No matter how good our intentions are for the New Year or how hard we strive, our family members are often the first to suffer when life gets hectic. Those we love the most are sometimes the easiest to forget about when schedules threaten to overwhelm.
Who hasn't felt a tinge of remorse about not calling a sick relative more often, or more closely checking in on a grandparent far away? Many Americans feel the pull to reconnect with their family members, both those living under their roofs and those out of town or state.
"We sometimes take advantage of those we know will forgive us," said one Massachusetts mom of three. "I still regret not calling my uncle as much as I should have when he was ill and in a nursing home. You can't get that time back. Now I can never hear his voice or his laugh again. I always thought we'd have more time -- or that an afternoon would come where I'd be able to sit down and make the call. It didn't happen, sadly. Don't wait. Pick up that phone."
To connect with family members who live nearby, here are smart suggestions:
Schedule dinners. Can we learn from the television show "The Gilmore Girls"? The Gilmores managed to meet every Friday for dinner during character Rory's high school career. This is television, of course -- but why not put consistent meals together on the calendar. For generations, people have come together over food and conversation. Go for potluck. You avoid the crowds and can spend quality time together.
Get coffee together. This idea is not just for the millennials. Having coffee together is a relatively inexpensive way to see family members and really chat with them one-on-one, especially when time is at a premium.
Run errands. I can't tell you how many times my mother has asked me to grab something for her while I'm at the grocery store. Oftentimes, I hadn't even planned on going -- but I try to schedule the half hour it takes to grab some peanut butter or olive oil for my mom. This is a great way to show family you care while also abiding the commandment to honor your parents. View it as a privilege, not a chore.
Plan a staycation. Busy with work? Vacation not in the budget? Take the kids to the park or choose an activity they value. Instead of investing a weekend in overpriced travel, invest in a vital connection with your spouse, children, siblings. Remember your out-of-town family members, too. You can so quickly find yourself bouncing from holiday to holiday, realizing you only interact with these relatives at Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, that you end up missing out on important relationships.
Skype. When you can't see each other in person, it's smart to Skype. Being able to see your new niece or nephew or reconnecting with an aunt who lives a few states away is made so much more personal by looking these people in the eyes.
"I have seen my niece down in Florida grow up by Face-timing on my iPad," said Alexa Whitt, 24, a graduate student in Millbury, Massachusetts. "I haven't missed too many of her important milestones because we have a date to chat at least once a week -- and she is really getting to know me by seeing my reactions."
Write letters. This long-lost art means so much to people -- and it's a great opportunity for the younger generation to connect with each other. Have young cousins adopt one another as pen pals, for example. They can work on penmanship and spelling while building relationships with some important people in their lives.
Have a standing phone date. On Sunday evenings at about 10 p.m., I always think about calling my grandparents -- but they're usually asleep by then. Once Monday comes, I'm so busy with the weekly routine that it is typically Thursday before I get around to catching up. A great remedy is to schedule this like a lunch date. Find a time that works for each of you -- weekly, bi-weekly, monthly.
Today there's no excuse not to be in each other's lives in some way. Our families are our gifts and it is our responsibility to honor that. Being present when together -- listening and engaging with one another, choosing activities other than television or the cellphone -- all of this makes a huge difference.
This year, slow down and take inventory of those that matter most. Then do something about it.
Liz Logan lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her growing family. She is pursuing a master's degree in creative nonfiction.