By Elizabeth Osborne

How to stay in touch with blended and extended family when you're OCONUS
(Photo: DVIDS)

One of my biggest fears when my husband got orders to Okinawa was keeping in touch with my grandmother. Before we left for our overseas adventure, we gave her my old iPad and taught her how to FaceTime. It was that easy to keep up our daily chats.

In the year 2017, the hardest part about keeping in touch with your family while serving abroad is doing the time zone math. It can be a challenge to figure out a time that works for both parties to talk, but once you get a schedule set, it is pretty easy to keep.


technology from Flickr via Wylio
© 2013 Mervi Eskelinen, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

If you have an internet connection, you can communicate very easily while abroad. We have talked with family during all of our trips off-island and during daily life while at our tropical home. Use a computer for basic emailing back and forth, for staying in touch on Facebook, or for video chatting with a service like Skype This is a great option for younger kids who you might not want having a mobile device or tablet. These are all options easily monitored by the custodial parent. If you have a big family, you might even look into a teleconference site like Zoom for holidays or for big announcements you want to share with everyone at once.

If you are communicating with older children, college students, or extended family, you have various options through smartphones or tablet products. In our family we have iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads. These come with the ability to iMessage and FaceTime between devices. In blended families, these work great for “phone date” options– when you set a time specifically to speak with your child(ren) back in the States. Depending on the strength of the internet, you can use FaceTime simply to make audio calls instead of video calls.

Social media

Automotive Social Media Marketing from Flickr via Wylio
© 2014 Automotive Social, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Social media really is your friend and a great way to keep in touch with your child(ren) and loved ones back home regardless of what time you share something.

It is easy to set a child up with a highly secured Facebook account that you can monitor by having the password for. You can use Facebook to message each other, make phone calls through the messenger app, share pictures through albums, and share fun events like sports practices and games, school projects, and travel.

My grandma has Instagram and loves seeing pictures of our life abroad. There is so much you can do on Instagram to stay connected. It is another app where children can be monitored with private accounts and the custodial parent can know their log-in information. The app offers an opportunity to share a stream of videos and images and for the less chatty or social media savvy a simple “double tap” like of a photo lets the poster know you have seen what they’re sharing.

Snapchat is way to connect through video and pictures. You can interact and be goofy on Snapchat with the filters. You can message your family privately and can use the app for phone calls as well.

As a child of divorce and as a stepmom, my biggest piece of advice to non-custodial parents would be, no matter your personal situation, keep trying. Do not let an overseas assignment stop you from speaking to your child(ren) and do not let that ever be an excuse for yourself or the custodial parent. Wake up at 4 AM once or twice a month if that’s the time that works best for the stateside party. Send messages, packages, snail mail, and pictures. . . even when you don’t get anything in return. Send fun care packages from your new home with candy or toys.

Just keep trying–your child(ren) appreciate it even if you never hear that.