I wasn’t raised the military way. I grew up in the same city as my grandparents, and for a while, the same city as some of my aunts and cousins. I saw my grandparents all the time! From them stopping by for coffee, us all having dinner together or the outings we took for birthdays, seeing them at our church for plays I was in, or choir performances. There is no way for me to share just how much I saw my grandparents. My cousins I didn’t see nearly as much, but there was a time that we saw a good amount of each other. We knew where each other’s homes were, and what the connection between our family was, and when it came to decorating the tree for Christmas at grandpa’s home, well, that was always fun! Even with the family that wasn’t really around we were still close with. My cousins on my dad’s side we would see one to two times a year and got along great. We had relationships with a lot of our family.
When it came to church and friends, I still have the same friends I grew up with! The church was the same my whole life (except for one year when my parents tried moving us all to another state… That didn’t last). I know the city I grew up in, in and out. I know the restaurants and churches and shopping places. I know many of the people.
My children; they don’t have that. Any of that. And this is true for many military families. For the most part you move every 3-5 years, some more often and some less often but that is the average. So every 3-5 years your children have to make new friends, have to learn a new area, a new routine, attend new churches, and some have to be the new kid at school all over while others have to find new homeschool clubs. Yes, they may know of the grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins, but they don’t really know them. For some that isn’t a big deal because they are social bugs and they can do that. For others, as much as you know they are family, it’s not until the end of the visit that you are back to being comfortable with them. Let’s be honest, it’s hard to be close to people you don’t see that much as adults, how much harder is it for kids? Not many, if any, holidays and birthdays are spent together. When you know something about your family and then a year later you see them again only to find all these changes, it hits kids hard.
When your child asks you why their friend’s grandma is always at their home or why the grandma goes to the same church as they and why doesn’t hers, yes you give the answer of “we live in different states because we are a military family”, and so on. Our children don’t really get it. They understand the facts but they don’t really understand the why. It’s so hard on them. One day they will get it; one day they will understand but today, their little hearts just want their family. Their little hearts want “normal”.
As a family we all need to work hard to build and maintain relationships with those in our family who can’t be around much. This can’t be a one sided thing or it won’t work. So if the relationship between family is at all important to you and something you wish your children to experience, then lets put in the time and effort to help teach them how. Here are some ideas.
1. Phone calls! Let and encourage our kids to call grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Let them share their day to day life with them and teach them to learn how to also listen. Sure at first this can be a little tricky but they will get used to it, you did didn’t you?
2. Letters! Did you know that hand writing stimulates the brain? It helps with fine motor skills and the thought process. It also help some pour their heart out and be real. And everyone enjoys getting a letter in the mail!
3. Skype! Thank God for Skype! Yes it has issues from time to time but to be able to see the person your chatting with miles away is worth the issues! Kids can show off their art projects and get the reactions right away! Family members can join in singing Happy Birthday without even being there! What a great way to build those relationships!
Building these relationships have to go both ways, kids won’t always think to start the conversations and they really won’t continue if they are the only ones pursuing it. The adults in their lives need to be actively building relationships with them and not just expect them to start it.
How important are these relationship to you?
Do you have other ways of building long distance relationships with family? I would love to hear them!