‘We don’t live in a shtetl any more’
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‘We don’t live in a shtetl any more’

Paramus mom relocated to Australia gives hi-tech stay-connected advice

FaceTime, VOIP, WhatsApp, Glide, Skype, Slingbox – if all these words are familiar to you, it’s likely that you use one or more of these high-tech tools for staying in touch with a loved one living far away.

Even if such apps and gadgets had existed when Allison Weiss was growing up in Paramus, she would not have predicted her need for them. “I was never the going-away-from-home type. It’s funny how things worked out,” she said, several days before the September 7 debut of her free enewsletter for long-distance families, “Closer To The Kids” (www.closertothekids.com).

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Nava Weiss and her mother, Allison, talk to Ms. Weiss’s parents on FaceTime.

Ms. Weiss, now 32, met a man from Australia 11 years ago. They married and moved to his native Sydney four years ago. “When we left, I didn’t have a child,” she said. “Things definitely change when you have a child.”

The vast physical distance from her parents, Carol and Ira Grodin, in Paramus, and her brother, Russell, and his wife in New York, was difficult even before she became a mother. “We are a close-knit family; my parents and brother work together, and my mom is my best friend in the world,” she said.

But when her daughter, Nava, was born almost three years ago, the miles between them seemed to stretch to eternity.

“I missed out on the support they could have given me as a new mother, and had to compensate in ways I couldn’t have imagined,” she said during one of her frequent trips with Nava to visit “Ba” and “Bibble” – the toddler’s names for her maternal grandmother and grandfather.

“This is Nava’s seventh trip back to the States. It takes a lot of financial and emotional commitment. I have to work my professional hours accordingly and spend time away from my husband, so it has a real impact.”

The idea for the newsletter arose last December, after Carol Grodin’s visit to Sydney. “My daughter had the best time with my mom, but two days later Nava was hanging up on her on FaceTime,” Apple’s video chat application,” Ms. Weiss said. “So I went to find advice online, and I only found very generic articles about long-distance grandparenting or very specific blogs about someone’s personal experience.

“I saw a big gap for millions of families like mine and also families where a parent is away in the military or traveling often for work, or separated by divorce. Long-distance families come in all shapes and sizes. The commonality I wanted to address is keeping relationships with young kids strong from a distance.”

She cites a recent report that New Jersey ranks 34th in the nation in terms of retention rates of native-born residents; only 62 percent of the people who live in New Jersey now were born here. “This means many grandchildren are leaving or being born elsewhere,” she pointed out.

Statistics show that 80 percent of U.S. grandparents live 50 or more miles from a grandchild, and 43 percent of them – that’s 35 to 40 million people – live 200 or more miles away. “Jewish grandparents find themselves in this group for many reasons, including because they are snowbirds or have children who made aliyah or moved away for love or job opportunities. We don’t live in a shtetl anymore,” Ms. Weiss says.

When Nava gets up in the morning, she asks to “call” Ba via FaceTime. She knows that when it’s nighttime in Sydney it’s daytime in New Jersey, but she doesn’t understand yet that the time difference limits the time available to talk. And no amount of video messaging can take the place of a real-life hug.

Ms. Weiss, trained as a lawyer, built her site with the help of contractors and freelancers, who provided everything from the technical guts to the content. All the illustrations were done by Mr. Weiss’ grandmother, a 90-year-old native New Yorker living in Sydney. “Nava is very lucky to have two great-grandmothers in Sydney,” Ms. Weiss said. “My husband’s other grandmother is a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor.”

The free weekly enewsletter and website are designed to deliver simple and creative tips that help families strengthen bonds despite the challenges of distance.

Each week, subscribers will receive ideas including what to do on a virtual playdate and how to handle the practical and emotional aspects of being a long-distance family, as well as new resources and technologies for keeping in touch. Subscribers may connect with one another through the website’s social media communities. There will also be advice on traveling with young children and how to make the most of time together during visits.

“We look forward to partnering with businesses in the technology and travel sectors that help long-distance families so that we can offer deals and discounts to our subscribers,” Ms. Weiss said.

Strengthening Relationships with Faraway Kids: Closer To The Kids’ Top 5 Tips
1. Mix it up

Think beyond the phone and webcam when it comes to how you communicate with your faraway kids. Send emails, share videos, mail care packages, and write letters. Varying your communication style will help to keep it regular, exciting, and let your kids know they are always on your mind.

2. Focus on play time not FaceTime

Break down the virtual wall by pretending it’s not there and look at your time on webcam as a virtual playdate, not a “video chat.” Kids need regular communication on their terms and they bond through play, not by talking about their day. Use props to keep it interesting, entertaining, and visual. Try parallel play with younger kids and imaginary play with older ones.

3. Make new traditions

Just because you aren’t together physically doesn’t mean you can’t create new family traditions. Traditions don’t have to be elaborate to be meaningful. It’s the consistency, dependability, and enjoyment that create the family bond and special memories. Sign off on the webcam with the same song or kiss each time, for example, or send a special treat every time you send mail. Your kids will come to anticipate these regular occurrences with excitement.

4. Stay in the loop

Kids’ lives change quickly, and it isn’t always easy to be on top of their latest interests and happenings. So tap into your best resource – their local parents. Be sure to know significant upcoming events and the names of the important people, such as teachers and friends. Learn about their most-loved toys and characters. You can even watch their favorite movie! By being in the know, you’ll be able to connect on what matters most to them.

5. Persevere and try again

There are so many ups and downs to being a faraway relative. Staying connected, especially to young kids, requires extra effort, and some days may be more difficult or emotional than others. Poor Internet connections and busy schedules can sometimes make you feel even further away. Keep at it, embrace the positive, and get creative. It’s all worth it in the end!

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