How We Talk to Our Parents Who Live Far Away

How We Talk to Our Parents Who Live Far Away

Due to the global nature of our world, many more people than ever before life far away from close family members, including their parents. On top of that, technological advances have completely transformed the way people communicate and maintain relationships – easier and cheaper air travel, widespread use of computers and cell phones, reduced rates for international calls, and more. This reality is what triggered Dr. Sayali S. Amarapurkar, who has her Ph.D. in Family Social Science, to conduct a small informal experiment among long-distance families about how they maintain contact with one another, specifically adults and their aging parents whom they live far away from – about how they communicate and how it affects their relationship.  She published her findings in an article called “Unique intergenerational interactions: long distance relationships of adult children and aging parents” with the National Council on Family Relations.

What she found was that indeed technology plays a large part in helping these families keep in touch on a very regular basis. Some participants said there was a transition period where the parents “would have a hard time learning the technology. But now, they are relatively fluent and excited to talk to us every week.” Indeed it is both possible and life-changing for older individuals to learn to use technology to connect with family. What was most interesting however, was the fact that these sets of adult children and their aging parents seemed to utilize different types of technology and devices for different types of communication. As opposed to a certain preferred way to communicate, each channel has its place and function.  For example, as pictured in the infographic above, email and Facebook were found to be used mainly for sharing news, updates and photos. And the phone and video chat were used for longer conversations, and to include other family members who they wouldn’t usually get to connect with on other channels, or to speak to several people at the same time.

Dr. Amarapurkar noted that up until now, research about intergenerational communication has focused on the functions that the communication serves – the reasons that the generations are connecting, mainly: giving and receiving advice, help and information; conflict resolution; and of course the most important – expressing love and care for one another.


In fact, Amarapurkar notes that one of the proven ways that parents and children can maintain family solidarity for many decades, is, among other things, to show high levels of affection to one another. Generally, it seemed that the participants clearly grasped the nuances of each form of communication and how each one could serve them best. One participant for example, said that verbal communication by phone was best for elderly parents and relatives to share stories and get advice. And one elderly parent said that in online chat she uses emoticons to express her feelings and checks Facebook for updates on her son’s life but wouldn’t ever comment on his wall, she emails her special recipes and sends e-cards to congratulate and inspire. Indeed there is a vast world of ways to communicate, and each generation is finding its way to best use it to bring them closer with their loved ones.

Meet the Makers: The Story Behind Family Birthday Boards

Meet the Makers: The Story Behind Family Birthday Boards

UPDATE: As a follow up to the success of this blog post, we have launched a promotion for 15% off a birthday board ordered from some of the shops interviewed here! Details here:

At first glance, you might not be quite sure what you’re looking at. A board with strings of charms hanging down… But within about sixty seconds you’ll go from not having known it existed to absolutely needing one of your own. What is this mysterious item? It would be the Family Birthday Calendar, or Family Birthday Board – the crafty trend gracing your screens more and more often these days on platforms like Etsy and Pinterest.  Since at EverMinder, we are passionate about both families and birthdays, we decided we simply had to investigate the increasingly popular trend which is slowly making quite a name for itself on the world wide web and in homes across the world.

The Family Birthday Board is a functional piece of art which visually displays all family birthdays, anniversaries, and other special dates within a family, in a single place, organized by month. You’ve probably been there – you’ve forgotten a family birthday, or had yours forgotten, and it stung. What’s worse is that it was preventable, but finding the right solution isn’t simple in our busy lives. Especially as families grow, it’s harder to keep track of special days in the family, and so the board becomes a constant visual reminder of those important dates. Plus, it’s a beautiful piece of art you can customize to match your own style and decor – the sheer number of different designs available is incredible.

We were so fascinated by this charming and practical item that we just had to find out more. We contacted some of the top sellers of these boards on Etsy and surveyed them on their experiences with this special piece of art. The answers we got blew us away – there is so much magic in what could otherwise seem like a mundane object, just one of many items for sale in various online shops. Read on for what we found out!

