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How to be with your family this holiday — even if you're far apart

Missing far away relatives can make the holidays extra stressful, but it doesn’t have to

My daughter has grandparents on three continents and cousins in more states than I care to count. Although we always miss our far-flung family, the desire to be connected is really heightened during the holidays.

Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, another holiday or nothing at all, this time of year is all about gathering with family and letting light and laughter fill the dark days. When that isn’t possible, it can put a damper on the holiday spirit.

While nothing is the same as being able to hug our loved ones in person, over the years my family has developed some strategies to stay connected during the holidays and minimize stress.

More: 10 holiday traditions from across the world your kids will love

Embrace video chat

These days, video chat options are everywhere. Apple devices have FaceTime, Skype can be used anywhere and even Facebook has a video chat option. Getting to see and hear your loved ones in real time almost makes it feel as if you’re in the same room. Almost.

Just like in real life, don’t stress about things being perfect. Your kids may not want to talk to the people behind the screen or they may be over-excited and make adult conversations difficult. Either way, your loved ones will enjoy seeing a piece of your family life, chaos and all.

But don't be afraid to set boundaries

I’m not sure who loves video chat more: my 2-year-old or her grandparents. During a normal week, we have a chatting routine. We talk to my mom in the mornings, my father-in-law in the evenings and my mother-in-law on Saturdays.

During the holidays, however, everyone wants to talk to my daughter at prime times like just before she goes to sleep on Christmas Eve or right when she's opening presents. This year, we’re clear with everyone that we can’t video chat at those busy times — we want to focus on our daughter. Of course, we’ll be sure to take plenty of picture and videos, which everyone can enjoy afterward.

Which leads to….

Be present with whomever you're with

This year will be my mom’s first Christmas away from home, and people have already started asking how I’m feeling about that. While it’s true I’ll miss my mom this Christmas, it’s also true that I have lots of friends and family who will work extra hard to make my holiday magical. I don’t want to make them feel less special, so I’m sure to say that while I'll miss her, I feel lucky to spend time with people I love.

Establish shared traditions

Whether it's baking cookies, setting up the tree or watching The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, you probably have beloved traditions that you share with far-away family. Although it may not be possible to do these activities together, you can still share the experience by doing them on the same day. Just knowing that you’re both doing something at the same time fosters a sweet connection. If the situation fits, you can incorporate video chat or you can just remember an important detail or two to tell them afterward.

More: 8 creative Christmas Eve traditions to make the night even more magical

Make new traditions

Some traditions just aren’t the same when that special someone is missing. That’s OK! If watching White Christmas makes you miss your dad, skip the sadness and pick a movie that your children will enjoy year after year. Sometimes we all need a new twist.

Mail the present

Each year, I mail Christmas presents to Australia, and my in-laws mail presents here. Each time, I get to the post office and cringe at how expensive it is to mail a package internationally, but there is something wonderful about packing up a present, wrapping it with love and knowing it will bring a bit of Christmas cheer to your loved one. If you’re looking to save money, a card is almost as good as a present and you can mail a card anywhere in the world for $1. If you’d like to save and still send a goody, ship it directly to your loved one. Many times, online retailers will gift-wrap and even include a personalized message.

Talk about the holiday spirit

Talk to your kids about the holiday spirit that binds people this time of year no matter how far apart they are. You can tweak this message to fit your family’s beliefs, but knowing that there is a common focus connecting them to far-away family can be a great comfort for kids and adults alike.

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