Although everyone's challenges will be different, hopefully some of the tips below may help you manage and adapt to the situation of having your child living overseas or many miles away. Do let us know of any others that have helped you so that we can share them.
Accept the feelings
First of all, be reassured, any difficult feelings you experience about being parted by so many miles are likely to be perfectly normal and will be shared by plenty of other people in a similar situation.
When your son or daughter tells you of their plans to relocate, of course you’ll want to support them, to seem positive about their decision, and you’ll do your best to put on a brave face, even if temporarily the news has turned your world upside down. But be kind to yourself when you find it hard to put on a smile. You’re going to need time to adapt.
It’s ok to be honest and tell them that the separation will be hard for you. In fact, keeping all of your feelings too tightly bottled up can sometimes backfire. Just make sure you don’t resort to emotional manipulation and try to guilt‑trip them into staying close to home. Remember, too, more often than not, the feelings will get easier to manage over time.
But if the feelings don’t seem to be getting any easier to handle, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. There are counsellors who have personal experience of family separation.
Staying close despite being far away
Maybe you’re worried that by being so far away from one another you will drift apart? But there are ways you can stay close both before and after the move.
Show a keen interest in whatever they talk about as they plan their move so that they don’t feel the need to avoid the subject when you are together. Lend a sympathetic ear to any problems they have to deal with. The move may be stressful for them as well as for you!
Once they’ve reached their new destination, give them time to organise themselves, but after they’ve had time to settle in, have an honest conversation about how often it’s feasible to call. Take the initiative sometimes so that it’s not always their responsibility to call you. Technology such as Skype, Zoom, Facetime and WhatsApp will be a fantastic aid to helping you maintain a close family bond. A video call may not be as good as a hug, but it can be the next best thing.
Ask your son or daughter to send you photos and videos of their life in their new location. Meanwhile, keep them up-to-date with whatever is going on in your life, or with family members back home. That’s how you can reinforce connections and feel part of one another’s lives. And – it goes without saying – make plans to visit them if you can.
What time is it there?
Living in different time zones can be complicated at first, but after a while will become part of your particular family setup. Of course when the distances are extreme, it can be a challenge to find the best time to get in touch without calling one another too early or too late. This can be even more complicated when your family is divided between more than two time zones!
Scheduling calls in advance can make this a bit easier. Find a time that is convenient for both parties and you’re likely to have much better conversations. But if you want to have a bit more spontaneity about it, then maybe everyone can just try to be more flexible. It could mean that one caller might be drinking their early morning coffee, while the other one is taking a call in bed before settling down for the night. But whenever you speak, try not to let the calls go on for too long so that future calls remain a pleasure, rather than a chore.
Oh, and if you are constantly having to remind yourself what time it is for them, why not buy a wall clock showing the time in different countries? Alternatively, just have a second clock that shows the time wherever your son or daughter is living.
Yes, some families can get together for every birthday, anniversary and wedding. But Scattered families may have to be a bit choosier and a bit more creative.
Perhaps you could schedule a holiday to visit them that coincides with a birthday, or maybe they can plan a visit home for that big family celebration?
Of course you’ll have to plan ahead, as travel over longer distances often has to be planned well in advance. And you’ll need to show some understanding when somebody just can’t make it happen. And remember that if the exact date in question is looking difficult to agree on, remember that some celebrations can be postponed until you can both settle on a convenient time‑slot.
And if a face‑to‑face get‑together just isn’t possible, then Plan B has to be phone calls and video calls. It’s possible to share a glass of champagne by video link – although one of you might be drinking yours at breakfast time!
Feeling ‘different’ from other close‑knit families
There’s no easy answer to this. Yes, it can be painful to be reminded of how easy it is for other families to get together at the drop of a hat. Sometimes you can end up feeling like you are the only person on the planet that doesn’t have their family close by. Seeking out people in the same situation as you can help you to realise that you are not alone. Online forums and dedicated groups can provide understanding and support. The Scattered Families Facebook group is a good place to start, as group members will be dealing with situations that are similar to your own, and will share some of the feelings you may be experiencing.
