My sister’s husband is in the Navy. In the past two years, they have lived on both the east and west coast, half a country away from their Midwest roots.

Life is busy, and it can be hard for my sister and I to remember to keep in touch, but it’s even harder to help my kids grow up feeling like they know their aunt. So here are a few tricks we’ve developed over the years to help the miles feel shorter.

1. Virtual meals. At special holiday meals, sometimes we leave an extra spot at the table and FaceTime my sister. We prop the iPad up and talk to her while we eat. It’s amazing how much it feels like she’s actually there with us, and it leaves us with the impression we’ve spent a little precious holiday time together.

2. Stories. I tell the boys stories about my sister from when we were growing up, or just from our conversations to give my kids the sense of knowing her — or getting to know her — over the years.

3. Pictures. We don’t get to see each other very often, but when we do, I take an enormous amount of pictures. Then I use them to make a calendar that hangs front-and-center in our kitchen. Every day we see pictures of the times we’ve spent together, and it gives the illusion we’ve seen her more than we actually have.

4. Gifts. If I were to guess which of author Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages my sister has, I’d say Gift Giving is right up there. She sends little presents and fun treats to the boys. It’s something for them to talk about with her and, as a bonus, when they wear the clothes she sends, it always makes me think of her.

5. Visits. A child’s memory is short. If my boys didn’t see my sister at least once in a while, I think it would be hard for them to feel any sort of real connection to her. So we do our best to make sure they get to see her at least once or twice a year. It’s not easy to find the time, and it’s not cheap, but it’s important enough to make the effort.

The miles can seem wide when family lives a long ways apart, especially during the holidays. It makes me sad to think my kids could grow up not really knowing their aunt. But with a little creativity and some help from technology, these are all great options to help nurture their relationship with her.


Jenni DeWitt is married and has two sons, the youngest of whom battled childhood leukemia — and won. Jenni writes weekly for She is the author of "Forty Days" and "Why Won't God Talk to Me?" You can read more about Jenni here.

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