6 Tips For Connecting with Faraway Families
When my son was born, we faced a tough decision. Do we raise him as a Third Culture Kid, letting him grow up in Brussels, without ever really being Belgian? Or, do we take the plunge and leave behind our jobs, our friends, our comfortable European life and pick one of our two countries as a home. It wasn’t just the UK and it wasn’t just Canada – one of us would be essentially saying goodbye to our home countries for the rest of our lives. We both had wonderful families living in these countries that were too far apart to try and meld into a reasonable half-time situation. We had to pick. One or the other.
To be honest, it wasn’t truly a difficult decision. My co-parent didn’t really want to move back to Manchester, and I was more than willing to climb on a plane and head back to Toronto. But, even with knowing that the right decision has been made, it doesn’t make it easy. Not in the short term or the long term. Families are missed, memories blur and it is difficult to help my son connect to his first year of life when the EU is an eighy hour flight away.
While there are many days when I long for the warm weather in the south of France, and obviously we all miss my partner’s family, we have found some interesting ideas to make authentic connections with the people we miss and the geography that we once knew so well.
- Google Maps: It may sound like a funny way to connect with your family – using an online mapping system. But, thanks to the infamous Googlemobile, there are lots of photos that make it easier to talk about the places and people that are important to us and are a part of our son’s story. For example, he loves to look at images on Google Maps of the flat where he was born. The funny thing is that the image was taken when we lived there, and our old clunker of a car is parked on the street!
I can also show my little guy all around the sweet little town where his grandma and grandad live, and the university where they work, and the shops where they buy their groceries. It is these little additions to the narrative of their lives that have helped keep them an authentic and constant part of his mind and heart.
- Snail Mail: Like most kiddos, my son is enchanted by the mail. He is always happy to sit and wait for our letter carrier, and I have spent hours poring over library books that tell him the story of how mail is processed. We are always sending mail across the Atlantic Ocean. We mail notes, art work and treats to family, friends, and old colleagues. In return we get lots of snail mail treats, and Aodhan is always looking in the mail box with anticipation.
For his last birthday, his grandmother purchased him a subscription to a UK kiddo magazine. I love watching him connect with that part of his culture through this once a month mail treat. The language nuances, the animals they talk about, the crafts that the kids make and even the holidays they celebrate. All of these things help him find an authentic route into a part of his and his dad’s world. We added to this by making a cardboard mailbox and a handful of felt and fabric letters and envelopes. I used a fabric marker to write his grandparent’s addresses on the fabric – my son just loves to pretend to send them mail through his cardboard mailbox.
- Instagram:I am so thankful for Instagram. I am constantly clicking and snapping images of my son. From digging at the beach and exploring at the museum to hiking around Lake Placid and riding a bike. Most of his moments are captured on one device or another. There are a bunch of different sites that allow you to make some great little gifts using your Instagram account. I have made our family massive posters and the littlest of books using images of our son. I have also made holiday cards to send to friends and families overseas. So even if they can’t be with us at his first trip to the pumpkin patch, they can still be a part of the excitement.
- Art Work: I feel sad when I think about Aodhan’s art not being admired by our family overseas and have found a bunch of ways to help him share his creations with them. My best friend is constantly getting big yellow packets of Aodhan’s art that I have already taken pictures of for posterity. I have also done some fun things with turning his artwork into gifts for his grandparents – including some embroidered handkerchiefs, mugs and playing cards. Art work is such a genuine way to connect with a kid, and he is always happy to tell his family the story behind his creations.
- Skype: My son’s first year of life was spent in Belgium, and I was constantly on Skype. It was my saviour. It gave me a direct link to my mama and helped ease the isolation of newborn motherhood that was further exaggerated by being so far from home. These days we have a bi-weekly date with Aodhan’s grandparents. He gets to see them, talk to them and laugh with them. It makes all the difference, and we are so truly thankful for the technology that we have the privilege to access on a regular basis.
- Emotional Support: We do our best to talk about being so far from some of our family. Beyond making sure that we make his grandparents a regular part of our daily activities, we also initiate and develop conversations about how it feels to be far from the people who love us. We do our best to relate our own stories and find other people who our son respects to compare to his own experience. Mostly, we try to honour that this is a difficult element in his life, one that we created by our adult lives and choices. We are sensitive to moments when he might need some extra support or snuggles around any of these issues.
Of course we visit when we can, but between cramped schedules, massive prices of airline tickets, and my lack of desire to stick a 3.5 year old on an airplane, we don’t get to physically connect with this part of Aodhan’s family much more than once a year. There are so many reasons why families are far from their home countries and the extended families that they love; I hope that some of these little tricks will help you feel closer to the folks you love.
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