How to Stay Connected with Long-Distance Family
Published on: February 11, 2020
A downside of living far from your loved ones is that it can be hard to maintain a strong bond. However, with a little effort and these ideas from Sally Flint, you won’t feel as distant from your family even though you live far away.
By Sally Flint
From wonderful international school education opportunities for our children to super travel experiences and quite often luxurious living standards, expats are very privileged. But despite the advantages of expat life, there are also some downsides.
For me, one very big disadvantage has been living away from my parents. It is possible to feel homesick at any age! When my husband and I first went overseas over 20 years ago, we made a pledge to nurture our family relationships back home. Staying connected to family is an active process that takes effort on all parties, but it is rewarding and fulfilling and has long-term benefits.
Over the last couple of years, our family circumstances have changed and I now spend a substantial part of the time back in the UK helping my mum to care for my dad. Having stayed connected to my parents over the preceding years has made this transition far easier than it would have been had my parents and I allowed ourselves to grow apart.
Strategies for staying connected
Here are the techniques and strategies that we have used to navigate the tricky path of maintaining fulfilling long-term relationships with our UK family members whilst living overseas.
1. Keep in frequent touch
This is easy to do these days. Apps such as WhatsApp and Face-time enable us to be in touch with family daily, or even hourly. Quick texts and chats are brilliant as they simulate the informality of regular ‘everyday’ contact with loved ones shrinking the actual physical distance and enabling a feeling of togetherness.
2. Make time for long chats
Whilst lots of quick chats retain a lovely ‘day-to-day’ atmosphere, don’t neglect engaging more deeply with family members back at home. Set aside a particular weekly time for a more meaningful conversation. Personally, I’d rather not have an assigned time to call home as I feel it can make the call a bit artificial, but I know lots of families look forward to the regular Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon catch up.
The advent of internet calls—first Skype and now the apps mentioned above—means that the crazy cost of international calls of only a few years ago is no longer a barrier to calling ‘home.’
3. Provide the context of your new life
Don’t assume that your family will be aware of the ways in which expat life is different from how it is at home. Encourage family to take an interest in your situation by providing lots of detail and photos about your daily routine. Show your delight in your lifestyle but try to avoid criticizing and comparing it unfavorably with what you have left back at home.
4. Ask questions about life at home
It is possible that your family may be feeling a little bit hurt, resentful, or even jealous of your adventure overseas. Be sure to ask your family a lot of questions about life back home and make sure that they know how much you care for them.
Remembering small details about your loved ones’ lives back at home can serve as good reminders that you are still interested in them and care about their lives. It’s easy to see home as ‘small town’ and that definitely won’t go down well with family and friends, so tread carefully!
5. Remember special occasions
Take care to send thoughtful messages, letters, or gifts for birthdays and other family occasions.
6. Share your emotions
Show your family that you miss them by sending thoughtful messages, letters, and gifts even without a special occasion. Don’t hide your emotions because you live overseas.
7. Show gratitude
All families have problems from time to time and being an expat means it is not always possible to physically lend a hand when the going gets tough. For example, if a family member has an accident or needs driving to the hospital, it is not possible to take your turn. In this situation, acknowledge and show gratitude to those who are actually on hand to help. Continue to be emotionally supportive with phone calls, cards, and messages.
8. Develop and maintain shared family interests that can be enjoyed long distance
This may be simply discussing a TV show that you both enjoy. If you have kids, then they are an immediate point of shared interest, especially for their close relatives.
9. Be reassuring
Before going overseas, reassure family that you will continue to visit frequently. Ensure that family members know that they are welcome to visit too. Don’t let your family down by promising to visit and then not doing so.
10. Have an action plan
Discuss with your family how often and when you will visit once you are living overseas. A shared and agreed action plan will prevent any later ill-feeling developing.
11. Have a long-term plan
Discuss with your partner, many years before the likelihood of its occurrence, at what point in your life, if at all, you are likely to return to live in your home country. It might feel awkward but it is a good idea to discuss with family what would be a good course of action to take should they become ill and need support.
12. Enjoy the experience
Don’t feel guilty about being abroad. You are entitled to live your own life and if you do so thoughtfully then it is possible to enjoy your time as an expat free of guilt.
Emotional closeness and physical distance
Despite living overseas my husband and I have retained very close relationships with our parents. We are grateful that our children have also formed loving and rewarding relationships with all of their grandparents.
This status quo is very important to us—not simply because it is only family to whom we can honestly show our worst side! Families have shared histories, shared traditions and shared childhood memories that are great to nurture. There is perhaps even an argument to be made that ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’.
Photos courtesy of the author.
About the Author
Passionate about education, reading, and writing, ex-secondary teacher and librarian Sally Flint is a children’s author and an enthusiastic blogger at www.sallyflint.com. In Book and Family chat, she frequently posts from the perspective of a fifty-year-old, fun-loving mum on all things family, book and education-related.
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