“Those are such good kisses!” I hear my parents say to my 18-month-old daughter as she kisses them through the phone screen. She’s video chatting, or should I call it video playing, with her grandparents who are over 4,000 miles away — a separation not easily navigated without heartbreak and pressure. Six months ago, my husband and I, with our 1 year old, left my home state of North Carolina and moved out of the country. I prepared for many things leading up to our move, but living away from family with a baby was not one I even knew how to approach. The first year of my daughter’s life was spent at an easy distance from my parents. In fact, we lived in my parents' house for her first three and a half months.
By the time of our international move, I was confident in my ability to take care of my daughter without the nearby guidance of my family, but the range of emotions I’d face and how I’d handle them were unknown to me. The move was our choice, and we were genuinely thrilled about the new possibilities in our life. Instead of missing my family for myself (since being an adult and being involved in making this decision meant I knew what I was getting into), I think I’ve more missed my parents for my daughter — I miss her ability to have an ordinary relationship with them, which is a loss for her brought on by my life decision.
Since moving, they’ve had to forge a different relationship, but thanks to the internet, they’ve been able to continue a relationship nonetheless. Though I’m not sure it has made my parents feel less far away from their granddaughter, it has given my child the ability to remember them, to hear and remember their voices, and for them to still see her grow up — even if it's through a screen. They eagerly await the next video or photos we post on social media, and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be opposed to us just having a live video stream from our living room all day long.
When I hear my parents say, “I really miss her,” as they watch her run off to get a new toy I’ve just asked her to show them or, “I wish I could just reach through this screen to hug her,” I can’t help but feel sad over what I've done.
Seeing her through the internet can only do so much to alleviate the effects of our move. It creates moments that induce smiles and giggles, but it also prompts feelings of sadness and requires quite a bit of patience. When I hear my parents say, “I really miss her,” as they watch her run off to get a new toy I’ve just asked her to show them or, “I wish I could just reach through this screen to hug her,” I can’t help but feel sad over what I've done. And no video chat with an 18 month old is complete without at least one disconnection due to her curious and quick tiny fingers ending the call prematurely thanks to the bright red "end" button — not to mention dealing with an annoying sound or video delay due to the strength of the connection. Sometimes I wonder if my daughter thinks that Grandma and Grandpa now live inside the screen she waves to and kisses and whether or not she’s wondering why we never visit them like we used to.
Because we also don’t currently live near my husband’s family (all of whom are British and living in England), being so far away means our free babysitting potential is clearly limited. This means date nights or even the odd hour or two child-free are basically non-existent. It’s stretched us to figure out how to cope and maintain our relationship and our own self-care, but that’s the life we’ve chosen at the moment. I can deal with that. The thing that’s harder for me is knowing that a huge part of my baby's life — the first connections children make like grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins — is currently missing. We've aimed to fill those gaps with the new people we’ve met and friends we've made, but we’re still largely on our own, and it takes time to build true attachments in a foreign city.
Though we may deal with a subtle (or sometimes not-so-subtle) pressure from our families to reevaluate our location, we don’t have to negotiate the often awkward terms of our parenting methods with opinionated family members. That, too, has afforded me the opportunity to work out for myself what kind of parent I do and don’t want to be.
We’ve become stronger as a true unit as a result, and I’ve chosen to take that as a benefit to how our family will relate to one another in the future. I believe my daughter’s bond to me and her father has been solidified in a profound way by our near-constant presence and availability to her, something that might not have taken place the same way had we not moved away from all we knew.
Being away from family also means we get to call all the shots when it comes to raising our daughter. Though we may deal with a subtle (or sometimes not-so-subtle) pressure from our families to reevaluate our location, we don’t have to negotiate the often awkward terms of our parenting methods with opinionated family members. That, too, has afforded me the opportunity to work out for myself what kind of parent I do and don’t want to be, which has given me the chance to know I can trust myself. And I’m finding that to be one of the keys to this whole parenting thing.