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Monday, August 8th, 2011

The All-or-Nothing Family: A Lament


The hardest thing for me about our unique little family is our unique extended family situation. One side of the family is in the U.S., the other side of the family in Lebanon, and we, like shipwrecked sailors, somewhere in the middle, impossibly far from both.

Ok, yes, there’s email. Skype. Facebook. Planes and international travel. Thank goodness! Without all that our lives would be truly sad and lonely ones. But even with all that, we are either living our lives far from family, communicating when we can manage time differences and busy schedules, celebrating the smaller holidays alone or with other expat friends or having the very intense experience of family living with us in small quarters, with all the joy and strain that are attendant.

I think I probably talk about this topic a lot. It’s on my mind pretty much all the time. There are so many emotions mixed up in our family relationships: sadness, loneliness, guilt for making our families travel so far, joy when they arrive and yes, I’ll admit it, sometimes some relief when they go.

Right now we are about six weeks into a visit from my in-laws. They love us, adore their grandchildren, but don’t really like to travel. And I feel guilty for making them come all the way here, knowing they aren’t as comfortable as they would be in their own home. They miss their friends and relatives back home, they miss their routines, they miss everything except their grandchildren. When they go back, they will be happy to return, except for missing their grandchildren. No matter where they are (or where we are, for that matter) something important always seems to be missing.

My husband and I both grew up in the same town as most of our extended families. Holidays, both major and minor, were celebrated with aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents. Sunday lunches were common. My husband saw his grandparents on a daily basis until they passed away, when he was in his early twenties. Family was a huge part of the fabric of our young lives and we wish so fervently we could make it so for our children too. But we can’t. It’s feast or famine and nothing in between.

Every visit of theirs, they tell us will be their last. This is the first time I believe them. They are getting older; everything feels harder to them. “I told my children to have their children young, so I could help them,” laments my mother-in-law. “I told them to stay in Lebanon.”

I long for an uncomplicated relationship, where family dinners are organized on the spur of the moment, where grandparents drop by or children go to Grammie and Granddad’s house for the afternoon. My logical brain knows that even if that were the case family relationships are rarely easy and uncomplicated even in the most loving and tight-knit families. My emotional brain keeps insisting that it should be possible, if only, if only, if only…

© 2011, Mary Hackett. All rights reserved.

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Mary Hackett was born and raised on the Texas/Mexico border. She moved to France in 2000 after graduating from the University of Chicago, and aside from a year back in the US has lived there ever since with her Franco-Lebanese husband and their two sons. They are raising their kids trilingually in English, French and Arabic.

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1 Comment
  1. CommentsBridget   |  Wednesday, 07 September 2011 at 5:44 pm

    We are working towards moving to Australia (surprise!) and this topic has been our main concern lately, especially with our parents getting older. We talk about how often we currently see them (once or twice a year), about the lengthy vacation time we would get as Australians, and the availability of the technology you mention. We just broke the news to our families last week and it was interesting to get their reactions. It was a little more emotional for some than I thought it would be. My dad is excited for us but says flat out that he won’t visit us. My mom is already setting aside money for plane tickets. My sister cried. Ben’s dad is excited and planning his visits, but his mom and stepdad are pretty bummed. I guess I thought everybody would think it was a great adventure, I didn’t realize some of our family are still waiting for us to move “home,” something isn’t likely to be professionally possible. Unless, of course, we were independently wealthy!

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