Are You Living Far Away From Your Family?

long-distance-relationshipAre you a transplant from another state? Does your family live in another country? Did a job or a sense of adventure bring you here? How does that reality sit with you now that you are the parent of a baby, a toddler or a child? Perhaps it lands differently than when you set out to go to college or to get a job.

At that time, you may have been very eager for an adventure. Many want to explore the unknown and to flee the pattern of the expected. Perhaps you barely appreciated the home that you were leaving.

Unfortunately many young adults see their parents’ marriage explode after the youngest child leaves home. Separations and divorces are all too common and there is always shrapnel to dodge.

Even if that was not your reality often you create your own “family” in college. There are groups that provide a sense of belonging. They might be fraternities, sororities, swim teams, tennis or football teams, musical groups etc.

Then often you move into your first apartment. If you are lucky Mom and/or Dad come to help you make it home.  There is a city to explore, relationships to make, jobs or careers to conquer and perhaps even a marriage to plan.

Life is good! Family is there in the background supporting our adventures and they are phoning, texting or using social media to stay in touch. From the position of explorer, you might see their lifestyle as interesting but rather bland. Don’t get me wrong, they are important, but our own life and adventures are far more interesting.

Then you have a baby, a precious little baby. That’s when you often wish mom and/or dad lived closer to you. But where is family?

They are thousands of miles away. For David and I it was both a wonderful opportunity and a heartbreaking reality at the same time.

We had moved to California for David to work on his doctorate. I had a job at the time teaching in the early childhood education department at Biola University. Three months after I started teaching, I was informed, by the Immigration Department, that I was not able to work in the US. I was a Canadian taking a job away from an American.

I had to leave a job I loved, a paycheck we both valued and be at home full time with a precious baby boy who suffered 24/7 with colic. David was buried in a doctoral program and faced with the reality of having to take on odd jobs in order to put food on our table. And our families were thousands of miles away. They were not in the financial bracket that they could just hop on a plane whenever they wanted.

Yes, I would have loved some help comforting our little one. I would have enjoyed an occasional night out with David but what I missed the most was just the everyday interactions that I had taken for granted when I was so eager to flee the coup.

Perhaps this is why I so resonated with an article that I read in The New York Times on March 5 of this year. It was a brilliantly written article by Tarya Parssinen. I am sharing a portion of it with you.

“We prepare our babies with the softest swaddling cloths, organic diapers, and the perfect nursery, but we are not encouraged to anticipate our own needs, especially that of simple connection with others. I equated my own crushing loneliness, my dependency on my husband and phone calls with my mother-or any other adult who would listen for that matter- to be weakness. Like any good fool with Finnish blood, I stoically buckled under exhaustion…”

empty nestI had lived alone for almost a decade, but I never felt alone until I had children.”

She goes on, “I don’t need to study the research on how a lack of community affects the individual. I am the research. Now if only I could figure how to turn this rocket around.”

Years before Tarya was even born, Albert Schweitzer put this dilemma into words.

“We are so much together, but we are all dying of loneliness.”

As wonderful as it is to have babysitters who you trust to love your little one, almost as much as you do, it’s not like having your toddler know their cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and the friends you grew up with. So what is a young couple to do? How might you turn the rocket ship around?

As a Marriage and family therapist and as a mother who had her own mother and father thousands of miles away, I would like to suggest that one option is to find a trusted older couple and adopt them as “family.

Because we valued older people and because we wanted our children to value older people and their wisdom, we kept our eyes open for a couple that were alone. Perhaps they had raised their children and were facing a similar dilemma as we were or perhaps they had never had children.

Through our church body at the time we found a couple whose kids were adopted and lived out of state. We asked them if they would enjoy spending time with a young family. Bless their hearts they were open to the experiment. It ended up being a total win on multiple fronts.

They became our “adopted grandparents.” They carved pumpkins with us at Halloween, attended birthday parties, shared numerous family dinners and just became a cherished part of our tribe. When we opened our counseling office they came and prayed over the offices and the clients who would enter those offices one day.

When they faced physical or emotional challenges we were there for them. They attended “grandparent’s days” at our kid’s schools and just enriched our lives. Until they died they were an integral part of our family.

In fact I knew just how significant this experiment was when I was out driving in my car with my 7 year old daughter one day. Out of the blue she looked at me and said “ Mommy do you know who I want to be just like when I grow up? I want to be like Grandma Jean.” I knew exactly what Amy was saying, I wanted to be like her too. She was my mentor until she died at 87 years of age.

I pass this idea on to all you displaced young adventurers.

Until our next Conscious Lover’s Blog…

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