Growing up was punctuated by zesty family interactions during the holidays. Something about those few days- where my aunt would fly in from Georgia, my grandparents would make the trek from Maine, and my dad would set down his work phone- deeply resonated with me. We would gather to do something as nonchalant as soak up each other’s presence over a game of Crazy Eights and a couple glasses of wine.
It would be a time of light bickering, fun-loving teasing, casual and sometimes deep inquires- but most importantly, it would be a time that would bring the kind of security that comes from being surrounded by people life gave to you before you were even born. Being connected to family adds a sense of belonging, creates growth and healing, and provides a tangible safety net for hard times.
Falling out of Touch
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found it increasingly necessary to rely on emails, phone calls, and social media. This past summer, I couldn’t make a family reunion because of a work obligation. It was a hard first for me but a very relatable occurrence for most. With a million and two other reasons personally tailored to each family’s unique situation, it is a sad truth that the gift of a connection through blood can be lost.
The wonderful truth about lost things is that they can almost always be found.
Statistically Speaking: Who Talks to Whom?
As you might guess, the consistency and type of communication across generations varies across the spectrum.
Parents and ‘Adult Children’
According to Pew Research, 46% of U.S. adults with at least one grown child living outside of the family home maintain daily contact, while 39% talk at least once a week. Interestingly enough, a gender gap in communication exists. Mothers talk to their ‘adult children’ more frequently than fathers by a little over 10%.
Grandparents and Grandchildren
According to the same study, one-in-five grandparents communicate daily with their grandchildren, 41% weekly, 19% once a month, and 19% less often. In contrast, 6% of adults with at least one living grandparent are in contact on a daily basis, 22% weekly, and 36% at least once a month.
How do they Communicate?
For each combination of generations, phone calls are the most common medium. Text messaging comes in second, social networking third, and written letters fall in last place by a staggering difference in percentages.
So, as someone considering reconnecting with family- where does all of this information leave you?
How could you increase your connections with family?
Four Simple Steps
1. Reach Out (Patiently and Persistently)
The first part isn’t so much a step, as a mindset. Make the decision that you want people in your life and stick with it. Remind yourself that it takes persistence to bring about change. For example, (much to my grandma’s chagrin, she can vouch for me here) sometimes it takes multiple calls for me to return a message- which has nothing to do with my desire to chat and is instead a reflection of my busy life. A lack of response is an opportunity to see another perspective and get creative.
Case in point, my grandma has taken to posting on my facebook wall if I fall too far out of touch.
2. Choose your Medium Wisely and Creatively
It’s time to recognize your strengths. For me, in-person communication is the most effective and enjoyable. I have a dramatically expressive face and love seeing reactions to my words. So, when I’m connecting to people geographically distant, I aim for video chats as it’s the closest replication to the face-to-face communication that helps me thrive.
That being said, communication is a two-way street. As much as I love video chatting, my grandma gets disoriented by the camera and far prefers the phone.
So, we adapt.
Recognize the value of meeting people where they are. For example, if your grandchildren love to use social media, consider making a Facebook to keep up with their daily activity.
After all, keeping in touch with people doesn’t have a prescribed methodology. Does your sister-in-law have an insanely busy schedule and can never seem to find the time? Schedule a chat every 2nd of the month. Maybe your family is spread throughout the country, or even the world; consider starting a family newsletter through an email chain.
Whatever the situation, properly evaluate it so you set yourself up for success.
Looking for some conversation starters? Ask questions. Delve into work, family, hobbies, upcoming trips, etc.- people relish talking about themselves. Engage with their answers, find common ground, and enjoy where the conversation flows.
4. Make it a Habit
Much like anything new or uncomfortable, it’s going to get easier each time. So, what are you waiting for? Pick up the phone! (or laptop, or pad of paper, or video camera…)
Best of luck and don’t forget to let us know how it goes.
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