Growing up, the majority of my extended family lived within a ten mile radius of my childhood home in southeast Queens. In the late 1950s, after a brief stay in Manhattan, my grandfather and grandmother settled in St. Albans, Queens after leaving North Carolina along with millions of other Black people fleeing the segregated South during the Great Migration. My grandmother died before I was born. However, my grandfather stayed in the house he raised his daughters in until his death in 2010. My mother and her sisters stayed close, and raised their families in the surrounding areas in Queens and Long Island. As kids, almost every Sunday, we gathered at my grandfather’s house to eat his food and run wild in his house. There was never a shortage of sitters or playmates. Looking back, it was a fact of my life I just took for granted. When I left home for college, I couldn’t have anticipated that I was leaving that time of my life in the past.
To my surprise, the typical American only lives eighteen miles from their mother with close to 20% only living a couple of hours away. However, those with college and professional degrees are more likely to live father away due to the pursuit of job opportunities. This was true for me. After college, I moved to D.C. for law school and ultimately met and married my husband. We chose to stay because the job opportunities and cost of living were more amenable to the lifestyle we wanted to live than my hometown in New York. While we are fortunate to live close to my husband’s family, most of my family is still several hours away. When we had children, I knew I’d have to improvise to give my children the same strong sense of family I had when growing up in Queens. If, like me, staying connected to long distance family and friends is important to you, here are a few tips for maintaining a family connection even when you are miles apart.
1. Video Chat
Skype, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangout, Apple’s FaceTime, Tango and other apps make it easier than ever to have face-to-face time with long distance friends and family. While this seems like the most obvious choice, setting objectives, like story time, for these face-to-face calls can make them even more special. My children love to show their grandmother artwork they’ve created or share other milestones they wouldn’t be able to share on a voice call.
2. Pen Pals
When I was a kid, my father used to travel a great deal, and he would send me postcards from his destinations. It used to make me feel so special to get mail “like a grown up.” Similarly, my kids LOVE getting mail. Every so often, their karate school sends encouragement postcards and when birthday time rolls around, they love to check our mailbox for birthday cards.
If your long distance relative is willing, a great way to stay connected is to allow your kids to send handwritten letters. It can be even more fun if your child has a cousin or child relative who is also writing age because they can write each other. You can find great kids stationary on Amazon that allow your children to create personalized notes. Writing can also be more intimate which allows your child to develop a special bond with their long distance relative.
3. Recordable Storybooks
Recordable storybooks allow a friend or relative to record themselves reading a story book for your child. Hallmark has a line that you can purchase in the store or on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. They are great because your child can listen to them any time they want and as much as they want.
4. Blogging/Social Media
When I had my eldest son, I was totally smitten. Like most new moms, all I wanted to do was talk about him and take pictures of him. When he was about three months old, I started a blog through Blogger doing just that. Initially, the blog was intended just for friends and family, but after awhile I caught the attention of other mommy bloggers and developed a community. Either way, it was a great way to stay to connected with long distance friends and family on my little one’s milestones and my journey as a mom. Now, blogs can be password protected so they allow you to choose your audience. If you aren’t interested in writing, social media can be another way to share updates and photos with family and friends. Just make sure you are aware of privacy practices and standards and be sure not to share sensitive or personal information.
If you aren’t interested in sharing on the web, email based sites like Dropbox, Snapfish and Shutterfly allow you to send images online to specific people. My best friend has never posted a picture of her daughter online but she regularly sends photos to friends and family via Dropbox, email and text message.
What about you, family? How do you stay connected with long distance family and friends?
About The Author
Faye McCray is an attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For Harriet, Madame Noire, Black Girl Nerds, Black and Married with Kids, and other popular publications. Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon. Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.