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Keeping Family Close For Little Ones

Our older son grew up with grandparents, aunts, and uncles all within an hour of our home.  He was truly raised by a village of people!  However, before the birth of our second son, we moved four hours away from our amazing family support system.  We knew, though, how amazing those relationships with extended family were, so we came up with a way to help our younger son identify his kin as he grew older.

We took pictures of all of our relatives and printed them out on sheets of photo paper.  Then, we mounted these pictures to magnetic sheets.  Next, we cut out each individual person (I cut close to the outline of the person to make them “paper dollish”) and cut out names for labels for each person as well.  Our refrigerator and dish washer are decorated with smiling faces of family and close friends, and our sons both love to “play” with their family.  When we talk to relatives on the phone, the boys can look at that person they are talking to and make a connection with them!

Long Distance Friendships

In our transitional society, children tend to slip in and out of friendships quite easily.  With relocating being the “norm”, children are constantly falling in and out of social situations, such as school, clubs, church and other organizations.

Every once in a while, though, children will make a connection with a peer that seems to be something deeper than just your classmate-friendship.  These close relationships are ones that tend to stand the test of distance and time and are most notable from about fifth grade and up.  Long distance friendships require work, though, to keep them up.  Here are some pointers to helping your older child keep those friendships that mean so much to him or her:

  • Give them a call.  With so many calling plans today offering free or flat-rate long distance, allow your child to make a call every now and then and touch base with an old friend.  It doesn’t have to be for long – just a few minutes to say hello and find out what exciting things are going on with their friend.
  • Remember birthdays.  Send a card or even a small gift for a birthday or holiday.  Make a homemade card with a handwritten note inside.  Remembering special days is a great way to keep up with friends.
  • Make a point to schedule a visit if you are ever back in the area (or your friend is visiting close by).  Pick a neutral area, such as a park or a fast food restaurant so both parties are on “equal territory”.  If possible, arrange a mini-vacation for the kids.  When I was in junior high, my best friend and I were five hours apart.  I would spend a week at her house in the summer, and then she would spend a week at mine.  Those summers are probably my most favorite memories growing up. 
  • As the parent, be aware of the status of the friendship.  If there is some friction, help your child address it.  Perhaps it is time to let the relationship end and revisit it later.  Be an open and unopinionated listener for your child when things just don’t seem “right”.

Saying Goodbye To Friends

Our next door neighbors are preparing to move in a couple of months.  It is a fabulous opportunity for them, but it is a very sad prospect for us.  We couldn’t have chosen better neighbors.  Their children are right around the same age as ours, and we spend the majority of our afternoons in our front yards, watching the kids ride bikes or scooters back and forth, playing make believe games and trading off houses fo sleepovers with the older ones.  When they leave, it will be a huge adjustment.

Our children are aware their dear friends are moving, but I do not think they fully understand the concept.  With our three year old, that is to be expected.  He will probably ask for a playdate with them for about a week before moving on to something else to hold his interest.  My eight year old will understand the ramifications to our built-in playmates no longer being around.  That will be quite a change for him.  So, we are starting now with a good way to bring closure to their relationship as it is now.  It is important that my children understand what is going on and that their feelings are okay, no matter what they may be.

Our older child has already expressed some anxiety over the situation.  What if someone new moves in and doesn’t have children?  Why won’t we be able to visit our friends all the time?  When will we see our dear friends again?

Our neighborhood is comprised of an amazing blend of ages and stages, from young couples to families to retired and widowed.  So, to alleviate the concern over the new people that will move in, we have already made a point to meet them.  Their children are grown, but their grandchildren will visit from time to time, and we will enjoy meeting them when they are here.  We will need to be careful not to pick “flowers” in their yard anymore or rearrange the stones or draw with sidewalk chalk on their driveway, but I am sure it will be a good relationship with them.  We have also made a huge effort to connect with a few more people in our neighborhood of varying ages, simply to show the children that age does not define a friendship.  This will help make the transition to the new neighbors a more comfortable experience for my children.

