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 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 may not even recognize each other if they were to pass each other on the street.
Of course, it was much easier for extended families to stay connected when everyone lived in the same general vicinity. Nowadays, 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 it certainly isn’t the same as having family living nearby and spending time together on a regular basis… actually in the same room… and actually 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.
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 could be handed off on a quarterly or annual basis. To keep the entire family involved, all family members should be encouraged to take part in creating the content for the site or page. They can add their own news, updates, photos, videos, etc. It is fun to include some interactive activities like games and surveys as well.
Build your family tree together. Working together to research family history and put together a family tree can be an interesting, fun, and bonding experience. Make sure every family member 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.”
Publish a family Enewsletter. An Enewsletter is an effective way to maintain contact. There’s no need to create something that has to be printed or needs a stamp to get to its destination. As long as all family members have email access, everyone can receive the same news at the same time. Once you’ve collected all the email addresses, it takes just one click of a "send" button and your Enewsletter will go out to the entire list. It is a good idea for family members to 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. There are professional services you can pay to coordinate an Enewsletter.
Hold an annual family reunion. Schedule a get-together that’s held each and every year. If the event is always on or around the same date – perhaps the second Saturday of a specific month – then everyone knows to block that date off on their calendars and make other plans around it. 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 that 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. Family members who are more financially secure may want to help out those who are not, which will help give everyone the chance to attend. For some helpful information, see “Planning a Family Reunion.”
Share family traditions or interests. Having a few customs that all family members observe can help make people feel connected even when they are not together. Perhaps the entire family are fans of the same sports team or maybe the same bedtime story is told to all children in the family. It might even be that all members have the same meal or watch the same movie on the same night. There are all kinds of things families can share despite the miles that may separate them.