Far Away Family
My daughter will be close with her grandparents. This has become a mantra of sorts that I repeat to myself daily as I sit 230 miles away from Bean’s closest grandparent. My own parents live an additional 150 miles away.
Now, I haven’t truly lived at home for eleven years. I attended four years of undergraduate schooling three hours away followed by three years of law school six hours away. And, for the last four years I've been developing my career in a city seven hours away. The distance never really bothered me. But, my feelings began to change once Bean arrived. How was Bean going to develop the relationships with her grandparents that I dreamed for her if we were hundreds of miles away? And it wasn’t just about Bean's grandparents. I started to realize how separated we were from my entire immediate family. Both of Bean’s Aunts and all her cousins were back in my hometown. My own aunts and uncles as well. In fact, my husband and I were all Bean had in terms of family in our current city.
It’s not surprising to me that I am concerned about Bean developing strong family relationships. Growing up, I was very close with my grandparents. Particularly my maternal grandmother and grandfather (my father’s parents passed away when I was young). I would spend afternoons after school at my grandmother’s house. We would cook, watch television, play games, and just generally enjoy our time together. My grandparents home was the hub of all family activity. We spent almost every holiday at their house and just as many weekends. My grandparents came to cheer me on during all my school activities—from spelling bees to sporting events. My grandmother came to take my picture before every school dance. She would tell me stories about her life and inspired me to leave my home town for college. Together my grandparents were the greatest champion of my successes. They continued to follow my progress through college and called me almost every weekend to tell me how much they missed me. I still remember how proud they both were of me for surviving my first day of law school. When my grandmother passed away shortly after I finished my first year of law school—three years before I would get married and four years before the arrival of Bean—I felt like I lost my greatest supporter. I still think of her every day. I could hope for nothing more than for my daughter to have a similar relationship with her own grandparents. But I couldn't help wondering how this was possible with my own parents so far away?
I know I cannot allow distance to hinder my daughter’s relationship with her grandparents. That is why I have been working day an night to help my daughter develop a relationship with her far away family. Below is a list of tips of have developed that I believe are helping to foster the types of relationships I dream of for Bean.
1. Dedicate Time
No relationship can grow without dedicating time to it. I suggest dedicating two hours a week (or more) to be spend communicating with far away family members. My favorite form of communication is video chat on the iPhone (for relatives that don’t have an iPhone we use Facebook chat). This allows my daughter to see the face of who she is speaking with. If you can’t video chat, even just hearing the voice of the person on the other end of the line helps to increase familiarity. Your child may not show much interest in this at first. But, the key is to stick with it. Now, when my daughter sees that we are video chatting with someone, she smiles and wants to get closer to the phone. We video chat with different family three to four times a week.
2. Create a Special Gesture for Your Child to Associate With Each Family Member
During the first few video chats with my mom, my mom decided that she was going to be the one to teach Bean to blow kisses. She was relentless on the phone with Bean blowing kiss after kiss. She insisted it was going to be “her thing”. Sure enough, now every time my mom answers the video chat the first thing Bean does is blow her a kiss. That is because she associates this gesture with my mom. Sure, she will blow a kiss to other family members when asked, but with my mom it has become automatic. We have been promoting this with other family members too. A silly face for my dad, a special wave for her Nana, and so on. I like this idea because it shows that Bean is able to think of her family members individually and knows what they like. It is a step towards developing a unique relationship with each family member.
3. Share Family Pictures Every Day
Bean can’t video chat every day. Sometimes family just isn’t available. Sometimes Bean just is in a fussy mood. But that doesn’t mean we don’t spend any time with family. A great way to foster a relationship with family is to continually show the child pictures of family members. Every night I sit with Bean and show her a picture of her grandparents. Bean loves looking at pictures, and now she can point to different family members when they are named. Because of this exercise, when she does see a family member in person she seems to more easily recognize them and spends less time acting shy.
4. Tell Stories About Family
Even when we are not talking to our family, or looking at pictures of our family, I am talking to Bean about our family. I tell her stories about each family member. Maybe I repeat a story that family member told her the other day. I will tell her when the next time we will see each family member. I hope by mentioning our family on a consistent basis Bean will learn how important family is and will understand that even when we are not near our family, they are often in our thoughts.
5. Remind Your Child How Much Family Loves Them
This may be the most important tip. Bean will want to develop a relationship with her family if she knows that they care about her. That is why I take the time to remind her that she is loved every day. This can be a simple ritual before bed. Repeat “Nana loves you,” “Grandma loves you,” etc. every night before your child goes to sleep. If your child is able to picture their faces as you say this then they will have a nice picture of family on their minds before they go to bed every night.
I know Bean is still young. There are still many factors that will eventually influence the type of relationship that she has with the family that we do not see everyday. But, I hope that by following these tips I am at least providing Bean the opportunity to develop a close, loving relationship with family that is far away.
We are going on a trip to visit my mom and dad this weekend. I know when she gets off the plane and blows a kiss to my mom in person, I'll see my effort paying off.