One tough thing about bringing a child up away from the rest of your family is finding ways to keep them connected.
It’s a two-way thing. You want your child to know they have an extended family that loves them, even if they don’t see each other very often. It’s also nice for your family members to know that you are making this effort.
We went back to the UK last Christmas, when my daughter was 18 months old. After a looong flight followed by a train from London to Bristol, my mum was there to meet us at the train station. I put Abigail down and she ran towards my mum and gave her a big hug. It was just the best thing in the world to see.
Moments like this will only happen if your children recognise your family members. I would have hated for Abigail to have acted like her grandparents, aunts and uncles were strangers when she met them.
Of course we keep in touch via Skype and Facebook, but with the 8-hour difference between Indonesia and the UK, and all of us having busy lives, it can easily be a few weeks between calls.
Even if you’re not living in a different country to the rest of your family, it may be that your child has one parent they see a lot less than the other. Whatever your situation, here is one simple way to help your child stay connected with long-distance family members and friends, remembering the experiences they have had together.
Creating a family photo album for your children
Yep, a photo album. I said it was simple. But I’m not talking about selecting your very best family portraits and displaying them beautifully in a special album that can only be viewed under adult supervision.
No; this is a photo album full of pictures that document real experiences. Meals out, walks to the park, cuddles and playdates. It’s an album that will get sat on, touched with sticky fingers, and thrown around just like any other toy. But it’s an album that will be loved and played with and talked about, and your child will grow up recognising and knowing a bit about the people inside it.
Getting started with your child’s family photo album
When my daughter was just a few months old, I created her first family photo album. We are already on to her second one because the plastic pockets got so crumpled you couldn’t see the photos properly. But that’s ok – just choose an album that’s cheap and as durable as possible (plastic is preferable to cardboard because of chewing).
Having just returned from our first trip to the UK, I had plenty of photos of Abigail with various family members, so I used a lot of those. I also selected some photos of people we see more regularly – neighbours and friends from church – so some faces would be more familiar for her.
I got these printed out at a local photo shop and we were good to go.
There’s only so much interest you can expect a baby to take in a photo album, but as she got a bit older I would talk to her about who each person was and what they were doing in the photos. I left the album in her toy box so she could look at it any time she wanted.
Keeping it updated
Every few months I will print a few new photos and update the album – not replacing them all each time but keeping some that she is familiar with. I use some of our own photos and take some that friends and family have posted on Facebook. Abigail doesn’t need to be in each one – we can still talk about who the people are.
As Abigail started to talk, I added a few photos that weren’t of people at all. She seemed interested in animals so I chose photos of pets and farmyard animals. It could also contain photos of things like different vehicles or foods.
I find that mixing it up a bit keeps her interested and encourages her to talk while still fulfilling the original purpose of helping her remember family and friends we don’t see often.
I know a photo album is no substitute for real people, but it’s one way to help bridge the gap across the miles and help your children become familiar with loved ones they seldom see.
Do you have any other tips for helping children stay connected with long-distance family members? Share them below – I’d love to hear them!