How To Help A Friend Who Lives Away From Family


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.

live away from home - solitary child walking through snow

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.

it's hard when you live away from family - child's coloured bricks

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.

live away from family - family trip to the park and using the tyre swing

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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5 Ways To Help A Friend Who Lives Away From Family - living away from family can be very lonely - you don't have the support network that others do. And it can be even harder once you have kids of your own. Check out these 5 simple ways to help out someone who is missing their family or friends

15 Comments

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  1. 1
    Maria | passion fruit, paws and peonies

    Oh this makes me feel a little choked. My brother lives in Cumbria whereas the rest of us live in the South. It’s his 50th birthday this year and try as I might I can’t get him to organise a do to celebrate. Maybe I should do the smaller things (maybe I can send him a personalised birthday hamper) – as long as he feels loved, I’m happy! xx

  2. 2
    Tracey Bowden

    This made me feel so sad when I read it. I can’t even begin to know how it feels as I literally live at the top of my mum’s road and my 2 sisters live within 5 mins walking distance. It must be so hard to be so far away. #blogcrush

  3. 4
    Sophie

    Oh it’s so tough isn’t it? My hubbies family live overseas so we don’t see much of them although we do try and visit whenever we can. My family live close by but that doesn’t guarantee help! My mum just doesn’t help out or see my children often and I found that very painful when my children were younger. She has conveniently forgotten this fact which makes it harder when she is telling everyone how much she loves her grandchildren. Family dynamics are hard. Luckily, I have a very supportive sister who I can rely on who lives close by. I have learnt that no one will make you and your family happier than you and your family! Good luck, #blogcrush

  4. 5
    Kids of the Wild

    I’m with you on all this. Our nearest family are 2.5 hrs away (sister-in-law), my parents 6 and the rest of the family about 8-10 hrs. it can be really tough and the hardest for me is the grandparent relationships not being as close as mine were with my grandparents. But we keep smiling through, huh!

  5. 6
    Five in the Hive

    This was so helpful to read. I’m blessed to be close to an amazing support network of family and friends but I have close friends who don’t have their family nearby. I already do a couple of things you suggest but there’s definitely some good extra ideas for me to use too. Thank you #Blogcrush

  6. 7
    Soffy

    I’m really lucky that my Mum and Dad are just 10 minutes away and I completely agree the help and support I have I really can’t thank them enough. We’re looking to move very soon and the main priority to remain closer to them as they’ll be helping with childcare when I start full time work. This is such a useful post, I have friends who are away from family so this has made me think I should make more of an effort for them so thank you #blogcrush

  7. 8
    Rhyming with Wine

    Oh Lucy I really feel for you. We do have some family close, but it hasn’t always been this way. Our only help was one set of grandparents that live an hour away. It can feel so isolating at times. But then you’re right about the times together being special. We had one set of grandparents living in Spain at one point and we laugh that we saw more of them when they lived overseas than we do now that they’re back in the UK. Sometimes you make more of an effort to dedicate “quality time” together when there are more miles between you. Sending hugs. Thanks for hosting #blogcrush xx

  8. 10
    Alice | Letters to my Daughter

    Oh Lucy, I didn’t know you found it so hard. I do consider myself very lucky to live close to both our families and we do have a lot of help and support. If I lived anywhere you I would absolutely offer to babysit! Still say we should meet somewhere in the middle and have a little break away 🙂 #BlogCrush

  9. 11
    Malin - Sensational Learning with Penguin

    Gosh yes, I feel ya… We moved closer to family after Penguin was born, but couldn’t afford to get closer than about an hour’s car ride away, not in the same town at all, so in the end it was just frustrating. Close enough to be expected to attend all birthday parties, Christmas celebrations etc., but too far to have the “pop over” thing available. And in the end we moved away from there again, to a place nowhere near anyone we knew, to live in a house in the countryside. After a few years in that house, we decided to move back to the UK (after about 20 years in Sweden), and we tried to get somewhere close to family members here. But we haven’t really got a strong bond with them, so that hasn’t really worked out either. Maybe if Penguin had been able to interact more with his cousins here, they would have been more keen to keep a regular contact, I don’t know… I hope you’ll get lots of help from friends in respons to this very heartfelt post! xx

  10. 13
    Charlene | High Heels & Fairy Tales

    I really feel for you, and I understand what it’s like. My family is also two hours away from where we are. And as you said, it’s not that far, but with life being as busy as it is, so much time passes between visits, and it does end up feeling like you live in two different countries, and I miss them terribly. I met my best friend here though, so that definitely helps. She and her husband have care for our little one when we want to go see a movie. Or we invite each other over for lunch or dinner, and it really does feel like we have family here now. #BlogCrush

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