Pros and cons of living far away from family - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Pros and cons of living far away from family

I am recovering from a nine-day vacation to visit family in Alabama. “Vacation” is a misnomer here. I slept poorly with a snoring baby next to me and pulled my hair out at the amount of baby wrangling in my parents’ non-child proofed home. But, of course, it was an amazing trip.

Living far away from family has been one of the hardest parts of being a new mom. We live slap between (“Slap”? That’s a Southernism; the jargon is still wearing off after my trip) my family and my husband’s family, so no matter what, we have to fly. And in case it’s been a while since you’ve done so, flying is expensive and a hassle. My boy doesn’t get to see his grandparents that often, which makes my heart hurt. It’s a choice we made, moving away, but one that we continue to grapple with.

Here are the pros and cons of living far away from my family while raising my own. I’ll start with the cons because those are the most obvious:

Cons:

My son sees his Pops and Grandma E a few times a year. It’s the same story with my husband’s parents and some of my friends and their kids. His extended family around the country? Once a year, I’d guess. That’s not enough for anyone involved. He is missing out on the large family network I wish I had (and my husband did have) growing up. He won’t be around the enthusiasm and the stories and the warmth of an extended family. No Sunday dinners, regular trips to the zoo with Grandma or play dates with his new cousin. My son will be less inclined to run into my father’s arms and squeal with familiar delight if it’s been six months since we flew into town. Again, my heart aches.

When we visit, it’s baby wrangling on steroids. At least it was this time, because overnight my boy became a TODDLER. For the first part of the week before my husband arrived, it was just me trying to contain my boy’s havoc. In my constant struggle between encouraging exploring and just saying “no,” the latter more often won out, which I hate. My childhood home is not child-proofed. And why should it be? But really, who knew little boys had to touch EVERY SINGLE THING their little eyes landed on? And that more often than not, that thing is breakable/antique/hazardous/heavy/toxic? Grandkids are a new and occasional addition, so the house isn’t yet piled high with plastic toys and safe distractions.

Traveling is expensive and kind of a pain. The cost of the flights (which will go up as soon as I have to buy my kid his own seat when he turns 2), plus boarding the dog at a kennel, taking off of work, potentially renting a car. It all adds up. It’s something we budget for, knowing it’s a priority, but it isn’t cheap.

We can’t call the grandparents to come watch the little one so we can get out of the house for an adult evening. (See other post about desperately needing a babysitter.) They aren’t there for the day-to-day help new parents need, the drop-off for baby-free errand running, the occasional movie night.

Pros:

Travelling can also be such a great experience for baby and parents alike — even though some parts feel like hell. Like when you’re sharing a tiny airline seat with a wiggling, writhing, pooping crazy person. It’s a chance to break out of the routine, push a few boundaries, and learn a few survival skills. My dad is convinced that equates to huge growth for the babies. He’s probably right. It’s all about new experiences and social interactions. It also forces me to be a little flexible, which I’m sure must be good for me.

Fun at dinner time.

A few trips a year isn’t enough time for in-law power struggles and parenting battles. It seems like all the message boards I stumbled on this topic were rife with complaints about family members overstepping their boundaries. Isn’t that what grandparents are supposed to do? Spoil the little ones? Give them food they don’t usually eat and let them break a few rules? I watched as my step-mother smeared spaghetti and ground beef all over my son’s face while he happily pounded fistfuls of it into his mouth. And it didn’t bother me at all. I swear. I mean, maybe a little. But then she was there to bathe him afterward, and I learned that my kid loves beef. (A miniscule event, but a new one, and likely just the beginning.)

We’d probably all strangle each other after a few weeks. My dad always said house guests are like fish: they start to stink after a few days. Surely that would be different if we lived there and weren’t traipsing around their house the entire time. Right?

Yes, my pro list is weak. It was such a great trip and coming back is a stark reminder of the lifestyle choice we’ve made. In the absence of family living nearby, we’ve created a network of good friends for whom we are so grateful. We also make heavy use of our high speed internet connection for video calls.

How to stay in touch:

  1. Make a concerted effort. It’s easy to let the days and weeks slip away without connecting with remote family. But it’s true what they say: Kids grow up so fast. Set up a specific time each week for calls. We often aim for Saturday or Sunday afternoons.
  2. Use Skype and FaceTime. The video call makes all the difference. You can follow your toddling tornado around so the grandparents can watch the magic.
  3. Hang up pictures of your family and friends. Let them be familiar faces and point them out to the little ones, a nice reminder that even though they are out of site, they aren’t out of mind.
  4. Find ways to sneak in a few visits. Trips for nearby conferences can be extended a few days, or go to that wedding you might not have otherwise attended if it’s near family.
  5. Budget for the trips. It’s always worth the money to visit family, but sometimes paying for it stings at the time. Setting aside money for it might help reduce the pain.


About the author

Sara Michael

Sara Michael is a first-time mom with Type A tendencies. She likes rules, makes lists, and follows plans. That all seemed to work out fine until she had a baby. Now she balances her need for order and answers with the desire to enjoy the unpredictable journey she is on with her 2-year-old son (and a second on the way). Her day job? She is a writer and editorial director at a health care media company where she manages content for an online publication. Her journalism background started in daily newspapers, covering health, science and government. Follow her on Twitter @sara_the_writer. Contact the author.
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