The past two years have been challenging and trying for most of us on so many levels. And while there is much that could be said about this right here and now, for today and our shared topic of mindfully raising an attached family, I would like to focus on the particular challenge of staying connected—across distances and across family generations—during these unprecedented times.
Maybe you have spent much of the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic isolating, be it together with your children, a partner, roommates, even some relatives, or all by yourself. Either way, there is a good chance that you probably have some relatives, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and/or friends who live at the other end of town, across the country, or overseas and who you have not seen in a very long time.
This can be painful. And it can pose a new challenge on us as parents who like to focus on raising children who feel connected to others and the world, securely attached to their loved ones, and deeply and safely rooted in themselves as well as within their family and community. How can we continue to nourish and create these safe, warm, welcoming attachments for our children in a world that has been demanding many of us to repeatedly isolate and hunker down in our own home without much physical contact to “the outside world”?
This is a good time to get extra creative and think a bit “outside the box." For your inspiration, I would like to share a few things that I as the mother of a 13-year-old teenager living oceans and continents away from our extended family—including grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and many friends—have implemented over the past two years that have helped us remain to feel connected:
The "Family Call"
Right when the pandemic started my mum—over in Europe—suggested this weekly routine which she has named “Family Call." It’s super simple, but it has brought all of us such joy and a strong sense of interconnection. She starts a Zoom video conference almost every Sunday at 12 pm Eastern time (which is 6 pm in Europe) and whoever—of me and my siblings, our children, and our partners—has time to hop on and log in will do so.
We will then spend an hour chatting away, sharing what’s new, waving hellos at the toddler, bringing out and playing with stuffies in front of the screen for him, making use of the camera and showing the others around the house, and sharing glimpses of Christmas trees, roaring fireplaces and candles in the winter, fresh flowers or a view of spring through the windows, any freshly made cooking, cookies and other baking creations, a new pair of glasses, or whatever else has been going on.
Our teenage daughter has taken the opportunity to share some of her artwork, photographs of her friends, the newest report card, or a new poster on the wall in her room. And sometimes we get really lucky and my dad (“Opa,” aka grandpa) will sit down at the piano and play a song or two for us to enjoy or—especially on birthdays or special occasions—sing along, just as he always used to do when my siblings and I were little and just like he would do now any time when we all gather “in person” at my parents’ home.
Our family calls are a wonderful, easygoing, and informal way to stay part of each other’s lives and feel connected and almost like you were there in the same physical space together for an hour each week.
"German Class" with Oma & Opa
Another creative idea that has stood the test of time during this pandemic and has proven to be a great way to, especially, keep a teenager feeling connected to and spending some regular time with her grandparents—something that can be a real challenge, even in “normal life,” pandemic aside—are weekly language lessons with Oma and Opa.
Our daughter grows up trilingual with English and French being the two official languages spoken and taught in schools here in Canada, and German being the language of her birth country. While her spoken German has always been really good, more and more she had fostered the wish of learning to properly read and write in German as well.
Step in the grandparents. In our case, and while this is certainly not a prerequisite, we’re extra lucky here in that they are both retired teachers. Every Friday afternoon, after school, they meet up with our daughter on Google Meet or Zoom and have their weekly “German class.”
This doesn’t have to be a formal and rigidly structured thing, and it certainly isn’t for us. It is a space and time for her to connect with Oma and Opa, to speak German exclusively, to read texts, a newspaper article, or books together that they or she have brought or sent—via good ol' transatlantic postal mail—on topics she is interested in, and sometimes to simply chat away about life and school and friends and what has been going on. This is a precious time for both her and her grandparents, and I could not be more grateful for these shared moments they have together.
Share Your Ideas!
I hope my little stories have brought you joy and maybe some inspiration. Let us know how YOU and YOUR CHILDREN stay connected to family and friends during these—for many of us—very isolating times.
If we all share ideas, we can keep inspiring and uplifting each other and spreading hope for those of us who may simply feel too tired, drained and overwhelmed, like we don’t currently have the headspace to come up with anything fresh. If that is you, by the way, then I’m sending you an extra big hug! We are all in this together, quite literally, even if “far apart physically.” You are doing great being the best parent you can with all these extra challenges going on. Give yourself some slack and don’t give up!
Inga Bohnekamp is a European trained psychologist in Canada. She is a child and youth counsellor, yoga and mindfulness instructor, author, and child and youth yogatherapy professor.