We asked several Canadian families to share how they keep in touch with family members who live far way. Here are six suggestions for connecting with your adult siblings on your own time.
1. Embrace technology
Chatting on Skype or FaceTime, following each other on Twitter, sending Facebook updates, texting and sharing online photo albums -- when you can't be together in person, these are all great ways to stay in touch and let your siblings know that you're thinking about them. It's much more common these days for long-distance siblings with families of their own to have limited time for sitting and chatting on the phone, but they still get that quality time just in shorter quantities via their smartphones and social media.
"I have a 10-month-old, so I definitely use FaceTime and Skype more than the phone to communicate with my siblings in Toronto. I just don't always have time for a full conversation! Plus, it's free and it's nice for us and our kids to be able to see each other on the screen."
-- Marie, Ottawa
2. Make plans together
Seeing one another in person is a great way to renew your childhood bonds. Try arranging a family get-together somewhere other than the usual trip "back home." Choose a destination that everyone is interested in visiting. You'll have new experiences, find new things to laugh about -- and think of the new stories you'll be able to recount later! (Which will hopefully stop your family from rehashing that embarrassing zipper incident from Thanksgiving 1988.)
"My two sisters and I live hours apart from one another but we make a point of planning a shopping getaway to the United States every year before Christmas. No husbands, no kids, just us. Bargain hunting is something we have always had in common!"
-- Nicole, London, Ont.
Page 1 of 3 -- Discover how building a relationship with your sibling's partner can strengthen your own personal bond on page 2
3. Spousal support
If your brother is about as interested in weekly phone chats as he would be in cosying up to a live rattlesnake, consider his spouse: If his partner seemed friendly and talkative at the last family get-together, try forging a friendship with her instead. The rewards are twofold: You open the lines of communication and a new way of keeping in touch with your sibling, and (although he may not express it in so many words), he'll appreciate the welcoming gesture toward that new member of the family.
"After I moved from Thunder Bay to Ottawa, I couldn't get home as often as I would have liked. So I would try to get Christmas and birthday gift ideas for my mom from my brother, who still lived there. He never had a clue, but I got to know his girlfriend and she became a great source of thoughtful tips and suggestions."
-- Brenda, Thunder Bay, Ont.
4. Drop the act
We all have a role in our families, whether it's "The Brain" or "The Sensitive One." It can be difficult to break out of the old stereotypes, but that was then and this is now. Make the effort to get acquainted with who your siblings are as adults. Has your brother the former hockey star recently discovered a passion for bridge? Has your sister the former bookworm taken up triathlons? Everyone appreciates having their passions acknowledged. You probably share more in common with your siblings now than you did back in the day when you fought so fiercely over whether Strawberry Shortcake was cooler than Barbie.
"I used to just get updates on my siblings via my weekly call to Mom. It wasn't until my brother asked me for some help with his résumé that I learned he was switching from finance to pursue a career as a chef. I consider myself somewhat of a foodie, so it was great to discover something like that in common. It has definitely brought us closer together."
-- Carrie, Toronto
Page 2 of 3 -- Find advice on how to stay connected with multiple siblings on page 3
5. Join in
There are so many opportunities to connect "virtually" these days. If you and your siblings share an interest in reading, you can start up a monthly book club where you meet up online to chat about the most buzzed-about books. Interactive online games such as Trade Nations or Words With Friends are also very popular, and free on most devices. Who says playing duelling mayors to virtual villagers, and out-earning one another in magic beans doesn't count as bonding?
"My brother and I live in different countries, but we can get online anywhere anytime to bet on our favourite sports. We have different team allegiances, so it's fun to check out the odds, strategize and text each other our bets. Whoever comes out on top on any given game day lords it over the other, pretty much exactly how it was when we were kids."
-- Ryan, Abbottsford, B.C.
6. Care by committee
It can be daunting to contemplate trying to keep connected with multiple siblings, imagining hours of your life being sucked away as you repeat the same versions of the same stories and the same small talk about the weather in your respective cities. Get resourceful: Email is fast, effective and almost everyone has access to it. If you don't have time for individual missives, create a mailing list and include everyone at once. If you're trying to make plans for the next family potluck, it's great to have everyone's input and contributions listed all in one place, and it ensures no one is inadvertently left out of the loop.
"When any of us speak with or visit our aging mother, we always email one another to update everyone on the big stuff like test results from her latest doctor's appointment. I find it's the fastest way to share a lot of detailed in information at once, and everyone gets the same story."
-- Pam, Truro, N.S.
All of these tips are inexpensive, not too demanding of your already-precious time, and completely adaptable to your way of life. A little effort to keep in touch will go a very long way.
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