How It All Began

For almost all of the sellers we spoke with, they started by making their own Family Birthday Board or by making one as a gift or being asked by someone to make one, only to realize how useful and unique it was and so it became part of their business, almost by accident. For some of the sellers we spoke to, Family Birthday Boards are now upwards of 75% of their total business and some of them have made hundreds of these over the past couple of years alone.

In their words:

  • Since I absolutely love birthdays and I love my family, I thought it would be the perfect Christmas present for my 94 year old grandfather. His calendar has a total of 45 hearts for all of his offspring (that’s including the son/daughter-in-laws and himself). He loved it and so did the rest of the family! (Andrea Schröer, byAndreaTaylor)
  • My family has a lot of members (over 60) and we had a hard time remembering all the special dates (anniversaries, birthdays, etc). I made my first board for my mom. So many people liked it and wanted it, I expanded my options and styles, then started to sell them on Etsy. (Chelsea Hoffman, EaselyInspired)
  • I started making the birthday boards to give as Christmas gifts. The functionality and simplicity of it was the real selling point. Being able to go outside the box and customize it to fit people’s homes is what I truely enjoy. It’s a very creative and easy way to have access to everyone’s birthday all at once. Plus it’s something you can easily add to and never goes out of style. (Charlotte Bess, FromHeartToHomeDecor)
  • I was adopted when I was only days old. We connected with my biological family when I turned 18. So I had 2 whole families to keep up with. And then I got married! Another family to keep up with. So it really was to keep my own sanity. I started making one for myself and my girlfriend offered to pay me for one. A few months later when I was asked to be a bridesmaid in a wedding in Hawaii, I decided to sell some boards to help cover the cost. (Suzannah Hastings, SuzzanahsPretties)
  • After getting married, I found my calendar was bursting with new birthdays, anniversaries, and other important events. I found the Birthday Board idea and started my own…its importance has grown into a treasured family tradition. (Jessica Reid, IfOurWallsCouldTalk)

It’s All About Family

What was abundantly clear in what the sellers had to say about this piece, is that its magic comes from the centrality of the family in this item. Many of them gushed about how much they enjoyed customizing a board according to each family’s style and personality. In fact, all of the sellers but one indeed have their own Family Birthday Board hanging at home (and the one who doesn’t is planning to!). All confirm that it certainly helps and Sophie Underwood of TheEnglishRoseShop says she no longer has any problem remembering family birthdays now that she has the board. Lora from LalasDecorByTheShore said she looks at hers at the beginning of each month and prepares cards to mail out that month. Mystena Crow of WonderfullyMadeDecor who has already made over 200 boards said about her own board, “I love having my out of state family on the board, they love it when you remember their birthday.” Amanda of VinylConcepts said that she loves her board because “it is especially fun for the kids to see they are part something great…an extended family.

They said…:

  • I get enjoyment from thinking about families (like ours) looking at something I created every day, and reminding them of a special occasion. I love making each piece unique to my customer’s taste, so they love their product and it is a full representation of them. (Courtney Reed, PersonallyPoshDesigns)
  • We hope that families enjoy their boards for generations. (Paula Lyons, RCOriginalsGallery)
  • A lot of my customers have a huge family and this helps organize the dates for them all in one place, and new family members can easily be added! (Tiffany Hardy, SignChik)
  • It’s all about family and our family gets to hang on our wall for everyone to see. (Andrew Wright, Wright4Design)
  • I think it helps bring out the importance of the family. When you display it, it lets other people recognize the fact that your family is important to you. (Caroll Wilkins, VinylExpress)
  • My business was founded on making decor that is both beautiful and functional. I also love items that celebrate family. My Birthday Boards are the perfect example of what I stand for as a business owner. (Jessica Reid, IfOurWallsCouldTalk)
  • It’s so handy to have your loved ones displayed. Not only does it show a growing family, but it shows that a family cares because they want to know the special days of all its members. (Chelsea Hoffman, EaselyInspired)
  • In my opinion it gives the chance to always have you and your family to think of a family member or family friend, even if they are not close by. (Prettina Roberts, ThisLittleLight00)
  • For me, I feel that it is wonderful to be able to see all your family names in one place. We are a military family, and the members of our family are all over the country. It is just nice to be able to remember everyone even if we don’t get to see them very often (remembering birthdays is a bonus :)) (Suzannah Hastings, SuzzanahsPretties)
  • Our chalkboard style lets you change the name or saying on the board or include two last names, which is great for blended families. (Jonathan Prostko, Signs of Life)

