They say that blood is thicker than water; and, at the end of the day, ‘family’ is all we really have. It’s what was around us when we came into this world and it will be around us when we leave it. That’s a loose paraphrasing of someone very wise from ages ago, but it rings true in this age of technology and information when families are often spread out across the world or across the country. How do you keep in touch with long-distance family members? You can give them a call once in a while, perhaps, or get them on a social media group, or even travel to where they live whenever you can. But how do you really connect with them on a more-than-just-superficial level and stay connected on an emotional one? This article shares some valuable tips about not just ‘being in touch’ with long-distance family members but really nurturing what are probably the oldest and closest relationships any of us have with someone else on this planet.
Schedule Regular Video Chat Times with Family Overseas
To be brutally honest, “Sorry grandma, I was too busy to call you” is probably the lamest excuse you can give a woman who was probably three times as active as you when she was your age. If someone’s really important to you, you’ll put in the effort to ‘make time’ to have a conversation with them rather than ‘try to find’ the time for it. Think about this: If you were running a business and I gave you free access to one hour of Jeff Bezos’ or Elon Musk’s time each week for business consultations, would you ‘call when you can’ or would you have it saved on your calendar in indelible ink and make sure you’re on the call on time? Why should your grandmother be treated like a lesser person, then? See, I told you I’d be brutally honest.
When scheduling phone calls with relatives abroad or long-distance siblings, cousins, grandparents, or even mom and dad, don’t make it sound like you’re doing them a favor. “Okay, I can pencil you in for Thursdays before lunch” is not the appropriate line! Don’t assume that they’re free to talk to you all the time; that’s a very presumptuous thing to do and something we’ve all been guilty of at one time or another. Be considerate and think of their busy lives as well. A good approach would be to ask them for two or three convenient times of the day and days of the week so you can plan around both your schedules.
Before you get on the call, write down a few things you’d like to talk about. Not everyone is comfortable with small talk so it might help if you led the conversation, at least in the beginning. And don’t fire away one fact after another like you’re giving a debriefing after a secret mission; let them get a word in edgeways as well. The idea is to have a meaningful dialog about what’s going on in each other’s lives, not a perfectly delivered monolog that ends with a “talk to you next week, take care, okay, bye-bye now”. The conversation should flow back and forth naturally. For example, give them the most important bit of news you want to share that week and then ask a question so they can share their news; when it sounds like they’ve finished, bring in another element and another question, and so on. Of course, these tips are only for those who constantly worry about what to say next when they’re on a casual call with someone. If you’re a natural talker or a good listener, just do your thing.
Another important point to remember is to remember the important points! By that, I mean you need to take notes about what was said during the conversation. Keeping a small journal of sorts containing key points of your conversation not only helps you retain them in your memory but also gives you talking points for the next conversation. “How’s your tennis elbow now – did that week of physiotherapy help?” “Is your friend feeling better after her flu last week?” That type of thing. Why is this important? It shows them that you really listen when you’re being spoken to, and everyone loves a good listener. It’s a very powerful way to show a person that you care, and that you value them and the things they say.
The final thing here is to make sure that you get them to open up about themselves. Why on earth, you ask. Well, who is the most interesting person on the planet? Do you know? Okay, let’s try it another way – what are the three words most frequently used by everyone? Give up? I’ll tell you. The most interesting person in the world – for anyone – is themself; and the three words most uttered by a person are I, me, and my. If you can get someone to open up about themselves, you’ll be known as the world’s greatest conversationalist, even if you barely spoke three sentences throughout that conversation. Dale Carnegie observed this in his massively famous best-selling book on the art of relationship-building: How to Win Friends and Influence People. Try it out and see it work its magic. On ANYONE.
Long-distance Relatives Can Meet Virtually as a Group
In the age of the novel coronavirus, with our stay-at-home lifestyles, restrictions on travel, the brutal economy, and other factors, we’ve all gotten used to Zoom or Hangouts (now called Meet) or, God forbid, even Skype! Use the group feature of these tools to get your family members together for a virtual get-together every few months or so. When the old ‘family cookout’ is no longer an option, use technology to stay connected with the ones you love. But you’ll need to set some ground rules or it won’t work. You’ll end up with everyone either wanting to speak at the same time, not knowing when to speak, or just sitting in silence.
