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5 Tips For Staying Connected With Long-Distance Family

Back, back, back in the day, families generally lived near their extended relatives.

In some countries where land and heritage are priorities, this is still the case. But because we in the U.S. tend to move around based on jobs or a desire for change, it's not common to be near our loved ones anymore.

For better or worse, this trend makes holidays complicated. One friend shared how his family has to make an annual five-hour drive every year to make sure they don't upset the balance of power in family relationships. (Yikes! That almost sounds political.)

Other families I know truly want to be with extended family but life keeps them in separate time zones. This is the case with my mom and me. She recently moved seven hours away and we've been trying to figure out how to keep our kids connected with her ever since.

We don’t have it all figured out yet, but below are five things we’re trying. If you’re looking for ideas to close the distance between you and extended friends and family this Christmas (or for an upcoming birthday or event), maybe they’ll help you, too.

5 Tips For Staying Connected With Family Across Long Distance

1. Celebrate the big stuff at the same time: Many families exchange Christmas or birthday gifts through the mail. Something we’re trying is opening up these presents with family on speakerphone at the same time so we can hear each other's reactions. This gives our kids a chance to say a personal "THANK YOU!" as things unfold in real time. You could go a step further and do this by video, but sometimes only using audio lets you avoid any awkward eyebrow-raising when your kids receive something they don't quite know what to do with (you know what I’m talking about).

2. Keep technology simple: My mom has a learning curve when it comes to social media, texting, and the like. Telling her to "create a Skype account so we can talk via video" doesn't easily translate on her end so we’ve had to get more creative. We’ve considered buying a laptop and pre-loading it with icons connected to apps that she can use with a simple click, and trying Facebook video chat, which feels a step easier than creating Skype accounts.

3. Personalize updates: If your kids sigh over the phone when updating relatives about their life, try giving them a digital camera or smartphone to take photos that can be turned into puzzles or photo books. Websites like Snapfish and Shutterfly let you upload photos and turn them into works of art. Your kids can capture their favorite moments or activities, create the project, send it to a loved one, and then call to walk them through the moments.

4. Think ahead when you’re together: When you do connect in person with extended family, schedule private time to coordinate advance gifts. For example, purchase a recordable storybook and invite your relative to "read to your child" through it as a gift for a forthcoming birthday or holiday. You can also record grandparents reading a book or sharing a special life-lesson (i.e. "This is how you shave... or bake... or change the oil on a car...") via video. Or take it a step further and create a YouTube channel that allows all family members to post videos whenever they have something fun or meaningful to share with the rest of the family.

5. Go old-school: While our digital culture has made everything virtually available, there's something about getting a handwritten letter in the mail from someone we care about. Teach your kids how to share their feelings by writing about their lives and sending letters through the mail.

The truth is that maintaining long-distance relationships takes extra time and effort, but when we're separated by miles with those we love, the effort is worth it. What ideas or thoughts do you have for keeping in touch with long-distance loved ones? Share your ideas below.

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