Guide to keeping in touch with long-distance family
25th April 2020
Having friends or family that live a long distance away from you and making sure you are in regular contact can be even harder. As you get older, it is common to rely on the use of mobility aids, like the stair lifts across the UK that you can get, which means leaving your home can be a little trickier. Watching grandchildren grow and keeping up with all the family updates is important, so finding the right tool to enable you to keep up with these important developments is essential.
Carry on reading to find more information on some of the best ways to keep in contact with your nearest and dearest, especially when you cannot physically see them.
WhatsApp is an app available on iPhone and Android and has been a communication device for a while now. Allowing you to easily message friends, family and groups simply, it is often a popular choice with those over the age of 60 due to its simple and easy functions.
We spoke to Liberty who blogs at Liberty on the Lighter Side, she has used WhatsApp for years and finds it the easiest way to keep in contact with her long-distance family: "We have been living in Ireland for 16 years but all of our family is either in South Africa or the UK. Through the years it has become increasingly easier to stay in touch as more and more online resources have become available. We used to use Skype and it initially felt strange to see faces as opposed to only hearing voices. However, now we use WhatsApp and Facetime and it's become normal to use the video function.”
WhatsApp has a number of functions that makes it very easy and simple to use, contacts can be added from phone book already existing on your phone, so no need to add friends or new contacts when you download the app. There is also a group chat function meaning the whole family can get involved in the conversation.
“It is heart-breaking at times that our children are growing up away from their grandparents, and our parents are growing older without their grandchildren to keep them young. My parents live in Zimbabwe, and my husband’s family live in South Africa whilst we live in the UK. I am so grateful for technology and in particular WhatsApp,” says Carly from Mom of Two Little Girls. “My daughters regularly video chat with their grandparents, usually on a weekly basis. For them to be able to see each other helps to bridge the gap. In addition to video calls, we also share loads of photos and videos with our parents to keep them involved in our children’s lives. The other great feature is the group chat function. We have a group chat with my parents and sisters. My sisters and I are also spread out with one in Cape Town, one in London and I’m in Yorkshire. Group chat’s mean we don’t have to say the same thing.”
Skype is another popular channel for video calling and a popular one among families and older relatives. Being one of the first video calling platforms, it is often the chosen channel for those wanting to contact long-distance family and friends. Planning a simple Skype call once or twice a week with your loved ones can void the gap between not being able to see them.
Sam from Griffblog told us a little more about her situation, she uses Skype to video call her dad in America:
“When my Dad moved to America from the UK in 2007, there weren't many options when it came to keeping in touch long-distance. Luckily technology has come a long way in the past 13 years! We schedule at least one Skype call per week, usually on a Sunday, and spend about an hour catching up. We've been communicating this way for so long, it feels completely normal to us.
My sister has two young kids, and they've spent more time getting to know their Granddad via Skype than in-person! It means that when he does occasionally fly back to the UK for visits, he doesn't seem like a stranger to them.”
Although Zoom is marketed as a video conferencing platform, it is the perfect application for large groups and families to keep in contact with one another. Zoom allows you to video call up to 10 people in one go, meaning you are not restricted to two or three attendees.
Mary from Over 40 and Mum to One has recently discovered Zoom and now uses it to call her whole family at the same time: “My parents moved to rural Spain fifteen years ago, and we've used Skype to keep in touch ever since. They don't have a smartphone and don't use social media, so it's been the perfect way to 'see' each other for free each week. It's also been invaluable for them to keep in touch with my ten-year-old son. We've also just discovered Zoom which works on phone and laptops and this has enabled the whole family to video chat at the same time. We surprised my Mum on Mother's Day with this idea, and it was the first time she'd seen all of us together in quite some time.”
Mary continued to explain why keeping in touch with long-distance family is important:
“It's important to keep in touch with family and friends at the best of times, but right now when people can feel quite isolated, it's a wonderful lift to see a friendly face on a video call in my opinion.”
"I have lived with my husband and children in France for 5 years and the rest of our extended family is in the UK. Keeping in touch and maintaining relationships remotely has always been very important,” says Kate who blogs at Five Little Stars.
Kate continues, “Until recently our main form of video communication was using FaceTime, a well-named App because when there is distance between loved ones it is all the more important to have a visual connection. We have used this with every member of our families - from the youngest babies and to my grandparents in their late 80’s (with a little support). Since the COVID-19 pandemic, we are also using apps like Google Hangouts and Zoom. This means we can connect in larger groups and do things together like Kahoot quizzes. Next week we are going to try a virtual escape game, and I would like to do karaoke! This technology really helps make the distance feel smaller.”
