As expats, we are no stranger to the digital age. Normalizing technology into our everyday way of life is typical.
FaceTime dates. Skype calls. Utilizing video chats through WhatsApp. It's the common way of communication for those of us who live abroad.
I might call someone on the fly to ask a simple question, but taking the time to sit down and have a proper face-to-face chat through the phone is normal when your loved ones live in Timbuktu.
It's entertaining to watch the rest of the world set up Zoom calls for family game night, Sunday school class, or a catch-up with little friends. Everyone else seems fascinated by the virtual world of communication. Even predators and scammers are catching on to the digital ways.
I realize it's depressing to not see your Aunt Susie in person when you are used to making potato salad with her every other Sunday for family get-togethers. I get that; I truly do. That was my childhood.
But this. This way of communicating through virtual video conferencing is a way of life for our family and many others.
Nowadays, you may call up Aunt Susie to "see" her over video chat. This is how our kids maintain and grow a relationship with their grandparents. If not, they wouldn't know them the next time we visited. Family members would be complete strangers to them.
The other day, my mother-in-law read a book to the kids before bed over a WhatsApp video call. They will call their cousins to showcase their latest drawing or newly discovered way to make a fart noise. They will discuss cartoons and superheroes, and run around the house with the phone in hand like they were side by side in person.
"It's heartbreaking but incredibly cute at the same time. Bittersweet indeed."
I've had wine night catch ups with high school girlfriends and "in person" prayer dates with college friends. We also set up a family hello to dear friends from college the other day to banter about the current madness we are all experiencing. They said they didn't realize how easy it was for us to connect like that. Mind-blown, you guys. Only because that is our normal.
If we don't live like this, then we would literally never "see" anyone for an entire year...maybe longer. It shatters my soul to think only decades ago families left grandparents and best friends behind not knowing the next time they would see them.
"The virtual world makes living away from loved ones much easier to deal with."
Because of time zones, we have to be strategic about it though. Dinner time for us is the lunch hour for folks back home. When we were living in Asia, it was a 12 hour swing making it much more challenging. 9am at grandma's house in the States was 9pm in Singapore. Syncing up time frames for the kids to have interaction was incredibly hard.
Weekends are generally the golden timeframe to catch up. Work, school, hobbies, evening activities and commitments make it challenging to line up schedules during the week. But this current crisis has made it easier than ever to call whenever. Calendars are wiped clean. Commitments have been cancelled. Most people have nothing but time at the moment.
"And for us, on this side of the world, it's glorious!"
Can I encourage you to keep using video calls? Introduce your children to it if you haven't already. Even if you don't believe in much screen time, this is the way of the future. Your son or daughter might be expected to have face-to-face chats with a co-worker in Peru one day.
-What To Focus On-
Teach them manners
Why body language is important
Where to look into the camera
Be aware of their background
Not run or spin while talking
Turn off the TV or any other distraction while on the call
How to focus and ask interesting questions
Are they talking too loud or not loud enough
It's a fabulous learning tool for the next generation, and will hopefully steer them away from this out-of-touch texting way of life!
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In a previous life, I used to teach public speaking to 8th graders. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for kids to learn the art of communication. Involve them in planning and prepping a virtual play date. What time is best? What should they wear? Talk about? Things to do and not do on the call? And how to know when it's time to say goodbye.
And while you are at it, schedule that virtual dinner date with your bff. If you've been jonesing for your weekly catch ups, then make it fun over FaceTime. Whip up some fettuccine alfredo, swirl together your favorite cocktail, and prop up that phone for some visible laughs.
"It's a beautiful way to stay connected and fully present during these challenging times."
Want more tips on how to prepare for life abroad?