When Family Is Far Away: Tips For Maintaining Bonds

My little brother has always been my best friend. As a six-year-old child I remember getting out of bed in the middle of the night, my bare feet squeaking against the hardwood floors, and then quietly kneeling beside him to make sure everything was alright. Sometimes I would fall asleep with my head on his chest – comforted by the sound of his beating heart. Knowing that as long as he was breathing, my world was whole.

Today, like so many families, a thousand miles divide us – my brother is in San Francisco, and I’m in Milwaukee – and that daily closeness that we once shared has grown into something new. I suppose it is an appreciation for who we have become and the lives we have created. To say that I’m proud of my brother would be an understatement. I love hearing about his work, travels, and everyday adventures. He is an artist and approaches every aspect of his life with a passion for creating beauty. I have been so inspired by his decision to move across the country and build the life of his dreams. My only sadness is that I don’t usually get to observe his world in person. My window into his life is often a series of photos, texts, and phone calls shared late in the evening. I’m sure that many of you can relate. That’s why the time that we are able to spend together – however brief – is always cherished.

Nowadays, families are spread across the globe as we all venture out to make our mark on the world. Each of us has a set of values and a life purpose that drives us to find our place. And though we have never been more free to create the life we desire, research shows that people are lonelier and more isolated than ever. Maintaining family bonds and long-term friendships are critically important for our happiness and health. That’s why carving out time to connect with loved ones is so important.

At Entertaining Family we encourage you to savor the simple pleasures in life and spend time gathered around the table. Using those lenses, I am happy to share some strategies that my brother and I use to make the most of our visits:

We gather in the kitchen to make meals together. Sitting around a table to share a feast is one of life’s great treats. But preparing that feast can be when the real magic happens. Working together to create a meal is a great demonstration of teamwork, sharing, and compromise. For family members who haven’t been together in a while, this activity will help you bond quickly. We like to put on music, divide up responsibilities, and laugh and chat as we go.

At work in the kitchen

Sharing a love of cooking

We set a beautiful table. After preparing a delicious meal, it is rewarding to sit down at a celebratory table that truly showcases what we’ve worked so hard to create. Flowers, wine glasses, and serving trays make mealtime feel like an event. It also signals that the dinner table is a special place to spend time together.

Dinner table 1

Dinner table 2

We share stories. The food is what brings us to the table, but it is the conversation that makes us linger. Getting acquainted, sharing memories, and discussing family lore is what makes these moments so special. Looking across the table at the faces I love most in the world and listening to the stories of our shared history is one of my favorite ways to spend time. It lets all of us know that we are connected to something bigger than each one of us. The choices we make today are not just for our own benefit, but they are a loving tribute to the sacrifices of the past and a foundation for the generations who will come after us.

Family dinner

Spending time together

We ham it up, and laugh…a lot. Though the meal and the table have been designed to create a sense of beauty and abundance, our dinners are not formal. We laugh and get silly – this has always been our “family’s way”. Trying to get to know the soul of a person is what dinnertime is all about. It is through  playful engagement and lighthearted banter that we build true appreciation for one another. Laughter is sweet music, and my family is a talented orchestra.

The best additions ever

Mother and son

After dinner relaxation

We forgive each other. We understand that families are complicated social groups and sometimes this can lead to frustrations and hurt feelings. Though we are part of the same clan, we view life through our own filters. Something that is important to me may be trivial to you. Your political beliefs may be my worst nightmare. The way that I approach a situation will always be different from the way you deal with it. Forgiveness is important. In order to forgive, we have to try to see life from the other person’s vantage point and abandon the need to be right. We also have to be willing to say I’m sorry.

All of us are “works in progress”. Trying to be a better sister, mother, wife, daughter, and friend is something that I struggle with every day, but I put in the work because nothing is more important to me than my family. I appreciate that the people I love do the same thing for me.

Best friends

Before saying goodbye, we say “I love you”. My parents taught us a very important lesson early on – you always end a conversation as if it could be the last one you ever have – and there is nothing more important than telling someone I love you.

In our family I love you means I accept everything about you, I value your contributions to the world, I appreciate the ways in which you challenge me, and I will always, always support you and cheer you on.

“Unconditional love really exists in each of us. It is part of our deep inner being. It is not so much an active emotion as a state of being. It’s not ‘I love you’ for this or that reason, not ‘I love you if you love me.’ It’s love for no reason, love without an object.”
-Ram Dass
We hope this post may inspire you to visit your family – to reach out and show them how much you care. And tonight, I think I know who I am going to call…
{Thanks to my sister Masha for capturing some of these beautiful photos.}

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