A platform most families are familiar with, staying in touch with long-distance family doesn’t have to involve a video call. Deanna Francesca explained how she sues Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram to keep in touch with her family, as well as using Facebook Messenger to video call:
“I have family that live in America and also a best friend that lives there, we met when we both went to University in Maine. These relationships are so special, and I think it’s important to stay in touch as much as possible because friendship and family aren’t determined by how close their house is, when someone cares about you then you need to cherish that. I think the type of friendship or relationship you end up creating a really strong bond because you know that even though you don’t see each other often you can still rely on each other.”
Deanna continues: “Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are great and I’ve used these for years! I love the voice notes feature as you can have conversations that feel more real, like a phone call, no matter the time difference. I also love following them on all forms of social media, Facebook Instagram, Snapchat. You feel more involved by seeing their pictures and updates, it helps to stop that FOMO feeling and makes you feel like you’re there with them, and not excluded.”
Family Photo Albums
Creating virtual photo albums is a really thoughtful and personalised way of sharing memories and moments with loved ones you cannot see often. Victoria from Lylia Rose makes family photo booklets every month to send to her husband’s Gran in Germany:
“My husband has a lot of family in Germany including his Gran who is in her late 90s and misses us dearly. We have been fortunate to visit for a few days each year that we have been together, but we can go up to 18 months without a trip to Germany. As we have young children and they change so much, it's a long time for his family to not see them. We send a family photo booklet every month to his Gran so she can see what we have been up to and share it with the rest of the family. We use the Neveo app to add up to 50 photos per month using our iPhones and a short description of each photo. Neveo print the photo album and send it directly to Germany on our behalf. It’s a hassle-free way of making family abroad feel more connected to us as they see what we’ve been doing and how the children are growing each month!”
Liberty also used the online photo book editing app called Neveo to make her photobook with family pictures: “Another way I am trialling to keep contact with my mother is by using an online photo book editing app called Neveo. This is such a lovely way to update her with pictures of her grandchildren. One of the huge disadvantages of living so far away is that my children are growing up without their extended family nearby, so I believe it is vital to keep in regular contact to keep their relationships alive as much as possible."
Something many may not have heard of and a feature that a friend or family may need to set up for an older relative is Netflix Party. Netflix Party allows multiple households to watch a film at the same time, Rachel from Rachel Downing likes to use Netflix Party among other things to talk to long-distance relatives, she explains a little more about why she thinks making time to speak to long-distance relatives is important:
"My aunt moved abroad when I was young, taking my cousin with her. I was always really close to them; especially my cousin who I knew since we were babies. It was really hard to start with but we all learnt to adapt. It's been over 10 years now, but we still send each other letters and photographs in the post. They send me a bunch of flowers for my birthday every year, and we send them gifts too! We keep in touch via video call. Recently we've started watching movies and films together via the Netflix party extension.
“I think it's really important to stay in touch because it's so easy to lose touch with people. I never wanted to become estranged from them. Keeping in touch now makes it even more special when we get to visit each other. It's like we've never really been apart."
Last and probably one of the most common ways for people to chat with video call is Facetime. The app automatically installed onto iPhone, Facetime is simple and easy to use and is available for all who have an iPhone. Simply call your contacts using either your front or back camera and enjoy lengthy chats across the globe.
Kelly and Zoey, the duo behind Our Transitional Life explain how they keep in contact with their family, with their favourites being WhatsApp and Facetime:
“We think staying in touch with friends and family is key during a time like this (COVID-19 pandemic). Our generation has never experienced anything quite like this, so staying in touch in the modern world is key to maintaining good mental health and a positive outlook. We use WhatsApp for messaging family and friends and also to send photos to keep people up-to-date with life in isolation. Our favourite thing to do it use Facetime or any kind of face sharing app (Instagram is good for more than 2 people) so we feel as though they're actually with us in the room, chatting as normal. It's not perfect, but it fills that social void and you get to tell people how much you miss and love them. It's been invaluable during this time, and it will continue to be a lifeline for all of us.”
No matter how you plan to do it, staying in contact with family and friends, no matter how far away they live or their age is extremely important. Making time once a week to speak to your loved ones is crucial, as much to them as it is to you.
The best online tools for keeping in touch with family:
- Family Photo Albums
- Netflix Party
This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.