The distance our neighbors are moving isn’t cross-country, but it is significant enough to realize any visiting will be an effort.  Fortunately, our neighbors are moving to a location that is along the route to my in-laws’ house, so we can plan to stop in for lunch or a visit when we are making a trip to see the grandparents.  Understanding that we will be able to see them again is helping ease some of the stress of losing a friend.

Since our children are so close, we have started a couple of projects to make the transition and move smoother for everyone.  In the next couple of weeks, each child will be given a disposable camera.  We will take pictures of each other doing some of our favorite activities: playing in the yard, picnics on the porch, a trip to the Children’s Museum or local park, playing board games and even sitting on the back porch with a pile of books.  Each child will create a memory book to keep of the fun times they have together.

We have also arranged for a “goodbye party” for our friends.  We are inviting a few pals from school as well as a couple of neighbors from our block to a cookout.  Our cookout will be during the week that our neighbors will be moving.  The last thing they want to have to worry about is cooking and cleaning, and it gives the children an opportunity to spend some time with their friends.  In addition to this, my children will be writing letters to their friends prior to their move and mailing the letters to our friends’ new home.  Our friends will be excited to get mail at their new house, and hopefully this will help ease some of their issues with the move. 

While losing such a close set of friends will be a new experience for my children, I think that they will adjust well.  As a parent, it is my responsibility to recognize the feelings and emotions related with such a loss and help my children work through it.  With good communication and recognition of my children’s feelings, they will both find the experience to be healthy and positive.

Holiday Recipe: Orange Balls

The holidays can be crazy-busy times.  That makes it even more important to take a moment each day to do things together.  It helps keep yourself centered in what is truly important right now – your family.  One of the best locations for “family time” is the kitchen.  Creating, baking, cooking – whatever it may be, doing it together brings children and parents, grandparents, even good friends and neighbors closer together.

 As a gift to you, I am offering some of our family’s favorite “together” recipes.  These are sometimes messy, consistently good, terrific for gift-giving and always a great tool for spending time together.  Stock your pantries, gather your supplies, and get ready for some good eating and fun.

And don’t forget (the mom in me says): Wash your hands!

1 box of powdered sugar, plus extra powdered sugar in which to roll balls
1 stick of butter
1 box of Nilla Wafers (crushed)
6 oz can of frozen orange juice concentrate

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.  Roll dough into small balls, about the size of a walnut.  Roll the balls in additional powdered sugar and set on waxed paper to set.  We usually do ours one evening and let them sit out overnight to “set”.  Store in covered containers.  May be refrigerated for longer shelf-life.

Special Saturdays

Back when my older son was really little, my husband and I realized just how precious our Saturdays were.  The weekdays were filled with work and meetings, appointments and chores.  Sundays were spent at church and with family.  Saturday was essentially our only day together, just us.  So, we instituted Special Saturdays.  It is our one day each week to plan (or in some cases) not plan anything…well…special.

We typically start our Saturdays with a pajama party, complete with pancakes and bacon.  In recent years, we’ve turned to more of the IHOP style of pancaking – whipped cream, flavored syrups, and pancakes the size of the plate.  Cold, wintery mornings bring out our hot chocolate stash, and in the summertime we make a buffet of fresh fruits and smoothies.  Sometimes, we pull out leftover birthday plates and cups to give it a festive flair, and on occasion we even drag out the good china and drink milk and juice from crystal goblets.

Saturdays are our time to spend together.  We may go to the local children’s museum or zoo, maybe we’ll paint some pottery or swing at the city park.  Or, perhaps we all get out in the back yard and work in the flower beds, planting new landscaping and making bird treats to hang in the trees.  We have an occasional movie day, popping popcorn and stretching out on the sofa to watch our favorite flick or loading up the car to catch the latest on the silver screen.

In recent times, we’ve found ourselves with commitments that crop up into “our” day – sporting events, birthday parties, cub scout outings.  And, those are okay, too.  We try, for the most part, to still do them as a family, and even if we still have to lose part of our day to “outside forces”, we make it a point to put aside the rest of the day for just us.

Spending quality time together as a family is the core to a healthy family relationship.  What are some traditions or ideas you and your children have?

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