It was a cool and overcast September morning and I was heading out the door with my two kids on our daily walk to school. Coats – check! Backpacks – check! Lunches – Check! As we walked along the drizzly sidewalk festooned with colorful fall leaves, my son shared a story about a friend of his and in the telling mentioned that the friend’s father is a pilot. “Oh his daddy is a pilot, like your granddaddy,” I casually commented. There was a small gasp, followed by an astonished and excited, “Granddaddy flies airplanes??!”
“Yes,” I told them. “Granddaddy is retired but he flew planes all his life. You didn’t know that?”
I felt a familiar pang of parental guilt. Granddaddy and Nana had moved halfway around the world to retire in England. Though there was no easy way for us to visit them, they had visited us a couple times, and we had all done a passable job keeping up with cards and calls on the on important holidays. But time was flying by and my little ones were growing up without knowing their Granddaddy, and I knew I could do better. Equally far, and in the opposite direction, lived the other two wonderful grandparents in Seoul, Korea.
I know our case is not unique. In our increasingly globalized world, it is not unusual for families to be scattered across various continents. The arrival of video chat tools like Skype and Facetime made it much easier to stay connected, but with our modern, busy schedules it can still be hard to put in the time to make quality conversations happen. The video chat medium, now a favorite of grandparents in countless countries, presents its own communication challenges. If you also find yourself communicating with Grandma and Grandpa less often than you’d prefer, here are a few tips and ideas to help you get the long distance conversation going again.
Keep it regular
The first tip is to pick a regular time to which both sides can comfortably commit, maybe once a weak or even once a month. One thing that seems to get in our way more than anything else is the time difference, so it helps to reserve a little time in that part of your day when you know the other person will be available. In our family, we know that right after breakfast is a good time to catch the England grandparents who will have just finished their dinner. The kids are always amused to see this strange disparity of night and day when we call. Keeping this simple regularity removes the awkwardness and hassle of negotiating the right time to call. Sometimes it will be only a brief check-in and sometimes you’ll have to miss it altogether, and that’s ok. Life happens. Keep that standing invitation open.
Do show and tell – on both sides!
This is another little tradition that gives the video chat a familiar format and comfortable, low-pressure way to fill the time. For the grandkids, there is never a shortage of adorable school assignments or homemade art projects they can proudly present. Even shy kids seem to open up when asked to share a drawing or crafty creation. Teach them how to talk into the microphone and hold their drawings just so, so Grandmommy and Granddaddy can see them. The grandparents should also show and explain something! The children are very curious and would love to see something from their world.
Celebrate each other’s holidays
Having family members in other countries is a rich opportunity for learning about culture and language. Whether we live in Tanzania or Canada, there will always be some novel holiday, food or event to share with a loved one in another country. In our case, the new year celebration plays a much larger role for our relatives in Korea, and each year we look forward to a special chat marked with much bowing and well-wishing and dressing up in colorful, traditional hanbok clothes. On the other hand, our family members abroad will make an effort to join us virtually for American holidays like Thanksgiving or even Independence Day. These chats are welcomed pauses in sometimes hectic holidays for an easy, low-pressure check-in that is always very much appreciated.
The same technology that can distract us from the loved ones right around us can also help us stay close to far off friends and family. We just need some new behaviors and family traditions to make it work. We all know how quickly time slips away when we live far from those who are dear to us, but with some simple strategies, it’s easy to come together and stay together.