Staying connected with others feels like simultaneously the hardest and easiest thing to do. Look at all the options there are for connection over long distances: texts, cell phones, email, social media, snail mail, FaceTime, zoom, Marco Polo, WhatsApp, and the list goes on and on. But sometimes, more options can just feel paralyzing, and all of the options in the world don’t take away the biggest obstacle for keeping communication flowing: time. Because it all takes time. And time isn’t always something military families have an abundance of. But there are some simple perspective shifts that can help you stay connected with family and friends no matter where the military may send you.
Adjust Expectations: Nothing will ever replace in-person relationships. It doesn’t matter if it’s family, or friends who are like family, once a relationship has to rely on digital communication, it’s going to change. Maybe it was that neighbor you spent every day with, but now that one of you has moved, the conversations may shift to weekly, or monthly, instead of daily. It is hard to have your community shift from under you every PCS, but knowing that this shift is a natural progression of a relationship can help avoid hurt feelings.
Consider Your Audience: One of my fondest childhood memories was writing letters back and forth with my great grandmother. (She would often include a return stamp in the envelope for me to write her back, and that small gesture has stuck with me all of these years). My children’s great grandparents also send cards for every little occasion, and it has become a good way for them to stay connected to my children no matter where we are living. When you’re deciding the best way to connect with family while you’re simultaneously navigating military life, make sure to consider who you are talking to. I have friends that leaving a Marco Polo message works perfectly: we get to see each other’s faces and hear voices, without having to coordinate time zones and family commitments. Other friends and family are long phone-call people: even if I’m doing chores like folding laundry or supervising kids at the playground, this is a good way for deep conversations. When my babies were actual babies, we maintained a mailing list (mostly of grandparents, aunts, uncles, former Sunday School teachers, and similar relationships). I would take a quick themed picture and order photo cards to send out. (Perk of kids still in diapers: I would often use my Pampers Rewards points for Shutterfly cards and pay very little out of pocket). Now that my siblings are all adults and have spouses of their own, we keep an ongoing family text thread. It’s not serious AT ALL; mostly memes or photos, or quick updates on what happened that day. It works for us, and keeps us all feeling connected to each other’s lives, despite the miles.
Give Kids a Purpose: When it comes to FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, or any of those methods of communication, my kids are the worst. And by worst, I mean that, just like most kids, they’re easily distracted. What’s happening on that screen doesn’t feel like the “real” person to them, so they quickly lose interest in talking. If your kids are the same, my biggest piece of advice is to give them a purpose. You don’t need to direct their words, but oftentimes, having something specific to share helps them stay more engaged with the person on the other side of the video call. “Do you want to show Grandpa your fort? Can you tell Grandma that new joke you learned? Why don’t you share what fun thing we saw at the aquarium today?” Because, while my kids talk nonstop throughout the day, when it comes to video, they freeze. Giving them a direction can alleviate some of the pressure they feel when the screen is all of a sudden in front of their faces. And it almost always happens that one topic of conversation leads to another, and before I know it, they’ve talked Grandpa’s ear off for the last hour.
Keep it Brief: If time is the biggest hindrance, then keep it brief. Chances are, the person you are texting or emailing doesn’t have the time to read an entire essay just like you don’t have the time to write one. That’s okay.
Just Do It: In almost every other circumstance, I do not like the phrase “just do it,” and would never encourage anyone to “just” do anything; what is easy for me may be difficult for you, and vice versa. But when it comes to communication, if you are prone to hesitation, I will gently encourage you to just do it. Send that picture that is an old inside joke, drop a quick note to say you were thinking of someone, reply to that email. Don’t allow guilt for the amount of time that has elapsed since you last spoke stop you. Don’t let time zones or the thought of “bothering” someone be a hindrance (this is more speaking of the day-to-day life; like worrying about texting someone during dinner – if it’s a bad time, they can always choose not to answer. I am not speaking of expecting a response during an intense time, like an illness or move). Don’t worry about whether or not they will think the meme is as funny as you think it is. Don’t overthink or over analyze your words so much that you choose not to send them. (Words are my “thing” and I value their power – what I am speaking to here is more of the tendency to not say anything at all because you are so worried about saying the wrong thing. Be careful with your words, be considerate with what you say, but know that even if it’s awkward or not quite how you heard it in your head, you’re still letting that person know you’re thinking of them).
Extended family relationships are one of the most complex parts of military life; every family is different, and what works for one family may not work for another. And the ideas in this article are specifically written for a family with relatively healthy boundaries and expectations. (We all have our quirks and issues, but you should not be bending over backward to appease family while also serving as a military family). It is my personal opinion that, in the end, it is people that matter most. What we can do to stay connected is important, and worth our time and effort.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Visit our blog page to read other similar articles.