Families are usually what they would term “dysfunctional” in old sitcoms. Spending a few hours in a room with granddads, grandmas, uncles, aunts, your parents and siblings who like to tease you, can make you lose your cool and want to hit yourself over the head with a rock. However, as I’ve found out when I left my small, yet warm-hearted and proud country nestled deep in the heart of the Balkan Peninsula and spent a couple of years in London, family ties run really deep. You don’t even realize how much they mean to you or how much they contribute to your mental and emotional well being until you’re cut off, and get to see them only a couple of times a year. Here are a few big struggles that people who live far away from family have to endure.
1. We can spend an afternoon on Skype with our family, and still feel like crap afterwards
A common misconception is that getting some face time with your close ones can help curb that shadow of nostalgia that keeps cutting into our hearts. You see nostalgia can have certain benefits, but it can also be very emotionally draining. The problem is that, sometimes, seeing someone and having a great talk that reminds you of the good all days only pushes that shadow into overdrive an hour later, and you start to create an idealized image of the “good old days” and that beautiful hometown that no place on earth can compare to.
2. We can’t share some of our little moments with our new friends
There are certain things that you grow up with, common interests that you only share with your closest family. For me it was always boxing and wrestling with my dad, and our hunting trips. We’d spend the weekends leading up to the hunt sighting in our rifles, shooting 40-50 rounds down range, and just having a blast. I can still hear the characteristic clack-cling of dad’s old Zastava Arms Mauser 98 bolt action. Unfortunately, none of my friends and acquaintances in merry old England really understood the thrill I felt, and a lot of them would even gasp at the fact that someone would shoot and eat a live creature.
3. We get irritated when we hear someone moan about a family dinner they have to attend
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that not everyone has a close relationship with their family, or even a psychologically healthy relationship for that matter. However, no family is even close to being “normal” in the 50s Hollywood family sense, namely because only aliens or deeply troubled psychotics trying to blend in with these strange “Hu-mans” would look like that. Everyone’s got problems, but for most of us it’s all about little annoyances like your folks pestering you about work or your love life, a few serious rows from the past and a perhaps one or two skeletons in the closet.
So, when I hear someone mope about “having to” go see their family, I just want to punch them square in the jaw. I wish I could sit there and try to dodge questions about when I’ll get married or change that stupid haircut, because I know we’d eventually get to lighter topics and I’d be happy I saw those irritating and judging goofballs.
4. We are limited to sharing exciting parts of our lives through images and the odd video
Where I once tried to always keep my family in the loop, living through both tough and happy times with them, and sharing my experiences as they happened, they are now left with only a few pictures on Facebook, a short talk on Skype and the occasional postcard as an insight into my life. I, in turn, get to look at their trials and victories through a smartphone screen that fits neatly into my pocket.
While a nicely made slideshow or goofy collage does put a smile on my face in those moments of nostalgia, I long for that real human connection at times. Bringing my sister along on camping trips and parties, spending a good part of the night having a long drunken talk with my dad about life or talking to mom about this cute girl I met, these are life’s quirky little scenarios that help set the tone and cement a conversation in my mind. Pictures and Skype pale in comparison.
5. We can never get our heads around the fact that people keep changing
Kids grow, rebellious teenagers cut their hair and get sucked into the academic lifestyle, strong and vibrant father figures weaken with age, quirky little sisters get married and baby-faced little brothers, who you wrestled around the yard with, outgrow you and get jobs. When you’re in the same town, even if you don’t get to see them that much, you tend to pick up on these changes sooner, and the transformation seems gradual. When you are halfway across the continent, however, these things just hit you like a hammer, leaving you confused and at a loss for words.
6. We can’t really choose what to do on holidays
With all this talk of missing my family, and wanting to punch people who see family get-togethers as obligations, you would think I’d look forward to seeing them every chance I get–and I do. However, at some point you lose the freedom to choose how to spend your free time from work, as you are expected to come see the family for Christmas, Easter and basically any time when you’ve got a week or two to spare. The worst part of it is that coming back home can be more depressing than leaving, at least for the first few days.
You don’t want to look like a hypocrite or a heartless bastard, so you rearrange all other aspects of your life to make a family reunion fit your schedule, even though sometimes you just want to blow off some steam partying or take your girlfriend on that trip to Barcelona you’ve been talking about for the past few months.
7. We keep hearing about how we’ve changed and how weird we look and sound
Okay, so every culture has their own slightly different set of social rules, ideologies, and general ways of doing things. It’s a fairly simple concept to grasp, but for some reason as soon as you go even a little bit against the grain you are accused of (*drum roll*) changing! You forget a word in your native tongue and suddenly it’s “ooh la la, look at the stuck up Englishman” or “we’ve got a nobleman at the table, mind your manners kids.”
The clothes you wear, that slightest change in your accent, or the fact that you keep referencing places and people no one has seen, been to or heard of, turns you into a bit of a clown that everyone can poke fun at. We get so used to people seeing us an a bit of an outsider when we move away, so when our family start to react similarly we kind of feel like we are caught up between two worlds.
These are just some personal musings, but I hope that all of those who had to leave home and spend a long time hundreds of miles apart from their family can relate to this, and that this article can at least help them get some of that load of their chest. It’s a tough situation, but finding the freedom to chase after your dreams and discovering who you truly are is never easy.