by Meg Flanagan
Every morning, over oatmeal or yogurt, my family hears the dulcet tones of FaceTime ringing. It’s 8:00 and time for our daily video conference with my parents, one of the new rituals that self-isolation had created in my family.
Video calls aren’t anything new for military families. We are used to creating and sustaining relationships over distance and time zones. This is the first time that I’ve needed to use that skill when located in such close proximity to our families.
Largely, it’s been a crazy success. My kids have an incredibly close relationship with their grandparents, even though we’ve lived far away from them for years. Part of that has been because of the FaceTime rituals that build memories we’ve created.
Find Your Video Calling Time
Over the last six or so years, we’ve been experimenting with video calls between my kids and my parents. Depending on where we are located, we’ve been connecting at different times.
In SoCal, we perfected the post-nap video call–timed so that they were eating lunch while my kiddo was waking up. In Okinawa, we did the breakfast/dinner call. We would munch cereal while they enjoyed dinner, thanks to the 12-13 hour time difference. Now that we’re all on the East Coast, we’ve kept the breakfast FaceTime.
Why did my family settle on video calls over meals? Well, it’s largely to keep the kids occupied and seated. When there’s food in front of them, they’re less likely to drag the iPad all over creation. They are also less inclined to fight over who’s “turn” it is to be front and center on the screen.
Tips for Finding Your Own Ideal Video Call Time:
- Consider your kids’ ages
- Consider attention span
- Consider the intention of the call (to observe, engage, interact, something else?)
When you run through all the needs and wants of the call, then balance them with the realities of your family, you’ll get a good idea of the best times that might work for you.
What Do You Do On FaceTime?
Our family FaceTime sessions vary, but generally revolve around shared activities conducted over tech. Keep in mind, my kids are young, under age 10. What we do might be different for older children or infants.
Right now, the point of video calls is to build bonds between grandparents and kids. However, these ideas could easily be transferred for deployed parents and kids.
Our video calls tend to follow a routine;
- Eat breakfast and share news of the previous 24-48 hours
- Read a story together
- Art lessons
- Virtual guessing game
- House tour
- Distraction and farewell
The activities that go down during a typical video call are largely driven by my kids’ moods and desire to engage. Sometimes, they just play together while my parents observe. It’s changeable but still tends to follow a routine.
We settled on art lessons and reading together based on my daughter’s desire to learn to draw plus her love of stories. They use a kid’s drawing book and compare finished products. Sometimes my daughter reads to my mom, but mostly she listens as Grammy reads out loud.
House tours and guessing games are for my son, mostly. He loves to see all the nooks and crannies of my parents’ house, remembering times he’s spent there pre-pandemic.
Eventually, they both get sucked into their own games or want to go outside. They’re distracted and ready to move on from the call.
This routine works for my family because it accomplishes our primary goals:
- Shared activities
- Insights into my kids for my parents
- Ability to be a “typical” grandparent, just watching the kids play
Tips for Finding Your Ideal FaceTime Activities
- What do you want to accomplish?
- What interests your kids?
- What role does the adult on the other side of the screen want to play?
- What is realistic over video calls?
Your answers will be different based on your children’s ages and interests, as well as the wants of the other adults involved. My parents are happy to observe, but your loved ones might want to be more active.
Keep the Conversations Going
One of the keys that we’ve found to creating our ritual is continuity and reliability. Having FaceTime on the schedule every day is crucial. My kids know that it’s happening daily, every morning at breakfast. But even in between video calls, my parents figure into our regular conversations every single day. Talking about them includes them in our lives in a way beyond the screen. My kids feel like they really know my parents and have a strong bond with them.
They’ll frequently reference their grandparents:
“Grammy and Grampy would love this book. Let’s save it to read tomorrow!”
“Remember the little china bird on their shelf near the sink? I love that little bird!”
“I wonder if they’ll have coffee or tea tomorrow?”
Plus, they communicate via snail mail in addition to FaceTime. We send letters, drawings and postcards back and forth regularly. Mail works for us, but something else might work for you.
Ideas to Keep the Conversation Going
- Online games
- United Through Reading videos
- Subscription boxes
- Board games
- Shared photo albums online
Create Your Own Ideal FaceTime Ritual
The most important thing to remember is the connection being developed. Creating a relationship between kids and grandparents is the whole point. Your ritual should be crafted to maximize that.
To get an idea of what’s best for your family:
- Pick a time when your kids will be engaged and interested in FaceTime
- Let conversation develop naturally
- Suggest activities and topics, but be flexible
- Allow the kids to drive the call
- Be gracious if they get bored
- Allow the kids to say “good-bye” when ready
- Follow up with a text or email to the other adult
It’s also important to know that not all adults will be interested in fostering a relationship via video chat. Not all adults have the time or desire to do this regularly. Be okay with creating a relationship and routine that works for everyone involved, even if it’s not what you have envisioned.
- 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!