The Perfect Gift

In addition to being both beautiful and practical, the third factor for a trend to really take off is if it makes for a good gift, and this is one of the best family gift ideas we’ve seen – especially as a gift to the “birthday person” in your family. Karla Gwinn of Pink Tree Creations even advertises this item as the perfect conversation piece for the family. When we asked the sellers about the most common occasions to give Family Birthday Boards, the main answers were the natural ones like birthdays and Christmas – one seller named Sam of PaperjackUK, made over 50 boards in December 2014 alone. And Nicole Arn of LizzyFishSigns, said her husband had to take off work for a few weeks just to help her complete her orders this past Christmas!

Meet the Makers: The Story Behind Family Birthday Boards - on the #everminder blog

In order to finish her Christmas orders last year, Nicole’s husband (Lizzy Fish Signs) took several weeks off of work to help! (And this is only a hobby away from her day job!)

But in addition to Christmas, many sellers found that customers were purchasing Family Birthday Boards as Mother’s Day gifts, and especially for milestone anniversaries. What better way to visualize the incredible legacy of the family that one couple has built than to see it visually spread over the year in names and dates of their loved ones? Some of the sellers even write on the board the phrase: all because two people fell in love. One seller, Suzannah Hastings, told us that she was commissioned to make a board for a Greek family for a 40th wedding anniversary and the entire board had to be in Greek. About making it she told us, “It was the largest order to date. It ended up looking beautiful and I got an email a few months later saying that their parents absolutely loved it. Making that board was a real challenge, and hearing that it is used and loved made everything worthwhile.”

Almost all of the sellers we spoke to also found that with this particular item they had many repeat customers. They would often have a board ordered as a gift and then have the customer come back to get another one for themselves and for others in their family.  Courtney Reed said she even has a repeat customer who is a realtor in Florida who orders these from her as closing gifts to her clients who purchase homes! Most touching of all is the idea that Jessica Reid shared, that what she feels is unique about this gift is that it’s a gift that keeps on giving, “There will be plenty of smiles when a Birthday Board is unwrapped. Like a stone dropped in water, the love continues to ripple as brothers and sisters get calls on their special day. Nephews and nieces open cards, and friends are invited to lunch…a Birthday Board gift will bring happiness for years.”

Custom, Custom, Custom

One of the unique characteristics about Etsy is its focus on handmade items and custom orders, and with this item the customization is endless and flourishing. The sellers we talked to customized in so many different ways, even beyond the standard variation in color, pattern and font. One example is from Ashley Pederson of CustomVinylBoards (for whom the birthday boards are one of her most popular items although she had only made a few before starting her Etsy shop). She can make you a board herself, or she can send you a kit for your to do it yourself! She has sold over 700 boards in the past year and a half, and almost 700 DIY kits.

What they shared with us:

  • I really love the custom jobs. They will send me pictures of the room where they want it, or a picture of the painting their child did that will be next to it, and want me to match the colors of the Birthday Board. It is a challenge and I love it. They end up being my best work. (Suzannah Hastings, SuzzanahsPretties)
  • Recently, we made several “sport teams” boards as well as larger custom boards for customers. One particular board was made for a nursing home – I thought it was a great idea for them. We are also looking at a new version of the birthday board that would be a virtual calendar with holidays and other special occasions included. (Tim and Tonya Nichols, CraftyConceptsStore)
  • I ask the customer about matching to their decor. I take requests. I include special dates, not just birthdays and anniversaries, but days people join the military, baptism days, pets birthdays, and even make a family members’ discs extra special if they’ve passed away. (Chelsea Hoffman, EaselyInspired)
  • If your family has a favorite saying as an inside joke, that can be included in the design. That’s the part I love about making these, and that’s what customers appreciate about them, too. (Nicole Arn, LizzyFishSigns)

It truly is just as Tim and Tonya Nichols put it: “your imagination is our limit.”

