Living far from family is hard, and raising kids far from extended family is even harder. My closest immediate family member on either side (my husband’s or mine) lives a nine-hour drive away. My parents live twelve hours away. Most of the time, this is ok. We chose to move to Birmingham and have loved it all along. But that isn’t to say that it isn’t difficult or that it doesn’t bring a set of challenges that I think are unique to raising kids far from grandparents and aunts and uncles. Still, there are some perks that I have come to appreciate as I observe others who are raising kids geographically far from family, and I have to remind myself often that there are good things about this scenario too. Here’s a list of the benefits I’ve noticed.
You can form your own family traditions.
The hardest times to be far from family are undoubtedly holidays and kids’ birthdays, at least for me. But I also have started to notice that we have grown closer as a family unit because we tend to celebrate these important occasions together, just the five of us, more often than not. For instance, we stayed home for Christmas this past year for the first time ever. It was quiet (if that is possible in a house with three kids under five) and simple. We didn’t have to put on a show with gifts and goodies and make sure that bunches of people each saw every kid open each gift. We didn’t get in the car all day and I didn’t spend the entire day cooking. I made homemade enchiladas, which weren’t very good, but no one cared. We hung up our traditional “Happy Birthday” banner to celebrate Jesus’ birthday, and we ate grocery store sheet cake for dessert. It was fun and sweet and perhaps more memorable than any other Christmas in recent memory.
You will excel at travel.
I have to brag a bit; my kids are really good travelers. They ought to be, as they sure do get a lot of practice. I laugh a little bit on the inside when I hear a friend lamenting that they have to travel two whole hours by car and need advice for how to entertain their infant or toddler. Call me lazy, but I don’t plan elaborate goody bags or special activities for the car rides. They take coloring books, Water Wow, and a favorite doll or two. Other than that, their entertainment is each other and staring out the window. We count cows (now doesn’t that sound exciting?!), and the craziest theologically deep conversations tend to come up on road trips. Kids who frequently travel far distances learn to entertain themselves, which is an important life skill.
Extended visits make for amazing memories.
Kids whose grandparents (or other family) are far away also tend to get to spend extended time with those people in the family members’ home(s). I don’t hear often of friends whose parents are local having the entire family for a week, but when you travel to visit, it has to be worth your while, so those visitors tend to stay awhile. My children are only six, four, and two but they already have memories of a week at the grandparents’ each summer. My oldest daughter dreams of sleepovers in their basement or going to art camp at Grandma’s. So yes, while we may miss out on things like having extended family at ballet recitals and baseball games, there are other benefits that families who are local tend not to have.
You will develop thoughtfulness.
Another benefit of being far from family is that it cultivates thoughtfulness in my own life, and it provides opportunities to teach kids to think of others. We have to plan, in advance, to send gifts or cards, and my children create approximately 47598751 drawings or art projects per week for me to mail to their loved ones around the country. I’ll let you guess how many of those actually leave the mail box.
The distance between us and our family has also allowed my young kids to develop phone skills. We Skype or FaceTime some, but we also use the good old-fashioned telephone to talk to those we love, because it’s fun and because it builds a skill that I believe is still important even in this age of rapidly advancing technology. Regardless of the method, reaching out to those who aren’t immediately in our presence day in and day out takes time and planning, and I’ve learned a lot about how to think of and serve others through living far from those I love.
You will desire to invest in deeper friendships.
I believe that my friendships are stronger and deeper because we live far from extended family. When I meet a fellow mom and it comes up in casual conversation that her family is far away, somehow that makes me feel an instant connection to her. One of my dearest friends, whom I met at church, got my phone number after initially meeting and asked about my area code. She too lives far from her family, and this spurred a conversation about the challenges of being far from grandparents. Our friendship just seemed to “click”. I slept on her couch the night her fourth baby was born, and I know she’ll do the same for me if I need the favor returned. When we are forced to rely on friends as we normally would family, those friends end up becoming like family. The proverbial village is stronger because of this common bond that mamas in this situation share.
Living far from family is hard, but it is not all bad. There are unique advantages for moms and kids if only we slow down a bit to notice them. Even if you aren’t dealing with missing the closeness of extended family, you can encourage someone who is by being a part of their village. We’ll all be better for it.