I have lived away from family for the last 13 years.
Our nearest relatives are 2 hours away – not exactly another country, but still too far to pop in for a cuppa. And since having children, I have found the separation even more difficult.
In theory, we could move closer to them, but it’s not always that simple. We need to stay where we are because my daughter’s specialist doctors are not available in other hospitals. We also have a home that we love, jobs that are going well, and children who are settled in their schools.
Our lives are very much here… but there’s still the tug to be somewhere else.
The hardest bits about living far away from family
Living away from family means that you don’t have much of a support network. There is no school run back-up if you get stuck at work and you can’t drop into your mum’s for a hug when you’re down.
When you throw a birthday party for your kids, you are the only adults helping out. When your child gets an award at school, you’re the only ones there to cheer them on. You probably can’t remember the last time you went out without your kids because that would involve paying a fortune for a babysitter before you’ve even left the house!
When you’re feeling really low, you reach for the phone, only to realise that they’re so far away, there’s no point in calling. They can’t help out and it would only upset them to know how you’re feeling.
And then there’s the added pain of seeing how different things would be if you were closer.
My brother and his family live just around the corner from mum and dad. They have help whenever they need it and save a fortune on childcare costs. They have back-up and someone to chat to in the hard times. Their children see Grandma and Grandpa’s house as their own, whereas mine feel like guests.
And however much you try to deny it, living far away from family makes you feel left out. I find it so difficult when my sister-in-law knows her way around my mum’s kitchen and I can’t even find the teabags! It’s a painful reminder that their lives are closely entwined and we are on the fringes.
Similarly, when there is a family crisis, you feel so far away. The voice on the end of the phone seems distant and strange. You say goodbye and the line goes silent – you are no longer connected and you are on your own again. You long to help – to be of some use – but you’re too far away to have any impact.
And there is no-one to talk it all through with – they carry their burden there and you carry yours here, alone.
We have always been such a close family, and I never intended to live away from them. The separation was imposed on us by unusual circumstances (a blog post for another day perhaps?), but it is what it is… and it will probably be like this for the foreseeable future.
5 things to do help a friend who lives away from home
It’s not all doom and gloom – the separation makes it even more special when we are finally all together. We also get free “holidays” when we go to stay with them. And, of course, the kids get extra spoilt when they see their grandparents!
But it can be really tough. So let me give you some ideas about how you can help others in a similar situation.
Ask them how their family are
You never know what family problems might be brewing, and being able to talk to someone about it can be so helpful.
When my dad was in hospital last year, so many people sent supportive messages to my family because they knew him and cared about him. But I live far away from family and none of the people I come into contact with know him. That meant I had to deal with it all on my own.
By asking someone how their family are, you give them a chance to share and to chat through the things that are on their heart.
Offer to babysit their kids
If you have a good support network, you probably get a few child-free hours every week. If you don’t, it can be months, even years, before you get an evening to yourself.
Our friends all have family nearby and so we feel guilty asking them to babysit – they never need us to return the favour. But we need some time to be a couple, and to be individuals too.
If you felt able to take the kids for a Saturday afternoon in the park, or host a film night at yours for them, it would feel like the best gift in the world to people who live away from family.
Buy their kids a treat
Everyone knows doting grandparents love to lavish treats on their grandchildren. But for children who don’t see their grandparents very often, those treats can be few and far between. So if you see a soft toy they’d like or a stationary set featuring their favourite TV character, consider buying it.
It also helps the parents to feel that they do belong (something we ask ourselves on a regular basis!) and that they do have a support network. As the saying goes – “It takes a whole village to raise a child.”
Invite them out as a family
Sunday lunches are for sharing – right! But if you live away from family, you will have all your meals in the same 4 walls with the same 4 people every day. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone (your mum!) cook a meal for you so invite them over to your house as a family.
Or if, like me, cooking is not your thing, just arrange to go out to a restaurant together or take a picnic to the park.
Offer to go with them to difficult meetings
From parent-teacher consultations to important hospital appointments – life is full of difficult meetings. Offer to go with someone so they don’t have to face it alone. If they don’t feel comfortable with this, you could offer to drive them there and wait in the car for them.
We just need a bit of extra back-up from our friends when our family is elsewhere.
Do you have family close by or are you on your own? Do you have a good support network or do you wish you had more people to help out? Maybe you chose to live away from family and you’re glad of the distance? Let me know in the comments section below.
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