Family Ties

Today would have been my
father’s 82nd birthday. My father, who passed away a bit more than three years ago, was
an impressive man. He was smart, kind and generous. He was larger than life. My
stepdaughter and our two older children were lucky to get to know “Pappous” (Greek
for grandfather) quite well. I am grateful that they were all old enough at the time to
be able to remember him now. Sadly, our youngest will not get that chance; neither
will my nephew and niece, who were also born after he passed away.
An article I read last
week got me thinking, again, about a subject that
has always occupied my mind, in relation to my choice of a “migrant” lifestyle. It
was about the benefits of growing up in an extended family – with grandparents
and great-grandparents – and all the valuable intergenerational experiences
that many of today’s children will never get to know because of their parents’
lifestyle choices.
When we decide to pursue
a “mobile” life – to become migrants – we open ourselves up to a broad range of
potential opportunities for growth and exploration, but at the same time, we give
up a certain version of family life – the kind described in the article and the
kind I grew up with. When I decided to build a life and family outside my home
country and away from my family of origin, I had a relatively good idea of what I
would be missing: I would not be there for many family milestone events; I
would miss the little things that make everyday life; I would risk becoming an “outsider”
within my own family. Then, when my parents would get older, I would not be
able to be there for them as much as I would like to. If they got sick, there
is a good chance that I would be thousands of miles away. If, or rather when, the
“dreaded phone call” would come, it might take me hours to be by their side.
When my kids were born, I
knew that they would not grow up with their grandparents being part of their
daily life. If I wanted them to have a close relationship with my parents, I
would have to make a significant effort, given the distance. Also, given that
it was very important for me that my children learn to speak my mother tongue,
proximity to their Greek grandparents would have made everything so much
easier. Not to mention how much more comfortable my life would have been with
regular – and free – babysitting!
Realising all that potential
loss, hurt a lot. Still
I went ahead and did it; I became a migrant. My parents made it easier for me
by encouraging me instead of holding me back. Now that I have children of my
own, I realise how hard it must have been for them to do that and admire them
for it.
There are times, though, when I wonder whether the price we pay is worth the benefits of the global nomad life. When my
father was sick, I did not live in the same city or even country as he did. I managed
to spend time with him on a regular basis, but I was not there for him all the
time. When the “dreaded phone call” came, I was thousands of miles away.
That said, there are also
important positive implications of choosing a globally mobile life as far as
family ties are concerned. For one, our nuclear family becomes much stronger;
its bonds become tighter and more solid, because they are often the only
constant in the midst of change. Furthermore, I believe that this life makes at least some of us more open to deeper relationships: a lot of my friends have
become my family now and I feel blessed for that.
When we make the lifestyle choice to become migrants, are we aware of
the trade-offs upfront? Do we do a Cost-Benefit analysis in our heads and if yes, how do we “weigh” the excitement of discovering new
places, cultures and people and the unlimited potential opportunities that open up versus the loss that comes from giving up part of our family? How do we
compromise and how do we cope? And is it all worth it in the end?
Have a great week!
P.S. I will be taking my Diary on another Swiss field trip on Wednesday J. See you on Thursday!

One Comment

  1. I think you managed this challenge really well — finding ways to go back and forth, maintaining the language connection. For me, growing up as the daughter of an immigrant, I could barely communicate with my extended family in Greek having not had the language support at home. This meant having a very superficial relationship with my extended family when I was little. The thing is, I have taken it on as an adult to maintain the ties (and communicate a bit better!). Family is a strong bond and though our kids don't grow up with family down the street, they know where family is and will seek them out over time. The best we can do is nurture those relationships.

    On a personal note, I miss your father. He was always proud of your choices and wouldn't want it any other way. x

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