Living abroad with a baby can be challenging in surprising ways. Not only can there be a struggle with the lack of hands-on support or emergency babysitters, but we’ve also worried that our child’s loved ones will miss out on some of his milestones or silly personality traits, because he changes so rapidly. We’ve used videos, calls and photos to show many sides of our life in Switzerland. It’s taken some trial and error, but we’ve discovered a few tips and tricks to keep everyone engaged and involved (including the baby)!
With anywhere from a six- to nine-hour time difference, we’ve had a lot of practice scheduling important phone calls and video chats. However, scheduling a call featuring a small child added an extra dimension to the planning! At first, we’d end up making calls perilously close to bedtime, when the baby was most likely to be wriggly, whining or falling asleep, thereby wrecking his carefully-planned routine. It’s important to take all family members’ needs into account when planning so that everyone is fully awake and happy to participate, including both babies and also adults who might not be “morning people.” Although scheduling a call involving multiple people in different time zones (or across the international date line) can feel like a flashback to solving a standardized test question in high school, it’s incredibly rewarding to have everyone on a video call at once, especially at the times when friends and family feel very far away.
A multimedia approach is especially helpful in proving that your child really does love that stuffed animal the relatives gave him, or to highlight new skills that can be harder to demonstrate on cue. Although our baby initially broke into his award-winning “dramatic pouty face” whenever someone said hello to him on a screen, we were able to send over silly videos and photos that proved he was slightly more even-keeled than video chats made it appear! Over time, he’s become more at ease and engaged, but the videos and photos remain a fun and easy way to show little slices of his daily life and favorite things. When our baby has spent time with relatives and they tried to take pictures, they realized just how many photos we’d been taking to get the perfect shots of a smiling, in-focus child (although sometimes the grumpy or chaotic outtakes can end up being favorites, too)! A combination of different types of documentation allows for a more realistic portrait of the family, including both the dramatic pouty faces and toothless smiles.
Our baby only tolerated being held during video calls when he was still in a relatively sleepy newborn stage. As soon as he was old enough to coordinate his arms and legs, he loudly and immediately expressed his desire to be back on the activity mat or in the bouncer, which didn’t always help us look like the perfectly organized, competent parents that we were (sometimes). It was much easier to literally get down on the baby’s level by setting up calls in a way that allowed the baby to keep playing on the floor. This had the bonus benefit of prompting us to clean up baby detritus and vacuum the floors before calls – although of course, living in a Swiss building, you might want to be careful about making too much noise on a Sunday, so plan accordingly. The baby was able to show off his rolling/crawling/escaping skills while giving us time for longer, sustained conversations, as well as an unusual perspective on the apartment that prompted us to buy a new, more stylish rug.
For any type of communication, props, such as toys, books, or yogurt lids are a way of highlighting a child’s personality and growth, while also keeping them entertained for photos or videos! Stuffed animals can also be used as a means of illustrating the baby’s current size – instead of trying to convert centimeters to inches, the changing baby-to-bunny ratio can be just as illuminating and much cuddlier for baby than a parent trying to decipher the doctor’s handwriting for metric conversions. Musical instruments such as maracas or keyboards are perfect for impromptu live shows, demonstrating a child’s growing fine motor skills as well as his growing need to make lots of noise.
When it’s essential to capture a moment for a Christmas card or keep the baby entertained long enough to plan a family vacation, it has occasionally been necessary to resort to bribery. However, this can also be rebranded as a way to show off new skills! Wrinkling or tearing into magazine pages (as long as it’s not a brand-new magazine that just arrived from another country) or eating a series of snacks can be ways to highlight a child’s growing personality and coordination. Our baby loved the snack approach, although this occasionally caused alarm. To some friends and relatives, his puff snacks looked like a serious choking hazard or an American junk food, so you might end up having to explain that your child is not being fed “Cheetos” before they even know how to chew properly.
As the baby grows, all these techniques help us connect with our loved ones and allow them to see his personality and growth. Although it’s still challenging to be so far away with a growing family of our own, technology gives us the ability to highlight exciting developments in our baby’s life (even if “exciting” might just be “eating salmon”!) and a small window into daily life, providing a bit of connection that makes the distance and time difference a little more bearable.
By Tracy Wellons
Tracy lives in Zurich with her family. She currently serves as a board member and treasurer for Zharity and assists with social media for Family Matters Switzerland. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, skiing and collecting Swiss-German vocabulary words. She has one extremely charming and photogenic son.
Illustration by Laura Munteanu
Laura has studied journalism and advertising, and has worked as a journalist and an illustrator. She has illustrated for magazines, websites, charities and diverse campaigns. She lives in Zurich with her husband and eleven-year-old daughter.