by Meg Flanagan
Right now, my kids are upstairs laughing with their grandmother. No, we’re not together. It’s just their normal morning FaceTime chat.
I’m so incredibly lucky that my kids have these strong bonds with family and friends, no matter where everyone currently lives. Partly, it’s just because of who they are as people. But also, it’s because my spouse and I have done a few things to help our military kids build strong bonds.
1. Make your intentions clear
Part of being a military family raising military kids is that creating strong bonds to “home” doesn’t just happen.
Growing up, I spent so much time with my Grammy. She was my first daycare provider, my summer childcare plan, and, as a teen, my best confidant. We also lived just one town away from her. Being together was easy because we were close physically. I’m also especially close to my cousins, for many of the same reasons. Proximity helps build bonds.
My globe-trotting kids just don’t have physical closeness available to them. We set the intention to help create virtual closeness and then gave the invitation.
When we were looking at moving (farther) away from our families, we put out the blanket invite: come visit, video chat, send mail. We want you in our lives. We shared this invitation to connect regularly with our parents, siblings, our extended circle of family, and friends.
2. Know that not everyone will accept
We sent out the invite to connect, but not everyone responded in the same way. I get that–we’ve all got our own lives and priorities. We’re all busy.
One set of grandparents does daily video chats with us right now. One of my close friends gets called “Auntie.” An aunt has a nickname and we talk about her frequently.
That’s because they’ve made the effort to connect. We get and send mail, there are regular FaceTimes, they visit us no matter where we live. My kids have family that we almost never see. Those bonds just aren’t as strong because the regular connections just aren’t there. And that’s okay, too.
Know that your invitation to connect isn’t for everyone.
3. Talk about the people you love often
No matter where we live, we talk about the people we love. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends that are like family. Or “framily” as my kids call these incredible people. We regularly talk about how a certain person might act in a particular situation or spot a cool souvenir that so-and-so might like. My daughter is known to say “Auntie Em would love this mural.” My sister is an artist and my kids are always on the lookout for interesting art pieces she’d enjoy.
4. Creating connections gets messy
Creating virtual connections with kids almost never goes to plan. It’s not a Zoom meeting with a bunch of adults. Kids have short attention spans and their own ideas of what to do or what’s interesting.
Not emotionally messy, although that can happen as well, but messy in an unplanned out sort of way. For example: my kids just spent two hours chatting with my parents. There was never a “conversation;” just a series of activities and actions they observed together. They’ve watched my kids play LEGO, do PlayDoh, and read. They’ve also played games via FaceTime.
Part of creating strong bonds for my military kids is letting go of my ideas of perfection. Get the iPad a kid-proof carrying case and let it travel around the house. Let the connections get messy.
5. Make the effort to connect IRL
Making the time to go offline is essential to creating strong bonds for kids. All the video chats in the world cannot ever replace being together in person, which means that we make the effort on our end to bring people together.
When we’re stateside (and there’s not a pandemic), we travel home to New England for about a month every summer. We also spend a week or so around Christmas with family there, too. Having this month of just time with no solid plans allows everyone to relax and just have fun being together. We go on hikes and to the beach, eat picnic lunches and lick ice cream. Days are slower and time seems to stand still.
During that time, I get to see how the connections we fostered virtually blossom in real life.
- 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!