Ways to keep in touch with family are critical for many adults and children. Often, modern families are spread across geographical distances. Grandparents and grandchildren may live in different parts of the nation. Divorced couples sharing children may be separated by large distances, with the children being far away from one of their parents. Aunts, uncles and cousins may be spread out across continents. Military deployments also add to the far distances that can come between families.
Fortunately, there are many options available today to help keep relationships and communication going between family members. In this article, I will review some of the ways that families can stay in touch with relatives. You can use one of these ideas, or better yet, a combination to keep close to your family.
Old-fashioned postal mail – Writing paper letters and sending them through the mail service still has several advantages. It is inexpensive, with the only costs being that of paper, writing tool, envelope and stamp. Letters can be carried, read, and re-read anywhere. Older people who are not techno-savvy can read letters without assistance from someone else. You can send drawings, letters or pictures in the mail. Although writing letters may seem old-fashioned, I have found that my older relatives really appreciate the letters I send to them.
Family newsletters – Family newsletters can be sent out by individual households, or larger extended families may have one person who compiles information from several households and then sends out a newsletter to everyone. This is a good option for large extended families to keep in touch with all of their cousins, aunts and uncles easily. Each household sending out their own newsletter can be a faster way for the latest happenings to be distributed.
In my family, we had a centralized newsletter where one relative combined all of the information from each household into a quarterly newsletter, and mailed each household a copy. Since one person was in charge, it was easy to make sure everyone was included and no one was left out of the newsletter.
Creating shared memory books/journals – Creating shared themed books are better for keeping the bonds tight between two people, or one person and a household. For shared books or journals, you select a book or journal, and agree to write about what is happening in your life at specific intervals of time. You can include drawings, pictures, clippings, or other mementos in the journal. After a longer period of time, the journal or memory book is traded.
I knew a newlywed married couple that used this idea to create a lasting keepsake of the husband’s yearlong deployment. Each month, each partner sat down and wrote about his or her life over the previous month. The wife kept a scrapbook full of pictures and journaling. The husband had a notebook he wrote and drew in. At the end of the deployment, they each had a time capsule of their year apart. This couple did keep in touch via e-mail and phone calls as well, but the shared books gave another dimension to their relationship while apart.
Email- Even if you do not have Internet access at home, there are many sites that offer free email accounts that you can access from any computer connected to the Internet. Google.com has Gmail accounts, msn.com has hotmail accounts, and yahoo.com has yahoo mail accounts.
These free accounts can be accessed at many public libraries. Many independent bookstores and coffee shops will often have computers available for Internet use, either for free or a small fee. Email can be used to send written text; pictures and video files to loved ones.
Video messaging – This requires matching technology from both family members. With video messaging, you can see the other person in real time by using cameras that send video. This may accompany text typing or audio, where the people may be able to talk as well as see each other. It is wonderful to able to see someone talking with you that you haven’t seen in a long time. This is an especially nice option for young children, who often rely heavily on facial features and expression for their communication.
One option for video messaging includes using Skype, which can be set up over computer or from computer to videophone. Skype can be used to make video and voice calls for free when both users are using Skype on a computer. For best results, you will need a computer, Internet connection and webcam.
If an Internet connection is not possible, cell phones with video messaging capabilities are becoming more common. Fees and coverage areas vary greatly, and both users will need to be using a Using a cell phone with video messaging capabilities.
Family websites or blogs – Large websites like myfamily.com make it easy for extended families to keep in touch. A family can set up a site, and individuals can put up news and pictures on to the site. This is a modern version of a family newsletter. This does require a computer to access, so family members who are not computer savvy will either be left out or will need assistance to use.
Sites are available for free or a small fee depending on the company where the site is hosted. Many of these sites allow for blogging, so news and pictures can be posted frequently in a centralized location for everyone to access. Cousins, grandparents along with aunts and uncles can all see the latest pictures, here about junior’s sports game, or see pictures of new babies.
Many companies are also adding handheld device access, increasing the accessibility to more people. Sites and blogs can also include event calendaring, and be integrated with social networking sites.
Social networking sites – Not just for teens to stay connected, sites like MySpace, Twitter and Facebook are keeping families connected. Each of these social networking sites has an individual set up their own site, where they can list information and pictures about themselves. The individual can then make updates to their own sites, which are then distributed or seen by “friends”, other social networking users who are found and connected with.
Each site has different privacy standards, so you will want to check out the privacy very well before posting about children. It also requires frequent computer access to keep family communication going. Each member will have to link or become friends with every other family member to see that persons updates. All of these sites have way to find each other easily.
YouTube – on YouTube, anyone can post a video and make it available for anyone else to see. This can be a good option to put up a video of babies cute antics, or longer videos showing clips from a game or important ceremony like a wedding. YouTube clips can then also be featured on a MySpace page.
Putting a video on YouTube may be a good choice if you don’t’ know when the person or people you want to share with do not have regular Internet access. After uploading the video, you can send the person the instructions on how to view it at YouTube, and then when they are able to get to a computer with Internet, they will be able to view the video.
Once posted on YouTube, the video can often be posted in blog sites or linked to from a social networking site. The video can also be converted, downloaded and kept by using file conversion programs like those at Zamzar.com.
YouTube is available publicly to anyone; so think again about what information you are making available to the general public before you put your video on YouTube.
All of these ideas can be combined to keep families in touch. New technology and other creative options are becoming available all of the time. If you have any tips you would like to share about how to keep in touch with relatives, please post them below.