Five ways to stay connected with your family

Laura Willard is a law school grad who has successfully avoided using her education for eight years and counting. She's a wife and an adoptive mom to two kids who, without a doubt, the cutest kids ever. Motherhood is the best job she nev...

Making family a priority

Life is busy. With so many dual-income and single-parent households, busy at-home parents, and kids participating in sports and other extracurricular activities, the time-honored tradition of connecting with your kids at the dinner table every night is not an option for everyone. That means it's time to get creative with ways to stay connected with your family.

Family Picnic

THE FAMILY MAILBOX

Laurie Good, a medical school graduate, is about to begin her residency, and her husband is a medical school/MBA student. They have three children, ages 1, 2 and 3 years, so life at their house is busy, busy, busy! Working in the medical field often means long stretches of time away from home. Laurie heard of a great idea to help their children feel less separated from her in the busy days to come: As a family, create a "mailbox" -- something as simple as a cardboard box decorated with crayons, paint or construction paper. When one parent is away for long days, she can leave a special note or little something for kids. Before the kids go to bed, they can create something sweet to leave for Mom or Dad too. Sometimes, it's the little things that matter the most.

MAKE USE OF TECHNOLOGY

When one parent travels for work, it can be disruptive to everyone's schedule. Skype enables families to keep in touch via video calls -- a great way to stay connected when physical proximity is not an option. All it takes is a computer with a camera to feel like everyone is in the same room. You can see and hear your family and chat in real time, no matter how much distance is between you. Click here for some helpful tips on having a video chat.

PLAN AN OUTING

At the beginning of each month, sit down as a family and plan an outing for the month. Check your community calendar to find a cultural event to attend, plan a picnic during nice weather, or go to a minor league baseball game, which is usually more budget-friendly than many professional sports. If your children are older and everyone is having trouble agreeing, take turns choosing. Just one rule: Everyone must promise that he will attend the event and do his best to enjoy it, even if it is not his first choice. The main point is to spend time together and enjoy each other's company.

VOLUNTEER

If your children are old enough, volunteerism is a great way to stay connected as a family. Your children will learn about giving back to the community by your example while spending quality time together. Before you dive in, discuss your interests. Does your family want to work outdoors? What issues are important to your family? Do you feel strongly about helping the homeless or cleaning up the environment? There are countless volunteer opportunities: Habitat for Humanity, a beach cleanup or cooking at a soup kitchen, just to name a few. PBS Kids has a great guide, Zoom into Action: Family Guide to Volunteering, that can help you get started. Find more ways your family can give back.

FAMILY DINNER -- WITH A TWIST

Choose one night a week that the family will eat together -- no exception -- and make it fun! Play a game at the dinner table; you can create your own or purchase one specifically for dinner time. Something as simple as each family member naming the high and low points of her day gets the table talk going. Check out these top 10 dinnertime conversation starters.

The ultimate goal is to keep your family in tune and connected, so whatever you do, make sure everyone enjoys herself. Remind your children (and yourselves!) that family is a priority.

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