Growing up, my family moved frequently. In fact, by the time I was 10, the longest I’d lived anywhere was just over two years. Because my father was often transferred to a new city for his job, my brothers and I became accustomed to hearing, “Well, kids, I got a promotion, and we are off on an adventure!”
And that adventure usually meant that I was the new kid at school, my belongings would be in boxes for months, and my social life would be upended yet again.
Though I became adept at making friends and adapting to a new life rather quickly, secretly, I longed for a life where I could plant roots. I wanted a life where I could put something in my basement and remember that I left it there three years later. I wanted to be the kid who went to school with the same kids from kindergarten to high school, and I envied the families who had a tapestry of aunts, uncles, and grandparents who lived just a few blocks away.
I decided at an early age that, when I grew up, I’d plant my own family tree, one firmly rooted in one spot, and I’d never move again. I wanted my kids to have what I didn’t have as a child: a home that they could cherish for their entire childhood.
So when my father announced when I was in college that he and my mother were moving with my two high school-aged brothers across the country, I made a choice. I chose to stay behind and cultivate the life I had carved for myself in my college town. And while my parents were supportive of my decision and understood my desire to remain in my college program, the pangs of guilt ran deep. It was a hard choice, deciding to live away from my family, but by then, I’d met my now-husband and I knew he was the one with whom I’d be planting my long-awaited roots.
It’s not easy living far away from family. It’s impossible to make both sides of the family happy at the holidays, and you are always missing out on the day-to-day details of your extended family’s life. Sure, texting and video chats have come a long way, but it can feel like you are the odd man out when you see pictures on Facebook of gatherings that you can’t attend because of the distance. Though having family spread across the country is challenging, it also comes with some pretty cool benefits, if I’m being honest.
1. There are no surprise visits on Saturday mornings. Or ever, really.
Listen, I love my family, but let’s be honest here: No one wants to see their parents at the crack of dawn and before coffee. When your family lives out of state or beyond an easy car ride, visits are scheduled and you can prepare, which makes the visit nicer for everyone. I can stock up on their favorite foods, and they know they aren’t going to find their sister half-dressed and yelling at the kids to clean up the family room because company just showed up.
2. The reunions are sweeter.
When my kids know we are headed to visit their grandparents for our annual winter visit, they get giddier than on Christmas eve. They excitedly text with their grandparents for weeks ahead of time, and as the date draws near, we reminisce about previous trips and excitedly detail what we want to do when we arrive. We have meaningful traditions that we observe when we visit, and though leaving to go home always hurts, the reunions are what get us through the long months where we don’t see each other.
3. We have built our village.
Because both sets of grandparents live out of town, we learned rather quickly that if we had any hopes of surviving the pitfalls of parenting, we needed to branch out to our neighbors and friends for help and sanity. We are blessed with a rich community of friends who have become our second families when the going gets tough. Of course, we’d still have friends if our family lived closer, but our bonds with our friends are stronger because we’ve invested our free time with those who live in close proximity.
4. Our family is like a tight little gang.
As much as we make an effort to be with family on holidays and special occasions, there are just some instances where we have been forced to spend a holiday at home, just the four of us. And truth be told, it’s heavenly. There have been Easter afternoons when we’ve opted to send out for pizza and Christmas dinners when we’ve eaten cereal under the Christmas tree. Not having family close by has helped us forge bonds in our nuclear family, and we’ve created our own traditions that our children will remember long into adulthood.
Being far away from family has its trials, but it also comes with unexpected joys. And while it comes with the obvious hassles — plane tickets for four at the holidays are expensive AF and medical emergencies over the years have been tough to navigate — I’m glad that I opted to branch out and water my own little family tree. Because our tree is strong and the branches extend far beyond my wildest dreams.