In this day and age, many of us aren’t just in long distance relationships with our romantic partners. In an era of moving to attend college or find work, many of us live in a different state (or even country) than close friends and family. When this happens, it’s vital to maintain important relationships “back home” even while we’re working to integrate into a “new home” and make new friends.
Given that I’ll be leaving Australia and going back to Laos next week after six months of living with my parents over Alex’s birth, this topic is on my mind. So, this Monday and next, we’ll be taking a brief break from romance to focus on maintaining platonic long distance relationships.
It can be tough to stay meaningfully connected to family and friends back home when you’re living far apart. There’s no doubt that Skype and other technological wonders have made things easier in recent years, but myriad tricky questions remain surrounding the issue of how to stay in touch with parents and siblings, and how to help children (if you have any) grow up feeling meaningfully connected to distant relatives.
Questions like: What are my parents/relatives expectations and hopes about the frequency, type, and duration of contact we’ll have? What are mine? What friends am I hoping to stay in contact with? How? If I live overseas, how can I help my children feel connected to my home culture and their overseas relatives? How can we share parts of our life overseas with those back home in ways that they’ll understand and appreciate? How can we demonstrate sincere interest in their lives when our daily realities often differ dramatically?
I have a lot of experience trying to answer these questions. However, if you were hoping for a definitive how-to manual on this topic, I’m sorry. One thing that all that experience has taught me is that – just as with long distance romance – there is no one-size fits all on this topic. There is no one “right” set of answers. And what might work well for you in one phase of life may not work at all well five years later.
Figuring out how you want to (and can) stay connected with your family and friends long distance is a continual process of reflection, dialogue, and adjustment. It’s also, often, learning to live with the feeling that nothing you’re doing on this front is working perfectly.
With that disclaimer, here are some thoughts on ways to stay connected with family and friends.
1. Realize and accept that many of your friends (and even your family) back home will not be proactive about staying in touch with you when you move far away.
Many people, especially those who moved away themselves, are not good at reaching out to distant friends. Some of your closest friends won’t email or call you regularly, read your blog, or keep up with all of your newsletters. Try not to take this too personally or get too hurt. Just accept that if you want to stay in contact with key family and friends you will have to initiate most of the contact and make the lion’s share of the effort to keep these relationships going.
2. Help those back home “see” your life
When your friends and family back home talk about their lives, you’ll largely be able to imagine what they’re discussing. When you move away (especially when you move overseas) your friends and family won’t have that luxury.
Try to help them “see” your life by through photos, stories, and short videos. Consider starting a blog. This will allow people to dip into your story when they have time and energy and will save you from sending lots of individual “update” emails. If you’re worried about privacy you can always program your blog so that only approved viewers can log in.
If you’re not a blogger, think about sending out a monthly newsletter to a mailing list of friends and family. (Hint, keep these newsletters to 1000 words or less and include one or two stories and some photos.)
Emails, blogs, newsletters and the like are great, but actually talking to someone is important too. When it comes to family or others you want to stay closely connected to, you might find that it works to catch up via Skype or phone “when you have time”. If, however, you find that you never “have time” and months are slipping past between calls, think about how often you would ideally like to talk to various family members or important friends. Then try to work out a rough schedule
For example, you may want to plan to talk to your parents weekly or twice a month. As a side benefit, setting up a routine like this can also help manage your family’s expectations about how often and when you’ll get to talk. Finally, don’t forget to give close friends the occasional call. You might only talk once every four to six months, but those infrequent chats can go a long way towards maintaining your relationship in between visits.
Nothing beats face-to-face time for building relationships. Travelling back and forth from many places in this world is still a time-consuming and expensive prospect. However, if you live somewhere else and relationships back home are important to you, budgeting time and money to go home regularly is a must.
Also, encourage family and friends to visit you if they can. You’ll be able to spend more relaxed quality time with them when you’re “at home” and in your own routine without all the distractions that come with vacations or home leave. They’ll also leave feeling much more connected to your life overseas.
I know I’ve just scratched the surface with this topic, but I don’t want to drown you with a 50-page post. Instead, I’d love to hear from you about this.
What do you do to stay connected with family and friends? Get specific – we’d all love to learn from your tips, tricks, and stories.
And, join us back here next Monday for a post on helping children stay connected with distant relative.