Why would you leave your children?

Stacy Garfinkle asks a good question at the end of her recent post:

How do you instill a sense of family in your kids when your loved ones are spread far apart?

Mama and I have struggled with this with Mama’s family living in Maine and Vermont and mine in California and Washington (unfortunately for us, not the Washington across the Potomac, but the one that the mighty Columbia rolls through). We’ve found some ways to bridge the distance–like flying home, blogging, and even the occasional video chat–but none of those efforts is the same as being there.

Often, however, our trips to see family ourselves, or to have 3B visit with family, result in our separating from each other. Until now, it’s been Mama traveling with 3B, but now that he’s pretty much weaned himself, there’s no reason that I couldn’t travel with him. But is that really instilling a sense of family in him? In ourselves? Our lives aren’t nearly so chaotic as some–say, for example, presidential candidates–but it seems that there are still times when we can’t get it all together, so we have to split up for trips.

Then again, neither of us grew up in terribly close proximity to our cousins, so I also wonder if, when I wish that 3B could grow up closer to his aunts, uncles, and cousins, I’m nostalgic for a time that even I didn’t grow up in. I saw my cousins twice a year: on our summer vacation and at Thanksgiving, when all 637 of us would cram into Grandmother and Grandfather’s house for a wonderful, warm, rollicking, overwhelming good time. That’s where I learned that if you take on your cousin, you’d better be prepared to take on your uncle too; what a Dutch rub is; and that yes, it is possible to eat too much pumpkin pie.

I also formed a bond with my cousins that I feel is that blood bond of family members–closer than what I’ll ever have with friends, even though most of my cousins are really strangers to me now. But is that a real bond or is it just my nostalgic feelings because “a long time ago we knew each other for a short period of time“?

Is that so different from what 3B will experience? What about you? What do your kids experience? What do you want them to experience?

And for those of you living away from your families–seriously, how much does the lack of free babysitting suck for us?

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  • OK Lack of free baby sitting sucks a lot.

    Our families of birth are far away from us, some is for the detriment and some for the best. We use video chats, phone calls, photos, and visits to stay in touch. However we also have a family of choice. These are people who have come into our lives who are just as much family as any biological kin. We do family dinners, we support each other in good and bad times. We also have his Birth Grandmother in our life too.

    Baby R is surrounded with family it just happens to be the family of choice is closer than the others in georgraphy. As a military kid, I knew who my family was and that they were always there even if they weren’t nearby. I think it is really about what you tell your child and also how you interact with your family that sends the message.

  • This sounds harsh, but the first thing that comes to mind is that it’s better to have great family that you see now and then than miserable people living nearby.

    (And just for the record I’m thinking of my own childhood, not the wonderful, quirky people we’re lucky to have living near us now)

    It’s funny but the cousins I was closest to and have the most amazing memories of are the ones I only really saw for a week or two every summer – and I traveled alone for that trip. None of it was ideal, but Mom’s and Dad’s families were so different, it really helped me figure out what I valued and how I wanted to be as an adult.

  • Bacchus: It’s good that you have that family of choice as well as biological family. For whatever reason–perhaps because we moved here thinking we’d move away after Mama was done with grad school–I’ve never felt too settled in here when it comes to friends. We’ve got good friends, but not like a community, as we’ve had in other places. Given that you’re right about what we tell 3B and how we interact with family and friends, perhaps it’s time to build that community.

    Christy: Interesting about your childhood–traveling alone to see your parents’ families shows how much you value family. Point well taken about being too close, but I think that even a thousand miles in one direction or another would be nice, if only to shorten half of our trips–although I doubt that we’ll be moving any time soon. Then again, who knows, perhaps family will move closer to us. Or come to visit us. Although, somehow I doubt that too.

  • Free…baby…sitting…. I have to wipe a tear from my eye before I can type any more.

    There now, all better.

    While that’s a bummer, the worst part for me is that my kids have some amazing, loving grandparents, and cousins just their age, all of whom are in California or Washington (that other one, too). The love and nurturing my kids are missing is a big, big bummer. And we too have not really set down many community roots here either.

    We do our best with weekly phone calls, which the kids are old enough to participate in, blogging, and occasional snail mail sending of photos. And large boxes of clothes and toys every few months!

