually own a telephone until I was in first grade! Today, internet based calling services allow users to not only talk to each other but to see each other while doing so.
If your children are far away from people they love, here are a few ideas to help keep the lines of communication open.
- Under careful supervision, take advantage of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. These sites allow participants to send and receive almost instantaneous messages. With your help, your child could give daily updates to several “friends.” This can help everyone feel more involved in each others’ lives.
- Children can send letters with more detailed messages. Let your child send small packages with artwork or other “goodies” through the postal service. But since postal expenses continue to rise, take advantage of email on a more regular basis. Scan and send artwork digitally. Consider giving your child a stationary set that includes stamped and addressed envelopes so he or she can communicate at will. However, you do need to explain that only one or two sheets of paper can fit inside a standard one-stamp envelope.
- Don’t forget to include lots of pictures! There’s nothing quite like “seeing” the ones you love. While the cost of developing is a bit prohibitive, if you have a digital camera or smart phone, photography is almost free by transmitting your photos and videos via internet. However, please keep in mind that there is still great value in printed pictures. Many people enjoy displaying pictures in their homes or carrying pictures in their wallets. Especially be sensitive to those whose computer skills may be lacking. Consider giving framed pictures as gifts or pictures in magnetic frames for the fridge. If you must rely on digital photographs, consider giving an electronic frame that includes rotating files of digital images.
- Arrange long-distance phone “dates” for your children to talk on the phone or internet. If your child is young or has problems knowing what to say, set a short time limit. Before the conversation begins, discuss things he or she may want to talk about or questions to ask. Stay close to prompt as necessary. If your child is older, be prepared to offer a little privacy.
- Celebrate together. Include long-distance friends and relatives in special celebrations and even ordinary daily events. Send them invitations to join via Skype or Facetime at certain times. For example, Grandma and Grandpa might enjoy watching your son open the gift they sent him, or Aunt Susan might like to see your daughter blow out the candles on her cake. If real-time communication is not available, remember to record the events and share them later. Don’t forget old school techniques like audio recordings. A parent who is serving in the military might enjoy hearing his daughter read her favorite book to him. Grandparents can do the same for children. Some parents even create YouTube videos for this express purpose.
- Visit when you can. Make visits an important part of your child’s life. Even though you may stay in touch in every other way, there is just nothing like wrapping your arms around someone you love. In reality, I couldn’t have visited my grandparents that many times before my Grandpa passed away. Yet, I distinctly remember at least three. Even when they are few and far between, visits are vitally important to maintaining those long-distance relationships.
Regardless of what means you use, the key is effort. For children, loving someone long-distance means that parents and other adults have to help. Take the initiative. Make the effort. “Out of sight, out of mind” is a reality with children. So, help your children stay connected to the ones they love. Relationships are too important to neglect.
Special Note: The internet is a wonderful source of information and communication, but there are risks. Always cautiously supervise your children when they are using the internet.