Instead of focusing on your child or children moving/living so far away, find ways to get out and do more. Perhaps you could take a class in something that interests you. You’ll get to meet new people while you learn something new. If you aren’t working, think about volunteering. Helping others is a really good way to take your mind off your own problems and can make you feel valued and appreciated.
Getting out in the fresh air can lift your mood. Getting more physical exercise will help, too. Gardening combines both. Or how about arranging regular walks with a friend or neighbour? Just being outdoors for twenty minutes a day can improve both your mental and physical wellbeing, making you feel more positive, more relaxed and connected to other people and the world at large. If you’re feeling more adventurous, how about signing up for a fun exercise class? Essentially, take an interest in what is going on around you - and keep moving.
Long distance travel costs
How often you make a long trip will vary according to individual circumstances. If you can alternate your visits to your offspring with their visits to you, it will lighten the financial load, but naturally everybody’s financial circumstances and, maybe even health conditions, will need to be taken into account.
Booking well in advance may reduce the amount you end up paying, as ticket costs often tend to get more expensive as you get nearer to the departure date. Choosing to travel in the off-peak season, avoiding pinch points like Christmas or school holiday will definitely make a difference. And do check the flights for each day of the week, as some days will be cheaper than others. Times of departure can also have an impact on the ticket prices.
Sign up to ‘deal’ websites and get updates about cheaper travel. There are plenty of these sites about. Ask family, friends and acquaintances for recommendations, or dive in and browse the internet and do the research yourself.
Also, if you are finding it hard to find the money and if your son or daughter is in a position to help, could they contribute towards your tickets? Even a small contribution can make things easier.
For more ideas, search the internet for ‘how to reduce long‑haul travel costs’.
Reunions and partings
Scattered Families often have to deal with an ‘all or nothing’ pattern to family life. Whereas other families may have the luxury of regular get‑togethers that last a few hours or so, Scattered Families can be dealing with long periods of separation punctuated with homecomings that last for days or even weeks.
When your offspring come to stay after a long parting, or when you go to visit them, it’s human nature to want the whole experience to be as near perfect as possible. But the reality is that during the visit, everybody has to do a bit of adapting and is settling into a new rhythm. There can be teething problems at the start, a few ups and downs along the way. Remember that no family is perfect and yours is dealing with suddenly being thrown together (potentially round the clock) when none of you are used to it.
Expectations of how it will feel to finally spend some time together can be unrealistically high. So it will help to remind yourself that everybody’s routines have been interrupted which can feel a bit stressful. It will make things easier if you try to be tolerant of other people’s moods and behaviour, and accept your own occasional lapse. Allow everyone to have their grumpy moment and be forgiving of the person who is having an off-day.
Then, once you’ve smoothed over any petty tensions (and hopefully laughed them off), before you know it, it’s time to say your goodbyes! Goodbyes are much harder when the distance between you is significant. You know it will be a while until you next get to see each other and enjoy a hug.
Before parting, if at all possible, plan the next meet-up, so that you have something to look forward to straightaway. If it was really hard last time you said goodbye, look at what you can do differently this time so as not to repeat the same pattern. It's not compulsory to say your goodbyes at the airport. If it's easier, say your goodbyes beforehand.
And once you’ve said your goodbyes, when they’ve left or when you’re back home, try keeping busy until your old routine kicks back in and takes over. It’s ok if you feel a bit down for a while, but keeping yourself occupied will help the feelings pass more quickly.
If we work on this cycle of reunions and partings, over time we can make it easier on ourselves. We can develop our own personal strategy. It will help if we remind ourselves that we also have a life of our own to live, activities that we can enjoy doing independently of our children, new people to meet and new places to explore.