Living far away from family is not always easy. When I first moved to the US from Great Britain nine years ago, I had no idea that it would become my permanent home. I originally traveled to Miami on a two year work placement. It was such an exciting opportunity for a 20-something… I just couldn’t pass it up.
Little did I know that I would end up falling in love, getting married and settling down in Atlanta. Not to mention having two beautiful children here!
I love the life that we’ve made for ourselves over the last few years, but it hasn’t always been easy. Deciding to live so far away from the family I love, and the country in which I grew up, has probably been the single most difficult choice I’ve ever made.
There are times when I miss my parents so much that it hurts. There are the family birthdays and other events that we don’t get to participate in. And then just the mundane day to day stuff that we’re not a part of.
The most difficult bit for me though about living far away from family is probably the guilt. And that has only been compounded since having children. I often feel terrible that my kids don’t get to see their grandparents regularly, and vice versa.
Despite all this, over the years I’ve realized that there are lots of things I can do to combat the homesickness. And of course we’re so lucky to be doing this in a time when it’s easier than ever to stay in touch with our friends and family, regardless of where in the world they live.
Based on my own experience, these are just a few things that help make the move to another state or country, and being separated from family, that little bit easier.
#1 Travel “home” as often as you can
Obviously this is hugely contingent on time and money, but we do try to travel to Britain as often as we can. For us it’s well worth the effort and the expense.
Yes, traveling over long distances, especially with young children, can be a pain (see my tips for surviving it here!) but some of my fondest family memories have been made during those visits.
I think that spending time together in person is really the best way for my children to forge genuine relationships with their extended family members across the pond. And for me, nothing quite beats sitting down to a cup of tea with my Mum or going to the pub with my brothers and sisters-in-law.
Not only that, but I love being able to take my husband and daughters to all of the places that I enjoyed as a child and young adult. And when we return to Atlanta, it helps to have those shared experiences that we can take home with us.
#2 Use all of the technology
As difficult as the distance can sometimes be, I’m so grateful that I’m experiencing this at a time when technology makes it so much easier to stay in touch, regardless of how far apart we are. I can’t imagine how it must have been in a time without email, or Skype or even phones. And thank goodness for Facebook!
We Skype and FaceTime with my parents and the rest of our extended family as often as we can. It’s definitely the next best thing to being there in person. And while my kids haven’t necessarily mastered phone etiquette just yet, I can easily follow them around the house with my phone so that the grandparents can see what they’re up to.
I also love WhatsApp for staying in touch with my brothers and sisters-in-law. We have an ongoing group chat for sharing pictures of our kids and updates from our daily lives. Oh, and the odd jab. Yes, even living 4000 miles apart, by brothers and I still manage to get our digs in.
#3 Maintain a physical link
Remember how exciting it was to receive a postcard or letter from a penpal as a kid? Even with all of the cool technology we have at our disposal to help stay in touch, nothing quite beats getting a handwritten note or parcel in the mail!
Not so long ago, my 6 year old nephew sent us a postcard from London. There was no special event – he just wanted to say “hello”. There was something really special about that. We have it pinned up on our bulletin board, and it’s a lovely reminder of home.
And for the same reason, despite the convenience of electronic versions, I always try to send handwritten Birthday cards and Christmas cards to my friends and family across the pond.
My mum sends the best care packages to us here. My three year old daughter can hardy contain herself whenever one arrives – she’s learned to recognize the handwriting! And I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty happy when she sneaks in some Cadbury’s chocolate for me too 🙂
#4 Surround yourself with familiar things
I’m fortunate to have a husband who quickly mastered a few essential British culinary classics such as fish and chips and steak and ale pie. There was one time that I actually welled up because the smells wafting from the kitchen were so reminiscent of England (he was cooking bubble and squeak!).
I also keep reminders of my family all around our house, from photographs to various little knick-knacks that I’ve transported from my childhood home.
As our children get older, I hope to incorporate more of my family and cultural traditions into the holidays we celebrate here in America.
And most recently, I’ve been schooling my three year old in some of the best cheesy, yet beloved music from 80s Britain (Agadoo anyone???).
All of these things definitely help me maintain that link to my family… and provide me with a welcome dose of nostalgia too!
#5 Appreciate the positives
Despite the challenges, there are some great things that have come out of my decision to relocate. Whenever I’m missing my family (and feeling a bit sorry for myself!) I try to remind myself of these.
The opportunity to travel and experience another culture first-hand will be a wonderful experience for my daughters as they grow.
When we do travel to Britain, I probably appreciate it more than I ever did when I was living there. I increasingly see London through the eyes of my husband and am reminded of what a wonderful city it is, and how lucky I was to grow up there. We visit the uniquely historic stately homes, amazing castles and beautiful gardens that many locals perhaps take for granted (I know that I used to!).
And while I hesitate to use the term “quality time”, we definitely get that during our visits now. Whether we are traveling to see family, or they are coming here, I cherish every single moment. And it’s something that I won’t ever take for granted.
Most of us have very good reasons for moving away from home and family, but it can still be tough. I’d love to hear about the experiences of others and how you’ve made it work!