The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate. – Joseph Priestley
The first time I was away from my family for more than a ten-day stretch was October 2003, when I started university. As a shy eighteen-year-old, I was very close to my family, and I was nervous about how I’d cope without them. Six years later, my brother’s graduated and has just started his first full-time job. My sister, the “baby” of the family, has started university as well.
In six years, we’ve gone from being a family of two parents and three kids/teens living at home, to being a group of five more-or-less independent adults. I’m not sure any of us have fully caught up. My mother felt she had to break the news to me, a couple of weeks ago, that she’d given away a set of dolls house figures that I’d never even played with. (It’s been almost fifteen years since the Great House Move Scandal, when my brother and I feared she’d given away our toy Lion and then found him in the attic …)
With any change, there are going to be times of tension. I’m a different person to that shy eighteen-year old: my siblings are similarly different. I’ve also found a little more maturity and perspective, and ability to appreciate all that my parents did for me as a kid and teen. And, unlike when we all lived in the same house, ate at the same table and went to the same church, we’re mostly off doing our own thing.
Something I’ve found crucial to maintaining strong relationships with my parents, siblings and grandparents, through these times of change, is keeping the lines of communication open.
How Do They Like To Talk?
I tend to communicate primarily by email and Twitter. However, I know that my family all have different ways that they prefer to stay in touch: none of them use Twitter, for a start.
- My siblings are both active on Facebook, and I tend to keep up with them there: I’ll see photos of what they’re up to (sometimes I’d rather not know!) and whenever I feel a little nostalgic, I can watch them bicker across Facebook.
- of my siblings will want to talk on the phone, generally.
- My mum and I like to chat on the phone. I usually talk to her a couple of times a week, and sometimes check in via email too. Dad will often chat too.
- My grandmothers love to get letters from me: I’ll write a letter every so often and generally put in a photograph or two.
Different people have different ways of communicating. Just because something feels natural and easy to you, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for everyone from your kid sister to your great-aunt Maud. For some folks, a phone call feels like an intrusion onto their time and space. For others, an email might seem cold.
What Do They Like To Talk About?
As well as how you communicate, keeping up good relationships with family members also means considering what you can or should communicate.
For me, this generally means finding common interests:
- My mum and I both write fiction, so this forms an instant talking point, as does my Creative Writing MA. We’re also both involved in leading children’s work at our churches.
- My dad runs his own business (it’s on a considerably large scale than mine!) and he’s often interested to hear how my entrepreneurial efforts are going.
- It seems like my brother and I have less in common than we used to as teens – but we both have an interest in personal development. We can’t talk politics or economics without arguing, though, so I try to steer clear of those!
- I’ll sometimes leave links on Facebook for my brother or sister, if I come across something they’d find interesting.
I find that in many cases, I have different opinions and views to my family members. I’m learning to live with this: we’ve all grown up with different interests and inclinations, and we all have a different take on life. Sometimes it makes for “robust” discussions around the dinner table when we’re all back home, but in general, we can celebrate our diversity as well as the many things we have in common.
In the sake of family harmony, it’s occasionally necessary to know when not to communicate – there’s nothing wrong with sometimes holding back on sharing your exact opinion!
I’d be interested to hear how others stay in touch with their family members, and it’d be great to have some opinions from those in different times of their life: I’m guessing that the next few decades will bring many shifts in my family’s structure, as my parents look towards retirement, and also as I look towards starting a family of my own…
Ali Hale is a freelance writer from London in the UK, and is currently taking an MA in creative writing. She writes for a number of sites, including her own Aliventures blog which focuses on getting more from life.