by Meg Flanagan
Let’s be real: we’re all finding new ways to connect with the people we love. Thanks, pandemic! But military families have been rocking creative ways to stay connected despite the distance since, well, forever.
Whether we were waiting patiently at home during the days before regular, reliable mail service, sending letters that wouldn’t be delivered for weeks or video-chatting, military families are professionals at long-distance relationships.
And I’m not just talking about romantic connections. Keeping all sorts of relationships fresh and thriving is important!
With almost everyone trying to find ways to be together without actually being together, we could all use a few new ways to connect.
“Just Because” care packages
Care packages are a major part of military life. Families fill boxes with touches of home for loved ones far away, mostly during deployments or for holidays. But what if you sent something special just because?
Living OCONUS for three years made me deeply appreciate getting something random in the mail. Now, I try to pass that feeling on whenever I can. Care packages don’t need to be huge boxes full of pricey things. Like all the suggestions on this list, it’s more about the thought than the thing.
One thing that we love to send in care packages are unique snacks from wherever we’re stationed. Admittedly, Japan was easier than Virginia in terms of weird and wonderful treats. However, you simply cannot get VA peanuts in MA.
Sometimes we just send notes and artwork. My kids make way too many drawings and paintings for me to ever keep. But my parents and siblings simply adore adding extra art to their homes! We write a quick note on the back and into the mail it goes!
Whether you’re sending things to a faraway spouse, your parents and siblings or a friend, it’s really about bringing them into your daily life. Again, it’s the little things that count.
Video chat everything
My days start with a video chat right now. My kids eat breakfast with my parents and literally just spitball about whatever. Having this time “together” has really strengthened that grandparent-grandchild bond in incredible ways.
No one is “performing” for the camera. Everyone is is pj’s and has bowls of cereal or yogurt. Sometimes they read books to each other. Other times, like today, my parents walk the kids around their house to explore. Somehow this little tour is incredibly interesting for kids. Most times, my parents just watch the kids play or draw. It’s not about having a deep conversation, it’s just about spending time together.
You can apply this theory to almost any social video chat situation. Yes, there is the pressure to “be good” and talk to a deployed parent with spotty internet access, but it’s not always what that person needs. Sometimes your deployed spouse just wants to sit and be “with” you over breakfast or watch kids in their natural environment.
It’s not the conversation, it’s the togetherness.
Snail mail for the connection
Who doesn’t love getting mail? Okay, yes, adults mostly don’t like it because it’s all bills and paperwork. But if your mail was just fun, I bet we could all learn to love it again!
Kids, however, adore getting mail with their names on it. For holidays or birthdays, I try to send my nieces and nephews cards with their names on it. Getting stickers or little envelope-sized treats just for them feels special!
In my own house, my kids get magazines from grandparents as well as postcards and letters. They love when the mail comes and there’s something just for them! Postcards get tacked up on our wall and re-read dozens of times.
Plus, my kids love sending postcards and letters or cards to the people they love, too! We were gifted pre-addressed and stamped postcards from family members as the pandemic began. Now we use those to share a little slice of our daily lives with people we probably won’t see for many more months.
Be creative together
Sometimes my sister and I will video chat while we each make dinner. It’s fun to chat about what we’re making, talk about ingredients and relax in a low-stress way. There’s no agenda or need, just connection.
During a long deployment, my husband and I kept journals. One cool idea would be to get the same journal with prompts for everyone. Then do the same prompt each day. At a certain point, you could swap journals and keep going. Or you could do a weekly journal chat via video, talking about your thoughts on that week’s prompts.
My kids and my mom have art time together a few times a week. She’s got a kids’ drawing book with step-by-step instructions. The kids do their best to follow along with the directions. Then everyone reveals their creations at the end.
Again, it’s not the end product or doing something super involved. It’s just about being creative together, taking something we might do IRL into the online space.
- How to Grow Your Military Family’s Capacity for Empathy
- 6 Amazing Ways to Strengthen the Child-Parent Relationship During Deployment
- 7 Ways In-Laws Can Support Military Spouses
Meg Flanagan is a teacher, blogger and military spouse. She owns Meg Flanagan Education Solutions, an education advocacy service dedicated to serving families on the K-12 journey. You can find Meg on Facebook. Meg is also available as a freelance writer and personal education advocate!