Keep In Touch: Creating A Family Website When You’re Living Apart
Not all single parent families are created equal. Most separated parents still love and want the best for their children, even if they don’t live in the family home any more. Other parents are forced to be apart from their children due to work commitments or visa restrictions, and as a result they risk losing some of that vital parent-child connection which is so carefully and lovingly built up over time with shared experiences – but which can so easily and quickly be lost due to distance and time apart.

There are also many devoted extended family members who don’t get the chance to engage with the children nearly as much as they would like. People travel long distances for work and other opportunities these days, and kids are growing up without those close relationships between different generations that are so valuable for a person’s view of the world and sense of family.

If you or other members of your family are separated from each other and your children, you need to find ways of building and maintaining engaged relationships. Fortunately, in today’s technological society, there are many opportunities to explore.

A fairly simple but highly effective platform for family engagement is the family website. A website can be free or paid. It can be basic or full of bells and whistles. It can be private, shared among certain individuals or public. And it can promote real-time discussion and participation in family activities, as well as act as a terrific memory-collector, scrapbook and conversation recorder and stimulator.

Here are a few thoughts to get you started.

Tech-Whiz Not Required
You don’t have to be a genius IT programmer to create and maintain a simple website, or even a not-so simple one. There are hundreds of pre-made options available and thousands of information and tutorial sheets, videos and forums. Any question you have will have an answer somewhere – just type it into an internet search and get reading!

Free Is Fine
If all you’re looking for is a simple website with a couple of pages, you can set this up quickly and for free. Free services do have some catches though: you may not have the same privacy options, you must abide by their terms and conditions, which might make sharing certain photos or videos problematic, and you have fewer options to customize your site. But family websites need not be particularly ornate or risqué, so the chances are you would be just fine with a free service.

Customize For Your Family
If you have an enthusiastic photographer (or two) in the family, make full use of them and include heaps of photos in your website. If you have someone who loves to write, get them to post the stories and family news. If you go somewhere new or do something unusual, get whoever likes videos most to take video of the event and post it up. If you have a science fan or bookwork, have a page dedicated to amazing science facts, or reviews of books the family has read, or an ongoing trivia quiz. The key to a great, collaborative website is to get everyone involved and engaged, and that means making it relevant for your family members.

Keep the Conversation Going
A family website is terrific – if every family member is participating and if you update it all the time – preferably at least once a day. Consider having each family member post something about their day before dinner – get the older kids to help the younger ones. The distant family members also post a picture or a story about their day. Then people can comment on each other’s posts and ask follow up questions. To make things easier you could have a theme or a question each day for everyone to answer – ‘what’s the best thing that happened to you today?’ or ‘Embarrassing Moments.’

Collaboration Is Key
Whoever is going to be involved in this family project needs to buy into it. As the emphasis is on getting kids to connect with far-flung relatives, it’s vital that their primary carer is on board with the concept. Present it to them in terms that they can accept – lay out the workload for them (as little as possible, if you fear they’ll be negative about it), and emphasize the benefits to the kids and themselves. Without support from the kids’ carers, the project is on shaky ground. If possible, do a very basic trial run so that the unenthusiastic person can see how it would work and how it benefits the family before expanding on the idea.

My book, Outstanding Long Distance Parenting, comes out in time for Christmas and inside you will find heaps more great ideas and strategies to help you keep your children close, even when you live far apart.

Emily is a consultant to parents, businesses and schools. She helps parents understand scientific information and expert opinions on various parenting topics, to help them make the best decisions they can. She helps businesses understand the value of their parent workforce and parent customers and helps them to make their businesses more parent-friendly. She also works with schools to improve parent-school relationships.

Emily’s podcast, Parents in the Know, is available on iTunes, Stitcher and through her website, www.emilymmorgan.com, along with other great resources and books for parents.