If you’re taking the initiative to set up these virtual get-togethers, you need to take the lead in moderating the conversation as well. However, you can’t make it too formal or everyone will think you’re pushy. Be subtle and try to guide the conversation, giving each one a turn to speak. Keep a list of questions ready as a segue/prompt for each person or family to stark speaking. That can really help keep the flow going.
Using a video conferencing tool means you also have access to file sharing and screen sharing so try and encourage others to share recent photos of their branch of the family. You can also ask everyone to upload images to a shared folder on Google Drive or Dropbox so others have access. The older members of the family might need some help with this but they’ll value it the most.
Host a Virtual Game Night for Cross-border Family Fun
How about organizing a game night where everyone can participate from the safety and comfort of their home? If you think about it, it’s a fantastic idea. Everyone loves games, and it gives you all a chance to have fun together without a lot of expense or additional scheduling worries. If you’re already scheduling monthly calls, set one of them aside as game night.
The first step is already done – you’ve already decided on Google Meet or Zoom or Houseparty as your video conferencing tool of choice, which means everyone has an account and can log in when required. That’s one major issue out of the way.
The next thing is to pick a game or give everyone a few choices to vote on. Low-tech games can include Pictionary, Charades, etc., while a more high-tech audience might enjoy virtual board games or even multiplayer online games. Remember, don’t leave the old folks out, so we recommend you start out with something simple like Charades and everyone knows and loves.
You can also suggest snack ideas so everyone can be prepared for a long night of gaming. Keep it simple, like frozen pizza or something quick that can be prepared in under 30 minutes. And nothing messy if the game involves using a keyboard and mouse. The last thing you want is to come down the next morning and find dip all over your computer.
The game night idea could also inspire the kids in the family to form a little group of their own and play the games they like. Make sure it’s just the kids, though. It might be a good idea for an adult to act as a virtual chaperone at these sessions.
Try Meeting in Person at least Once a Year
If you’re a large family spread out across the country or across the globe, it can be hard to plan trips. That’s even harder in a world full of closed borders, mandatory self-quarantines, and other restrictions. But once the pandemic dies down, hopefully, after a vaccine is made globally available next year, you can plan for something toward the 2021 holiday season. Thanksgiving might be a good excuse to get together under the same roof, and you might already have a family tradition on this special holiday. If not, try getting everyone together for a memorable holiday. If one of your family members has a large home and is willing to host everyone for a week or even a weekend, that’s even better.
Remember that finances are tight for everyone these days, so don’t suggest anything that involves layout out a bunch of cash. If family members live in nearby towns, you can do a family cookout in your back yard. You don’t want anyone to feel obligated to spend a lot of money. Make sure everyone knows that gifts are not expected. Some members, especially the ones that married into your family, might think they’re required to bring something for everyone. Be clear about that. If you’re celebrating a religious holiday or Christmas, you can set a per-person dollar limit for gifts to avoid forcing anyone to stretch their budget.
Try to organize some games or special events during the get-together, and keep aside a significant amount of time for the most important thing – just sitting and talking. There are bound to be some kids, so make sure you have something to keep them occupied as well. The whole point of this is to help you strengthen the relationships you have with your extended family. Speaking of which, it doesn’t even have to be all your relatives coming together. If you and your kids or you, your siblings, and your parents are separated by distance due to work, college, or military service, you can have a get-together just for your immediate family. In fact, it’s a good idea to have a separate one for immediate family and another for the extended family.
Use Technology to Stay Connected with Long-distance Family Members
Today’s world of technology gives us a lot of options to keep in touch and stay in touch. Friendship Lamps are a great example of technology being an aid for maintaining and strengthening relationships. If you’ve never heard of them, Friendship Lamps, also called Relationship Lamps, Long-distance Touch Wi-Fi Lights, Long-distance Relationship Lamps, etc. are a pair or set of lamps that connect to each other digitally from different locations using their respective local Wi-Fi connections. For instance, you can set one up in California, one in London, and one in Syndey, and then hook them up to a single account known as a Group ID. Each lamp can light up in 10 different colors. As you set each one up in its location, you can specify a particular color for that lamp. Then, once all the lamps are set up in their respective colors, touching the sensor on one lamp will make all the others light up in that lamp’s color!
