When I lived in Boston, I was surprised by how close extended families were there. Often, several generations lived together in the same house. Large family gatherings were common. I always wanted a big extended family, but my mom is an only child, and I have just eight cousins. Luckily, my husband's family has more than enough relatives to go around.

There's something special about families. Bonds between family members can be stronger than with friends. Relationships with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins can enrich life, but maintaining strong family bonds takes effort. These six tips can help your family stay close no matter how far apart you may live.

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If families are spread out, news doesn't always travel as quickly as it should. I like to be informed about the exciting things happening in my extended family. If your family wants to stay in touch, consider starting a family newsletter. This could be something that is compiled by one person and then distributed to everyone, or your family could go more high-tech and start a family blog or private Facebook page. If your family members use a social media site like Instagram, you can stay updated as often as people post.

I see you!

My family is spread out all over the U.S., with my nearest relatives about 100 miles away. We've discovered that video calling services like Skype and FaceTime help us feel close to our far away family. It's easy to call Grandma and have everyone say hello. This method helps children maintain relationships with relatives they don't see often. If you run out of things to say, you can sing songs or read a book, just like you would in person.

Snail mail surprise

My children love receiving mail. Sending pictures, letters or packages is a great way to let extended family know you are thinking about them. Once, after my nephews spent time learning how to juggle while visiting me, I sent them their own set of juggling balls to practice with at home. Small gestures go a long way in maintaining loving relationships.

Holiday gift exchange

No matter what holiday you celebrate, a gift exchange is an exciting way to show love and connect with extended family. Some families exchange between individual family members while others exchange gifts family to family. Choose one person from your family to be in charge of the gift exchange. Decide on an amount to spend, exchange names and have fun shopping for someone else. Consider making gifts or trading acts of service if families have different financial situations.

Cousin pen pals

My children have cousins from ages 1-28. Since our extended family is spread out, they don't see some of their cousins very often. Having cousin pen pals is a great way to get to know each other and stay in contact. You could assign pen pals yearly, making a goal to send a letter once a month. Or, you could be informal pen pals, writing different cousins every once in a while. Small children could draw pictures and dictate messages to be written by adults.

Yearly reunion

Family reunions are growing in popularity. If your family hasn't discovered this great tradition, you're missing out. A family reunion can be as simple as an afternoon picnic at a park or as elaborate as a week-long vacation together. Most fall somewhere in the middle. My husband's family has a bi-annual reunion hosted by a different sibling each time. We've rented beach houses in Washington and visited a family YMCA camp in the beautiful Colorado mountains. My family is less organized. We get together when someone decides it's been too long. No matter how you do it, taking the time to get together is always great fun.

I regret not having closer relationships with my cousins, so I'm trying hard to develop and maintain relationships with my siblings and their children. If extended family is important to you, find ways to stay in touch. The love a family shares makes life sweeter.

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