For my entire adult life, I've lived far away from my family. Being a plane ride away from my mom, dad, and brother and every cousin, aunt, and uncle was never easy, but it never felt so heart-wrenching until I became a parent. I predicted as much, so when I was seven months pregnant, my husband and I made a difficult decision — to leave the city we'd built our lives upon, one that housed every one of our dearest friends and was within driving distance of his parents, to relocate closer to mine.
Inevitably, it didn't work out perfectly. We got close enough that we could drive to my childhood home versus fly, but whereas before, we could at least get to my in-laws' home in an hour, we were now in unchartered territory — equally "long-distance" from all of our loved ones. No matter where we turned, there were still state lines to cross and bags to pack and extensive plans to make whenever we wanted to see anyone in our extended families. Once we had our baby, however, those lines felt longer, those bags heavier, and those plans a bit more punishing.
As I did once before, I had to create a de-facto family in the city in which I lived, and I somehow seemed to gravitate to others in my same situation — fellow parents without their own parents across town. Other moms without their sisters or brothers popping by unannounced or making random weeknight plans. And, whenever the topic of our geographical distance from our loved ones would come up in conversation, I discovered striking similarities in how it made us feel.
These are the things all moms who live far away from their families understand too well:
1. Time zones.
A two-hour time difference never seemed like a big deal until you tried to negotiate your kids' bedtime routine with a long-distance friend's after-work commute.
2. The impossible notion of free child care.
Just knowing that there are parents out there who have family members watch their kids, free of charge, is almost too much to take.
3. Feeling left out of family events.
Sure, it's just your cousin's son's third piano recital of the season, but it's blowing up on your Facebook feed and giving you severe FOMO.
4. Using vacation days almost exclusively for family visits.
Whereas others might spend their paid time off in one lump sum at a resort sipping frozen alcoholic beverages poolside, you've taken off a random assortment of Fridays to beat the weekend airport rush.
5. Constantly questioning all of your life choices.
Are we really happier here? Was this really the best decision for our family? Should we divorce and move back to our respective hometowns?
6. You never get to host anything.
Why'd you bother registering for all those platters and serving bowls when you're inevitably traveling to someone else's Thanksgiving dinner or Easter brunch? Even your kids' birthday parties are on-location at a grandparents' house.
7. How just hanging out with your relatives is a foreign concept.
What would that even be like?!
8. Your resentment when any other parent complains about pretty much anything.
Frustrated that Nana feeds the kids too much junk food when she watches them on Fridays so you and your husband can have a regularly scheduled date night? Nope. Take that sorry excuse for a problem elsewhere.
9. Worrying your kids don't truly "know" their extended family.
Prepping flash cards with loved ones' photos and bits of trivia ("Uncle George's favorite snack is pretzels!") isn't something you haven't done.
10. Spending more money to participate in most things.
Everyone else spends $50 or so on a baby shower gift. You spend that $50 plus the cost of airfare and an overpriced inflight movie for a fussy toddler — an estimated $550 markup.
11. Having to share big news over the phone.
No gender reveal party for you — even your pregnancy announcement was, at most, a grainy video call that, of course, cut out right before you could see their reactions.
12. Being reminded that it was your decision to live far away.
You better not ever mention anything remotely related to proximity, or you'll be put right in your place.
13. Your kids' ability to operate FaceTime.
Screen-time rules go out the window when the tablet starts buzzing with that familiar ringtone.
14. The cruelty of checked-baggage fees.
You resent the millennial who travels with just his iPhone and a neck pillow while you're sneaking on an extra personal item that's simply a giant ziplock stuffed with Goldfish crackers.
15. Weekends home always feel simultaneously rushed and guilt-ridden.
You have 41 hours to see your parents and an additional seven hours to explain to them why you have a right to see that one high school friend for a 45-minute coffee date.
16. The unspoken countdown.
The first 15 minutes you see your family are filled with joy, but the rest of the time is mentally preparing for the heart-wrenching moment you'll have to say goodbye again.
17. Feeling oddly empowered by the solitude.
You get to make all the decisions about what's best for your family without anyone judging or meddling.