The effect is amazing, and it allows you to instantly communicate across thousands of miles, or across the street. Distance doesn’t matter; as long as your Wi-Fi is on and the lamps are connected to a power source, it is online. If you have 10 family members spread out across the state, the country, or the world, everytime someone touches their lamp, the other 9 will light up in that lamp’s color, so you’ll know exactly who’s thinking about the family. The concept is a brilliant one, and customers have had some wonderful things to say about the product:
“My mother loves getting different colors from different grandchildren! A great way to send love regularly-especially if shut inside the house!”
“We love these! We bought these for my parents for Christmas so they can stay connected with the grandkids. Best gift for family who lives far away!”
“I bought this for my daughter and I who are on different sides of the country. We are having a blast with these lamps. The set up and operation are super easy. So glad we did this!”
“I got two so I we could send one to my sister who is off at college and we love them! It gives us that feeling that she is here, even while she is away! Definitely worth getting some!!”
Take a look at the Friendship Lamps and see if they’re for you. Click Here for a discount!
There are several other such smart products you can try, such as touch bracelets and so on. However, people who bought both the Friendship Lamp and another option consistently came back and told us how much more effective the lamps were. They’re accessible, the colors are clearly visible even in a bright, sunlit room, and all it takes is a gentle tap on the top sensor plate, so the kids can have a lot of fun saying hi to their grandparents or their cousins far away whenever they want.
Write Letters to Relatives Living Far Away
Nope, not emails; letters. The kind you write with a pen, put in an envelope, add a stamp, and put in a postbox or take to the post office. You do remember where that is, don’t you? The uniqueness and sheer thrill of receiving a letter from a family member is one that’s hard to imagine. Just picture your grandmother going through her morning junk mail and seeing a hand-written letter from you. Don’t you think that reaction is worth the effort?
The art of letter-writing is a dying one because we live in an age of instant messaging. The thought of waiting a week or even a few days to have your message received by the other person is unthinkable for most millennials. But if you can get that tradition alive and kicking again in your family, it will be a valuable heirloom that generations of your family members will remember you for.
The secret to developing any habit is to do a little every day. Begin with a clearly-defined five-minute window. It doesn’t matter if you only get two lines in each day, or a short paragraph. What matters is that you put pen to paper on a daily basis and stick to it – until it finally sticks to you. Once you get your second wind, you’ll be writing like a regular Eleanor Roosevelt, who penned her prose to some of the most influential men in history – Churchill, Kennedy, Eisenhower, and Truman. You, on the other hand, will be penning your penny thoughts to some of the most influential people in your life – your family.
If you have trouble getting things to take off, get help from a more senior member of the family, perhaps one that others are more likely to listen to. A matriarch or a patriarch on your side is the best help you can have. Leave the bossing around to them so you can work out the nuts and bolts of scheduling video calls, making travel arrangements, and so on. Enlist the help of more organized family members to chart out schedules and such; get an accountant in the family to do budgets for travel, purchases, and so on. The more activity you infuse from your side, the more participation you’ll see from others. Enthusiasm is highly infectious, so have that ready in your toolbox at all times.
Finally, once the whole family gets into the cadence of getting on calls once a month, meeting once a year, and so on, you can step back and maybe let someone from the younger generation take over your duties. That will give your new traditions and customs greater longevity, and the ability to be passed down the line.
The problem with most of us is the getting started part. What motivates the bulk of humanity is necessity, not duty, unfortunately. But never forget that it is your duty and obligation to make the best of what you were born with, and that’s family. Unless you take the effort, nobody else in the family likely will. On the other hand, if they see you making an effort, you’ll end up getting all the help you need setting things up. Every team works that way. If the leader is proactive, energetic, and unafraid of a little extra work, it will reflect on the team. And, after all, isn’t your family the best team to be on whether they’re a long-distance family or live right next door to you?