If you live far away from your family, loneliness and homesickness can weigh heavily on your mental well-being. Where before you didn't have to think about passing by for basic things, now -in our case- there is 470 km between them. However we consider ourselves "lucky" because the distance is manageable by car whereas other expat families we have met here always depend on air travel, which makes it even more difficult. In this article, I share with you some tips on how to deal with 'missing your family' when you live abroad.
I remember well that saying goodbye to family when you had to return to your adopted country was always hard. You didn't quite know when you would see each other again, and if on top of that your parents' health was fragile, it always hurts even more and always made for a more painful goodbye to leave them in that state. For this reason alone, it can be helpful to sit down together before you leave and agree on when you will come again. This way, everyone can look forward to the next reunion and provides that extra silver lining for the future. Since most of our children's school vacations did not coincide with those of nieces and nephews back home, this sometimes caused disappointment for the children. Don't forget that they also miss each other and that time is an entirely subjective concept for them. A day, so to speak, already lasts too long because they simply have no sense of time. As they get older, this naturally develops better as well. Although there is no connection with each other's vacations, you can always agree to have dinner together so the children can hang out and the adults can have efficient quality time with each other over dinner. Make to sure to plan your visits forward to make the homesickness and loneliness for both less hard.
Own space=peace of mind
In the beginning we always depended on family to stay with. This can of course be very pleasant, but also very tiring. Moreover, experience has taught us that it is healthier for everyone to have his or her own space and that you can withdraw every now and then and process all impressions in peace. Another important reason why we decided to rent a holiday home or Airbnb from now on has to do with our own peace of mind. In practice, it often came down to the fact that when we stayed with relatives, we still drove back and forth in order to see everyone. Not only was this very tiring for us because we covered so many kilometers, but the children also became completely overstimulated and sometimes sick because the exhausting traveling weakened their immune system. I don't have to explain to you - if you are a parent yourself - that a long car ride can sometimes just be a punishment for children.
Having to get in and out of that car over and over again and passing by different family members and friends in such a short time is not desirable. It has also been a tough journey for children, even though they only had to sit. This takes its toll on their mood and their patience, because young children in particular just don't know how long 5 hours is, and certainly not how far 470 km is. Based on all this, it is therefore better to give all family members some rest and to stay at 1 address and invite people there instead of driving everywhere. Overtired and overstimulated family members are of no use to anyone. Your time with your loved ones is badly affected and you return with that annoying guilt of 'if only I had done this or that'.
Learn/teach how devices work
Every time you miss a birth, wedding or other family event, or just when you know your family needs you by their side, your heart aches and you wish you could do magic. If you are not able to drive there like us, flying can become an expensive affair. Especially when visa issues are also involved. The recent global pandemic also made visiting family impossible and then everyone learned in one fell swoop what distance does to a person. Although technology forced us to use various devices to still keep in touch, nothing beats physical contact. Seeing, hearing and smelling each other is what human beings are made for and that is how it should be. Hopefully we will never have something like this happen to us again. Only small advantage in case it does happen, we are now a little better prepared. Therefore it can be very helpful when you teach your folks how to use technology like TEAMS,SKYPE or FACETIME. Like I mentioned, nothing beats real contact but this would be the next best thing in my opinion.
Prioritise your visit
Flying home should be a happy feeling you look forward to, but unfortunately I know all too well the divided and guilty feeling you get when you are home and suddenly everyone wants time with you. I have a very large family and sometimes I don't even manage to see everyone. Not even when I'm there for a long weekend. So many times have I wished there were more than 24 hours in a day or that I could stay longer. Before my firstborn started school, I regularly drove with her to the Netherlands and it gave us a lot of flexibility. Once kids start school, it really becomes a lot harder. You already feel the tip coming: just go while you still can! Even though you want to spend the same amount of time with both your family and your friends, you are still going to be forced to make choices. You are forced to prioritise who to see and who not to see.
When you're home, friends will want to catch up with you. It is absolutely difficult to have to tell your friends that you don't have time to meet with them. I have learned over the years to ask myself what the main purpose of driving home is. If it's because of family, family takes precedence. If it is a trip back to see both family and friends, then making a schedule before you get home ensures that you can spend as much time as possible with both. If you are only back for a short trip, you need to prioritise who you will meet. You should categorise (sorry, very lame but you have no other option!) your friends as 'good friends' and 'regular friends'. Sometimes you have to say "no" because your time at home is precious and you want to spend it with people who matter.
Several times I had to cancel a meeting with my friends because I just couldn't leave my parents in a certain state. I know the guilt would hunt me down to Frankfurt when I would leave them, so I chose to stay with them. Even if they would support me fully to go and see some friends. That all doesn't matter, it's the gut speaking. And yes, you might lose some friends over time because of this, but distance also teaches you lessons like 'value of family' and how to live your truth. Living far from your loved ones puts a filter on everything you're doing in life and that makes it extra useful to prioritise your visit.
If you're time-bound and work doesn't allow you to be flexible but don't want to compromise on being with family, there are other options. If you don't want to fly the whole distance because you might live overseas, you can always choose to go on vacation together somewhere in the middle between the two countries. This way you can give each other full attention and it saves travel time and costs. Our experience shows that if we make clear plans with the family, such as going on trips, then the quality time we spend together is also much better. This compared to when everyone is together in one space and you're forced to divide your attention. It is of course as pleasant, but often busier and more chaotic.
Invite your family to you
If your work load permits it, you can always invite your family or friends to your home if you have enough space. We used to do this because our house, which we had at the time, was big enough. Now we have moved to a smaller house and we don't have much room for extra people. Another option is that your family can stay in a nearby hotel and arrange when you see each other and plan fun activities together.
I hope these tips can serve you well and I wish you a nice and peaceful stay with your loved ones. Are you familiar with any of the above?
Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash