Because they were born into a military family, my 2-year-old twin boys have grown up thousands of miles away from their relatives. My entire side of the family is in New York, and my husband’s side is in Michigan and Ohio. We recently moved from Colorado—far away—to California—even farther. So we’ve had to come up with ways to ensure that our family members remain a big part of the boys’ lives.
We also had to get creative when the twins were newborns. My husband deployed to Afghanistan when they were only two weeks old and was gone for three months. Luckily they were too small to know what was going on, but thousands of military families with older children go through the same thing every day—and deal with much longer absences.
If you, too, have relatives who live far away, here are seven ways to help keep them connected with your kids:
1. Use Skype or FaceTime: Phone calls are great, but kids love to see who they are talking to. Plus, it’s more interactive. My boys love to “honk” Grandpa’s nose through the computer screen and to catch the kisses Grandma blows them. They recognize the background as Grandma and Grandpa’s house and remember the things they did there. And, Grandma and Grandpa get to watch the boys grow and perform all their new “tricks.” Everyone wins!
2. Record a story: Recordable storybooks allow people to read bedtime stories to kids even when they are not physically present. My husband recorded two recordable storybooks from Hallmark for the twins before they were born. Nearly every evening after he left, I’d play the books for them. They were too young to follow the stories, but they would be mesmerized by the sound of his voice. If they were crying, they’d immediately calm down and look over at the book. So when Keith returned, his voice was already so familiar and comforting to them. My parents also recorded a book for the boys, taking turns reading the pages. My boys love to listen to it over and over again and yell, “Meema! Peepa!”
3. Write letters: No, I’m not talking about emails (though those can be great, too). I’m talking about good, old-fashioned, put-a-stamp-on-the-envelope-and-put-it-in-the-mailbox letters. Not only are cards and letters more personal than emails, they are also tangible items for the recipient to keep. So have your child write a little note and draw a picture for Grandma to treasure. He or she will be so excited when Grandma’s response—addressed specifically to him or her—lands in your mailbox.
4. Start a blog: Think of a blog as a digital baby book, but one you can constantly share with your family and friends. You can write stories and updates about your children, as well as add photos and videos. Not only will your readers get to stay up-to-date on your children’s lives, but the blog will live forever on the Internet. That means that one day, you and your kids can look back on it and remember what they were like growing up and all of the things you did and memories you made. Head to blogger.com, tumblr.com, or wordpress.com to create your free blog.
5. Give your kids their own family photos: Make sure to take lots of photos during visits with long-distance relatives, or have your relatives mail photos of themselves to your children. Then, put the photos in non-breakable frames in your kids’ rooms or on a low shelf that’s all their own, so that they can regularly look at the photos. My boys love to pull down their framed photos of family and friends and point out everyone in the pictures! I also have a friend who made her toddler his own “book of love”—a little photo album with sturdy, laminated pages filled with photos of his family members. He carried it everywhere with him.
6. Buy things your kids will associate with their relatives: We have a plastic New York Mets cup that I got a few years ago at a game. My parents have the same one, and when we’re at their house, my boys always see Grandpa drinking from it. So whenever I pull the cup out at home, they start yelling, “Peepa! Peepa cup!” I also bought doubles of a few toys they love to keep at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, so that when they play with them at home, they remember playing with them with their New York relatives as well.
7. Plan a visit: This may be the best way of all to keep your kids connected! We head back to New York twice a year to stay at my parents’ house, and the boys always look forward to the visits. We start talking about each trip a couple of weeks in advance. We discuss who the boys will see while they are there, what we will do, and what toys they will play with. It is always really exciting for them!
Do you have any other tips for keeping kids connected with long-distance relatives? Please leave a comment and let us know!