As you probably know very well, one of the most difficult things to deal with when you have an international family is staying in touch… or, if you prefer, being present even in the distance. We have close family members spread all over the world: siblings living in both coasts of the USA and in Spain, parents in Spain and Africa, cousins in Australia… It is not easy to keep up to date with their daily lives and, in most cases, that is OK, as soon as we are there for the important things… But I am fully committed to keep my parents and my child’s cousins very present in her life.
Family is really important to me, since I am very close to my parents and siblings; so I guess I want it to be also important to my daughter. But there are other reasons for this commitment. One of them is that I want my daughter to speak Spanish (my mother tongue) as much as possible. But the most important one is that, since we are a family of three, I want her to be able to build a bigger support structure in case something might happen to her dad or myself, or simply for the future.
I knew that for my daughter to bond with other family members it would take time, since she would not be able to see them everyday and for a baby that is crucial… I must say that even today (she will turn 2 in a couple of months) she shows a preference for my mom out of the whole family, as she is the family member that she has met in person the most. But this is not the only reason…
My mum is an affectionate person, very much like myself… And through the years I have adopted many of her mimics, language and ways of expressing herself. I think this plays an essential role in their ‘easy’ bonding, since I have also seen it at the nursery, where my child tends to prefer the teachers that have a mellow way of talking, instead of those that speak louder.
Another reason is without a doubt the fact that we call my mum everyday of the week (with the exception of some Saturdays or Sundays) through Skype, even if for a few minutes. My daughter is so used to these daily calls that she can scroll my Skype contacts and find her grandma’s number and call her without any assistance! I know it is said that new technologies are separating us more then bringing us together, but go ask any international family, if that is the case! They will tell you: God bless Skype, Facetime and Whatsapp!!!!
Of course, as I said before, technologies are not enough to succeed in the deeply psychological process that is bonding… Many other factors will play a role in it, such as the child’s personality, the circumstances in which the child will get to meet in person that family member, etc.
The good news is that, eventually, my daughter will grow to know every single member of the family very well… And, even if she will be driven to get closer to those whose personality will work better with hers, I hope I will be able to teach her enough empathy and compassion to treat them all with respect and affection. In fact, let me share with you a personal anecdote: when I was little, I didn’t feel very close to my auntie’s husband. I found him too serious and distant, and I ended up thinking that he didn’t like children. Later on, when I left home to go to university, I would occasionally pay a visit to my auntie during the holidays… On one of those occasions, there were other family members at her place and I totally forgot to go and hug my uncle. Once I was back in university my mum called and told me that my auntie had said her husband had been saddened by the fact that I had forgotten to greet him… It turns out, my mum said, that he is a very sensitive man, but also very very shy… And that is why he never really played or interacted much with us when we were growing up. Needless to say that even though I rarely see my uncle or auntie anymore, every time I do get to see them, I do not forget to give that silent man a big hug!
When it comes to my husband traveling internationally for work, things are a little different. At the beginning, our daughter would simply not realize her dad was missing. When she grew up a little bit, she would get very anxious seeing her dad on Skype, as if she couldn’t understand what sort of trick we were playing on her! With the passing of time, she got used to my saying “dad is out for work” and then seeing him on Facetime or Skype… But now that she is older, she begins to show her dad how unhappy she is when he leaves, by refusing to talk to him when he calls or ignoring him when he’s on Skype… Not easy for daddy!
In any case, technology is there to allow her to at least see her dad and talk to him, when she’ll be ready to do so… It will never substitute daddy, but it certainly makes us feel closer to him!
Do you have any specific tricks to try and facilitate bonding between your child and family members that live faraway? Please, do share them with me!