challenges of motherhood, Children, Expat, Family, Grandparents

Choosing to Live Away from Family

This post is inspired by a post on Just. Be. Enough about choosing to live close to family and a follow up post by Abby entitled “Choosing to Live Far from Home“. One post talks about living close to your parents, in the town you grew up in, and the other talks about how it is to move away. There are pros and cons to every decision you make in life.

Growing up, my family (my parents, my brother and I) did not live particularly close to our extended family. My dad is one of twelve children and my mum one of five so you can imagine that in terms of numbers my extended family, particularly now as the family tree has grown, is considerable. Considerable but scattered.

We lived in the south of England and my dad’s family live in the north of England and Wales. My mum’s family was closer but still a couple of hours drive away. The four of us were pretty self sufficient because we had to be.

I stayed annually at my grandparents house in Lancashire for a week or so in the summer holidays as well as a recurring stay with my maternal grandparents. My brother and I loved that we could help out in the cafes that our grandparents owned in Bath. The visits make up childhood memories that I cherish.

Somewhere in the festive period we saw all our extended family. But my grandparents were not weekly babysitters, we didn’t see our aunts and uncles on a monthly basis. The distance didn’t allow that. But nonetheless I have very fond childhood memories of my grandparents and my aunts and uncles. They were very present despite the distance.

Fast forward to the time when I have three little children of my own and I’m living in the Netherlands and the idea of grandparents is a huge topic in our household. The reason being is that in general my children see their British grandparents more than they see their Dutch ones. My in-laws live half an hour away, if that. Excluding my father-in-law who has a good bond with his grandchildren, my in-laws have no role in their grandsons’ or nephews’ lives. It goes to show that geography is not the be all and end all in determining how a relationship functions.

It also goes to show how language barriers can be overcome. Dutch is my children’s mother tongue but English is the first (and only) language of my family but this doesn’t effect the strength of their relationship. My children speak English with their British and American family and we work hard and willingly together to keep it up as a competent second language, despite not yet learning it in school.

The desire to be a grandparent is a huge factor in making the relationship with grandchildren work. Wanting to be an aunt is more important than the physical distance. Communication is a huge factor in making any relationship work. Letting grandchildren know you are thinking about them even if you are not there makes a relationship strong. Regular visits, telephone calls, using Face Time or Skype, letters, cards and text messages is what makes the grand-parenting bond strong. Asking after your nephews shows you are interested. It shows you care. Despite geography. Despite not sharing a mother tongue.

Expats make a choice to move abroad. To live away from family. It’s never a conscious decision to put physical distance between kids and their grandparents, but it comes with expat territory. It doesn’t mean the end of the grandparent relationship. Where there is a desire to stay close, geography will not hinder a relationship. As Abby put it in her post,

“….of course as we all know, geographic proximity is not a guarantee of closeness.”

My children are walking proof of that.

How do you keep the relationship alive with your children’s grandparents? Are there any positives in living away from your extended family? I would love to hear your views and experiences!

Choosing to live away from family throws up many challenges – from the moment you know you are pregnant abroad, to birth and far, far beyond – for more stories about parenting abroad check out our Kickstarter page for Knocked Up Abroad Again.

11 thoughts on “Choosing to Live Away from Family”

  1. Before I got married, I had a small family (my parents and my brother) didn't have any bond with my grandparents.I was fine with it. Things were easy. And when I got married, I found that seeing all the family (especially my in-laws) is exhausting- at least it is for me. I like how you mentioned the desire to BE extended family, rather than just being called that. I would also add the desire of the parents to consider somebody extended family- I'm not in favor of going to see someone just because they're the grandparent or aunt. Rather, both sides have to want it.


  2. I love this, Amanda. I have been to Bath – what great memories of working in your grandparents' cafe there! You make some excellent points about the desire to be a part of a grandchild's life. We are lucky that my kids have 2 sets of grandparents who really want a relationship with them and do whatever they can to foster that bond. I know not everyone's so lucky.


  3. What a great reminder Amanda! I am so glad that Abby's voice inspired you to share this story because it raises a crucial point–relationships are work, any way you look at it. They take effort and whatever choices we make, for whatever reasons we have, should not be insurmountable barriers. Thanks again!


  4. So many of us don't have that – and it's not a geographical thing. Good for you that you have great ties with grandparents despite them not being on your doorstep – certainly something to cherish. And it goes to show that you can move away and keep family close too.


  5. Thanks Elena – so many underestimate the work needed to keep it all together… as The European Mama stated, it can be exhausting!! Expectations are really high from family on the doorstep in terms of how often we should visit them – at least in our case – so that's one negative to family so close. Family overseas know that visits will be less frequent than we'd all like so you compensate with other types of communication which you don't tend to use with family living nearby. It's all a balancing act!!


  6. Long Live Skype!!! 😉 I fully agree with what is written above! During the last months I think very often about this “being away from home” topic and I concluded for myself that the more I think about my roots and my lovely childhood, the more I think about the people I've been with. You visit a place and it reminds you of someone, you hear a song and it reminds you of someone, you smell something nice and it reminds you of someone, … So, it's about the people and their wish to spend precious time with you. I'm lucky that this happened with me and now it happens with my kids. I strongly believe that distance is not so important when people want to spend time together (of course, I cannot deny that the physical presence is very important for me, but..). My kids learnt so many songs while listening to my mom on Skype. I know that I can leave them there for 10-15 minutes to listen to a fairy tale and they will be so happy. So, basically, they are looking forward to going back home and spending time with grandparents and they will behave as if we didn't spend time away from each other!!


  7. I love this post and it is so true. Growing up I lived in a different country to both my sets of grandparents (one Irish, one Dutch) yet saw them regularly and had a very close bond with my Dutch family. When our children were born we lived the other end of the country to my in laws and I promised them their relationship with our children would not suffer for it. We dove the kids up whenever we could, they phoned etc and I speak about all our family members every day to keep them in the children's' minds. When we moved the children abroad I promised that would not make a different and it hasn't. Distance does not matter a jot if there are true bonds love and affection.


  8. Before we moved to France we still loved a long way from my Mum and and pretty much to to her house as quickly from France as from where we were in the UK and we probably see her as much now as we did then. Sadly she doesn't travel so has never been here and I do feel that is sad for the boys … but it would not be a good enough reason to not move.


  9. This is so true. I have a similar experience, with family living close by and no relationship, and family far away that keeps the communication flowing. Distance is relative, relationships can be built and nurtured from afar if people are willing.


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