  • I moved back to my hometown and am living within 30 minutes of pretty much all of my relatives (my side of the family). It’s nice, but I must say that I don’t see them all that much anyway. My parents, yes. My sister, once a month. My grandparents-about the same. I probably see my aunts/uncles/cousins as much as you see yours. Funny that we’re so close and still can’t get it together enough to get together.

  • Lack of free babysitting blows. We’re both from Ohio and living out here has drawbacks. Luckily, “Grandma” comes out to visit several times a year. And, we go back once every two years and make the rounds.

    But, it’s not the same. Trouble is, even if we lived back there, we’d still be too busy to get together as much as we’d like…

  • And here I thought we had it rough being spread out over Texas….

    FINE. YOU WIN.

    …okay, back to the discussion of family: I love having everyone nearby. I couldn’t imagine having to fly home all the time….oh, wait…yeah, I can. during college I lived in New Orleans. I flew home quite a bit. Then, when I graduated, my parents moved to Arizona. I flew a bit then too, but less often. Now, we’re all in Texas, and so is my husband’s family. It’s AWESOME. My mother in law keeps Gage 3 days a week while I work. [read: we pay NOTHING for child care, except to take her diapers & wipes, and groceries at times–not that she asks, but because we don’t want them to have to pay to keep our child].

    So, I guess I’m saying….I can imagine that it is rough for you.

  • Henitsirk: Hm. Weekly phone calls. You have more discipline than I do, clearly. If I could even make monthly phone calls, it would be an improvement.

    BBM & LADaddy: Yeah, that’s the thing that Mama and I have discussed–if we did live closer, would we actually see family more? I think we would, but not because we could get it together, but because they are organized enough to make it happen.

    LP: I’m sorry, my brain shut down after your description of your MIL babysitting Gage for FREE. Were you going to say something that would make me feel better about where we are? But seriously, I’m glad for you that your family is close; hearing about yours gives me hope that if we do ever move close, we’ll get it together enough to hang out with ours.

  • I think it’s the free babysitting that keeps me close to my loved ones 😉

  • oh, sorry…I did just probably rub salt in your wound…

  • If I don’t call my mother regularly, she calls the sheriff to come check on us. For real.

    And my FIL calls every Sunday, whether he has anything to say or not, because otherwise he would forget.

    And, I actually do like to talk to the parental units in our family. Just wait until 3B is old enough to talk on the phone…talking to family will no longer be optional!

  • Yup. Pretty tough being far away from the fam – – my mother flew in from Vermont the minute I went into labor with our litle boy in July ’06… we live in Nashville. Got there a looooong time later, after a looooooong labor. Nearly everyone we love is in VT, MT, and GA. Yucko for us. But that’s what I remember from my childhood – – though Grandma and Grandpa were far away, those miles were precious and exciting to drive a couple of times a year. And I felt as close to my extended family as I would have had they lived a few towns away. When the grams come to see us now, it’s a mad dash for hubby and I to get them in the door and get us out for some much needed grown-up time. But the coming home is so sweet… 🙂

  • August: Good to know that you have your priorities straight.

    LP: No hard feelings. But I am still trying to bribe your MIL to move to NoVa.

    Henitsirk: If 3B is half as chatty as I was as a lad, we’re going to need to look into VOIP or else he’ll talk us out of house and home.

    Anniemom: I’m jealous of the beautiful places that you get to visit when you go see family. Oh, wait–we go to VT too. And CA doesn’t suck, especially NoCA, where we go. But MT? Beautiful country–actually, Mama and I met through our association with Glacier Nat’l. Park. Mmm. Huckleberries.

  • Even when I lived close to Mom and one sister, there was no free babysitting. I drove to Mom’s on Sunday afternoons to visit, because my husband had Trombone Choir practice, so we had an excuse for the drive. If you move to the left Washington, we might visit more often, but we might not.

    On the other side of my family, we talk to my sister in law often because she calls almost every weekend. She loves talking to the kids and uses her free weekend minutes to do so, until her cell phone battery dies, and we call her back and use ours. She does not like to travel. She visited us once in the last 8 years in our old house. She has promised to visit for my daughter’s graduation in 2009, but I am not holding my breath.

    My kids love to get together with their cousins, and I hope we will be doing that more often now that we all live in the same state except for 3B, who needs to live closer to us. They like to see him on the blog.