It Takes a Village: Creating Family Bonds from a Distance

It’s summer in Iowa City, which means it’s time for the annual population turnover. You can see the shift especially well downtown. Every year at the beginning of summer, students head home, and the streets fill with families enjoying the reprieve from the crowds. In July, the University hospital begins its new year, bringing with it hundreds of families new to the area, drawn here for jobs – temporary or otherwise. In exchange, it sends off many other families, who have completed their training programs and are relocating for permanent positions. At the end of the summer, University employees return from whatever summer vacation they may have taken, and fresh faces join the faculty and staff rosters. Finally, the students return, and we all settle in for another spin around the sun.

All this movement contributes to the vibrancy of this area, but it also means that a large portion of Iowa City parents are raising their children far from “home.” My own family is among them, and I can attest that raising children while living far away from family is no easy task. There are no free babysitters, no family dinners at Grandma’s house to give Mom and Dad a break from cooking and cleaning, and fewer opportunities for bonding and building relationships with extended family. It really does “take a village” to raise a child, so what can we all do when our village is hundreds (or thousands) of miles away?

For our family, technology is the answer. While we limit screen time heavily in our house, we have always made an exception for screens that have a family member on the other end. Thanks to FaceTime and Skype, we are able to stay connected and share those special moments with our family members all over the country.

We’ve used it to share milestones, so that our parents could get to know their grandkids. They’ve cheered on our babies while they worked hard to hold their heads up. They carry on babble conversations, sing silly songs, and act as audience to our preschooler’s spontaneous recreations of Frozen scenes.

February 2015-5We’ve used it to expand our family dinners, seating the iPad at the table like a dinner guest, and sharing a meal with grandparents in other states. (It’s extra fun when they’re sitting down to dinner in their home at the same time!)  We talk about our days, hear stories about daycare, and look forward to the next time we will all be together.

We’ve used it as a “babysitter,” too, instead of the TV. After putting in a full day at work, walking to my car, making two daycare pick-ups, and driving home, the last thing I want to do is make dinner. It’s so much easier when my kids can read stories with their grandma over FaceTime while my husband or I prepare a meal.

June 2015-20As my daughter has gotten older, she has learned how to call her relatives all on her own! At the wise old age of 3 years old, she knows how to pull up the FaceTime app, and call each particular person. She has even memorized who is who based on the first character of their user IDs. (And yes, we do have parental control safety measures in place!)  She will carry the iPad all over the house (thank you, Otter box!) and take her grandparents with her on all her adventures. I’ve found her snuggled up in bed listening to them read her a story, sprawled on the couch making funny faces, and on the floor showing them her toys. It has also given us an opportunity to teach Internet safety, conversation skills, and telephone etiquette in age-appropriate ways.

So if you’re new to the area (or not) and find yourself missing your family, don’t worry! Iowa City is a great place for families, and it’s never been easier to stay connected and keep building bonds with far away relatives.

If you have favorite ways of staying in touch, please share!

Kristin Flanary
Kristin met her husband in college at Texas Tech University, and they later moved to New Hampshire, where they earned his-and-hers advanced degrees (complete with matching towels) at Dartmouth. They had their first date on Valentine's Day, got engaged on Valentine's Day three years later, welcomed their first daughter (Charlotte) on Valentine's Day three years after that, and their second daughter (Claire) on Valentine's Day three years after that! Kristin and her family moved to Iowa City in 2014 so her husband could begin his residency at UIHC. She is currently laugh-crying her way through raising a threenager and an infant while simultaneously working full-time at the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development and juggling the crazy schedule of a resident's wife. Kristin has been a stay-at-home mom, a work-at-home mom, and work-outside-the-home mom, so she can officially judge that each scenario is hard and equally wonderful. In her free time, you can find Kristin either taking pictures and learning about photography, reading about how not to screw up her daughters, on her soapbox about women's rights, enjoying a hard-earned glass of wine, or collapsed from exhaustion. Her life is ridiculous and her heart is full.


  1. Kristin, this is brilliant! My family is 2,000 miles away and I need to use facetime more to keep connected with my parents and our daughter’s many cousins…thanks for the inspiration!


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