Some of the people that I am closest to in the whole world are 900, 600, 700, and 1,300 miles away from where I live. Kind of crazy, eh?
For more and more of us, working and living far from our places of origin and our immediate family members are all we’ve ever known. Studying out-of-state, interning in big cities, landing dream jobs in other big cities, dating and marrying people from all over the country, putting down roots in new places… life has us dispersed from our loved ones in a big way.
Yet, that does not mean that our familial relationships are any less valuable to us; they just are a little trickier to nourish! Although I dream of a day when my siblings and I live on the same block and regularly drop by one another’s houses unannounced, that is not our current reality. Until then (I can dream, right?!), I have to accept the cross-country nature of those relationships and do what I can to cultivate them.
Staying close with my brother in Texas or parents in New England when I only see them a few times per year does not happen without intentionality, sacrifice, and effort — on the part of everyone involved. Like most good things in life, it takes work.
Nurturing strong relationships with our loved ones living far from us demands consistency. With the passing of time, it’s easy to fall into the rut of only reaching out when you need to confirm grandpa’s birthday or avoiding answering someone’s call because the conversation inevitably turns to your differing political views. Yet, the only way to ensure that these relationships do not wither is to start doing something to counteract the emotional distancing that physical separation often brings with it. Family is a gift that cannot be replaced. Let’s not let mileage — no matter how great it is — squander that gift.
For the person who says, “I’m so busy — I have no time!”
We all have said this before. Between the work meeting and yoga class and colleague’s birthday party, there seems to be no time to return Dad’s call. So start with your commute. Know the commute times of your loved ones and take advantage of any overlaps. For instance, at 5 p.m., I know that I can catch my mom for a few minutes, but won’t catch my sister-in-law. You only have a set amount of time — the span of your drive — so this can be a great first step for someone who is getting back into the habit of talking regularly with relatives.
Another great time to chat is while making dinner. As you chop the veggies and grill the chicken, make a quick call home. I’ll often put the phone on speaker as I move around my kitchen pulling a meal together. In no time, my dinner is ready and I’ve chatted with a loved one.
An evening or weekend walk proves to be another perfect time for calling. We millennials like to be on-the-go, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be on-the-go and also be using that time to connect with loved ones.
For the person who says, “We always end up talking about the weather.”
If you’re in the early stages of cultivating an adult friendship with loved ones, be gentle with yourself as the friendship grows. With time and regular communication, you’ll both know more about what’s happening in one another’s lives to ask about the big work presentation or how that first date went. Chatting about work, the kids, weekend plans, and, yes, even the long-awaited sunshine is a great starting place.
Looking for other things to share beyond life updates and check-ins about other family members? Think about your common interests! If you’re not sure what they are, just dive in and you’ll be sure to find something. Books, podcasts, shows, movies, your hometown team’s season, new recipes, funny YouTube videos, fitness goals like an upcoming race or new gym class that you’re loving… there’s so much we can bond over! Utilize the family group text to send memes, an article link, or pictures from your own life and use them to jumpstart conversation.
One of the most important things I have found in bridging the distance with my loved ones is to get to know who they know, and vice versa. Our conversations plunge beyond the superficial because I “know” (and can ask about!) their running buddy, favorite co-worker, or elderly next-door neighbor. Ask about the other people in the pictures they send and, when sharing stories, use names! When my sister talks about the way her co-worker, Derek, proposed in a hot air balloon, I share in the excitement of the event, which makes me feel connected to her co-worker and eager to ask about his wedding planning in subsequent months. When I tell my mom about the embarrassing wipeout in the snow, she knows that my friend, Maggie, was with me and salvaged my papers strewn about. A bond between my mom and Maggie forms automatically through story. As our worlds become more and more known to our loved ones, it becomes easier to more fully share those worlds with them.
For the person who says, “I don’t like talking on the phone.”
Well, the good news for us millennials is that calling is just one option for keeping in touch. Texting, FaceTime, Google hangouts, email, Snapchat, Instagram, shared photo albums… there are so many ways to connect!
Not interested in technology? Buy some stationary and send snail mail. Although my family relies on our family group text to share updates or random inside jokes, we’ve found that staying in touch through a common interest helps, too. Create a March Madness bracket or Fantasy Football league for the family. Decide to read the same book, watch the same series, pray the same novena, or see the same play, and then confer from afar.
For the person who says, “It’s just easier in-person.”
I agree! So, make visiting a priority. If you’ve done the hard work of nurturing strong relationships when you are apart, stepping into your loved one’s world — meeting their friends face-to-face, hanging out on the couch talking about work and movies, exploring their town — will be familiar and natural, as if you’ve been doing that all along.
Pouring time and intentionality into our diasporic families is a labor of love. Pope Francis writes, “The Christian ideal, especially in families, is a love that never gives up.” In our consistent persistence to cultivate and nurture relationships with our relatives, we practice deep love that can transcend any physical separation — even one of 1,300 miles.