Staying in touch

Thousands of miles don't have to keep a family apart.

Facetime for Nana, Mama and Kellan

MAMA: We live 1,000 miles away from my parents. When our son was born, I wasn’t sure how the distance might affect his relationship with his grandparents. But over the past 2.5 years we’ve developed a system that’s worked really well to bridge the gap as much as possible.

Although Kellan sees my parents in person only once every few months, he knows exactly who they are and doesn’t take any time to warm up during in-person visits. He’s still talking about his favorite parts of our last visit (three months ago) and planning for what he wants to do with everyone when we get together over Christmas. Careful planning and technology have been the two biggest factors in helping to ensure the distance isn’t a divide for our family.

The frequency and type of communication and visits may vary for your family, but below are some strategies we’ve found helpful in our quest to stay in touch.

Connect digitally

Set up an easy system for regularly sharing photos, texts and email messages, including:

Use a digital frame that can be updated wirelessly from anywhere in the world.

Set up a private shared photo album using apps such as Google Drive, iCloud or private photo-sharing apps such as 23Snaps.

Leverage the power of video conferencing by using FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts or other services. After you determine the platform, stick to a regular schedule if possible.

Plan in-person visits

Try to agree on an in-person visit schedule as far in advance as possible — taking into account the ideal time between visits and how to make that happen with holidays, birthdays and/or vacations. This will help all family members budget PTO and finances accordingly. You can also give each other airline gift cards instead of other gifts, and/or check out credit cards with airline miles/rewards.

Nana, Mama and Kellan

NANA: If I could have one superpower right now, I would choose teleporting. With two adult children and one grandson living in Denver, and my husband and I here in Minnesota, it wouldn’t matter that we live so far apart. But until scientists figure out how to teleport, or until we retire and move, our family will continue to search for creative ways to keep in touch over a long distance. Here’s what I find helps:

  • Videos and photos: These delights — which my daughter sends daily of my grandson via text — are priceless! His funny sayings and facial expressions make me laugh out loud. I turn on our digital photo album in the evening, which makes me feel closer to him since it can easily be updated with new photos from across the miles.
  • Face time: We almost always connect on Sunday afternoons, working around naptime to make sure we see the little guy in action. This really helps Kellan remember who we are, and not be a stranger with his Nana and Papa when we reunite.
  • Texting during college: My son, who attends college in Denver, is extremely busy with school and work and doesn’t have much time for long phone conversations. Texting helps us keep up in between visits and calls.
  • Flexible job: I’m grateful to be working at a hospital that supports work/life balance, and I take full advantage of the flexibility. I can work four 10-hour days to create longer weekends for visits — and not have to use paid time off.
  • Flight costs: My husband gets the credit for finding the best deals on flights, and we’re always willing to fly at odd hours — early morning and late nights — to get the best prices.
  • Road trip: Once a year we take a road trip, and stay at least one night with my mother-in-law, who lives in Nebraska, conveniently located at the halfway point to Denver. We make this trip during months with more predictable weather, not in the winter.
  • Holidays and birthdays: Long holiday weekends and birthdays often provide us the added incentive needed to schedule trips.

If I could rewrite our family script, I’d place all three of my grown kids and grandchildren in the same ZIP code. Everyone would gather around our dinner table every Sunday for a lovingly prepared meal; we’d share stories and go for walks.

And when my heart would ache, as it does sometimes in the middle of the week, I’d simply call my daughter and say, “Can I stop by after work for my Kellan fix?”

But my adventurous adult children are writing their own stories, which puts us in different states across the country. So our family will continue to make staying in touch a priority — using technology and frequent-flyer miles — to bridge the 1,000-mile gap.

Mary Rose Remington, a baby boomer grandmother living in Minneapolis, is documenting her journey in this occasional series with her daughter, Laura Groenjes Mitchell, a millennial mother who lives in Denver.