The Final (but most important!) Touch

The real custom part of the board however, is the names and dates of your own family members, this is what makes each board a true one-of-a-kind. The discs or nickels for each of the names come in all different shapes, sizes, materials and colors. Many of the sellers make birthdays circular and anniversaries heart-shaped. About half of the sellers we spoke to plug in the family information for the customer, and sometimes they even put the year of birth on the back of the disc. For some designs it’s part of the design for the seller to plug in the information, for example Paula Lyons who carves the names and dates into discs of maple, walnut, cherry, maple or paduak, or Andrea Schröer who burns each name and date into the wooden discs. Others let the customer decide if they want to send the family info and receive the board done and ready to hang, or allow the customer to fill in the details on their own.  And still others, provide the board only with the appropriate amount and type of discs but the customer fills in the details on their own once they receive it in the mail. In the case of Courtney Reed, who has created over 500 boards, she used to do the dates and names herself until it got a bit too complicated. So now she simply sends a Sharpie with each board so that the customer can start filling in the info right away!

Meet the Makers: The Story Behind Family Birthday Boards - on the #everminder blog

Courtney of Personally Posh Designs has made over 500 boards. She sends a Sharpie with each order for customers to fill it in themselves!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into the world of Family Birthday Boards, and stay tuned for more posts on the subject – we so enjoyed this exploration that we’re planning more! And tell us your Family Birthday Board stories in the comments below, we’d love to hear them!

Skip the Romantic Date, Make it a Family Playdate

Skip the Romantic Date, Make it a Family Playdate

Who ever said that Valentine’s Day is exclusively for lovers? What about where love begins – the family! This Valentine’s Day, why not make it a playdate, instead of a romantic date (or in addition to it!). Valentine’s Day gives us a national excuse to celebrate the love in our lives, so here are three ideas to use this Valentine’s Day to celebrate the love in your family:

1. Make a Day of it!

Especially since this year Valentine’s Day falls on a Saturday, do something with the family or even just one member of your family. Whether you have little ones at home, you’re empty nesters, you are a grandma, or you’re away at college – find a family member and do something fun together. Have a picnic with the kids, get a pedicure with your aunt, see a movie with your cousins, take your nephew to play laser tag, video chat with your brother. If you want to make it even more Valentine’s-oriented then why not hold a romantic date for the whole family – stage a candlelit dinner with sparkling apple cider and have everyone dress nicely too!

2. Make heart-shaped family food!

This comes to counter the idea that all Valentine’s Day food must be in the shape of cookies or candy – not so! Family style food can be Valentined too. In the photo above, there are four ideas we found and loved which can easily add some lovin’ to your otherwise regularly scheduled family meal: morning toast, vegetable soup, sushi, and cinnamon buns! An added bonus is that none of them require a heart-shaped cookie cutter or multiple heart-shaped cookie cutters in numerous shapes and sizes – just simple, fun, family-oriented, and yummy.

3. Make it memorable!

Beyond the time you spend together as a family this February 14th, how about doing something that leaves a keepsake for the home. Hold a family love-themed photoshoot – lie down together in the shape of a heart, get photos of the kids kissing each other on the cheek, snap a photo from the ground of the family hug. Or have each family member write down things they love about your family on colorful strips of paper and keep them in a jar on the mantle and add a sticker: “Our Family Love Jar”. The added bonus here is that the next time someone is having a rough day at home or having an argument with someone else in the family, you can send them over to pull a slip out of the jar and read it to remember all the things they love about the family.

So this Valentine’s Day, don’t hold back – take the opportunity to celebrate the family love!