Keeping Extended Families Connected

Many of us have cherished childhood memories of growing up in a large extended family with intertwined lives. We saw our aunts, uncles, and cousins frequently… maybe sometimes even a little too often.

Holiday celebrations meant bringing out an extra table or two. There was always someone around to talk with, play with, laugh with, commiserate with, argue with, cry with, grieve with, and lean on whenever needed.

Today, the individual members of many extended families are not as tightly bound. Of course, it was much easier for extended families to stay connected when everyone lived in the same general vicinity.

These days, family members tend to be spread out in every direction across the country and even across the globe. Social media and technology make it possible to stay in touch across the miles, which is great. But virtual connections aren’t the same as having family living nearby and spending time together on a regular basis actually in the same room and breathing in the same air.

It is possible to keep an extended family close whether or not you all live close by or thousands of miles away. Here are a few suggestions from people who have found ways to stay connected with their extended families.

A few valuable tips…

  • Create a family website or Facebook page. One person will probably have to manage the day-to-day tasks of maintaining the site or page, but the responsibilities can be handed off on a quarterly or annual basis. To keep the entire family involved, encourage all family members to take part in creating content for the site or page. Folks can provide their own news, updates, photos, videos, etc. It’s fun to include some interactive activities as well, like games and surveys.

  • Hold virtual family gatherings. Keep family members connected by scheduling online chats. See people and hear their voices through a group video platform like FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom, which allow multiple people to videoconference at once. Make sure everyone is set up with the platform you choose well ahead of your event. You can plan activities or games during the gathering that everyone can enjoy together.

  • Publish a family eNewsletter. An eNewsletter is a very effective way to maintain contact. Because eNewsletters and distribute via email, there’s no need to create something that has to be printed or requires a postage stamp to get to its destination. As long as family members have email access, everyone can receive the same news at the same time. It takes just one click of a “send” button and your eNewsletter will be sent out to the entire family. Folks can take turns in the role of “editor” so no one individual is always responsible for producing the eNewsletter. Family members submit their news, updates, and photos to the editor who puts it all together in email form and sends out the finished product.

  • Plan an in-person annual family reunion. Schedule a get-together that’s held each year. If the event is always on or around the same date (like the second Saturday of a specific month), then whole family knows to block that date off on their calendars. Arranging fun activities that appeal to all generations can help drum up enthusiasm and increase attendance. Of course, there will always be a family member or two who won’t be able to attend, but hopefully most will try their best to get there. Make sure the location is as convenient and affordable as possible. For some helpful information, see “Planning a Family Reunion.”

  • Build your family tree together. Working together to research family history and put together a family tree can be an interesting and fun bonding experience. Make sure every family member who is interested in taking part in the project has a role to play. There will be plenty to do so there should be something for everyone, even the younger members of the family. For helpful information about building a family tree, see “Finding the Roots of Your Family Tree.”

  • Share family traditions or interests. Having a few customs most of your family members observe can help keep people feeling connected even when they are not together. Perhaps the entire family can root for the same sports team or the same bedtime story can be read to all children in the family via video chat. Perhaps family members prepare and eat the same meal on the same night or watch the same movie via a streaming service. It’s possible to stream movies to different locations using certain Internet streaming platform or apps. If you get creative, you can come up with all kinds of things your extended family can share despite the miles that may separate you.

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