Written by Amberly – a current graduate wife
Another year of holidays, family celebrations and special events have come and gone; and here I sit 900 miles away participating via Skype. Don’t misunderstand me; I am grateful for Skype every time the computer rings, but it is not quite the same as being in the same room with my family. Isn’t it everyone’s ideal Thanksgiving to stay awake until midnight just so you can see your family as they gather around the table eating foods you can’t even find in your local supermarket? (As a side note – did you know that you can make cornbread dressing with maize meal or that not all turkeys come with their internal organs already in a bag? This southern girl learned both lessons in 2006 when I attempted to make my first solo Thanksgiving dinner!)
This past Christmas was the first Christmas we didn’t go home. We had just returned to the UK in October and it didn’t make sense to fly back to Atlanta so quickly. When we made the decision, we thought it would be a good opportunity to begin our own traditions. We decorated and bought presents. Our families shipped so many gifts that we could barely walk through the living room without tripping. It all seemed to be going well until Christmas Eve….carols played on our computer, and we sat looking at each other realizing that we were alone. No amount of presents or tinsel could change the fact that our families were gathering together and we weren’t there to be with them.
Of course, it is not just holidays that can be hard; I’ve missed weddings, baby showers, funerals, birthdays, beach vacations, and family portraits. My little sister will graduate from college in two weeks, and I won’t be there to give her a hug that only a big sis can give. I don’t want to miss that day or my other sister’s 16th birthday, or when my brother brings his new girlfriend to meet the family. But, we aren’t the only ones missing things. Our families don’t have the daily privilege of seeing their only grandchild grow up.
With all of this in mind, you might be envisioning me writing while curled up in a ball under my duvet with a quart of ice cream. And I would be remiss if I lead you to believe that I don’t have days when that is exactly what I feel like doing. I am happy to say that those days are far and few between, and along the way I have learned a few things that might help someone else trying to come to terms with being separated from family.
Make a plan. With the busyness of life, it is easy to wake up one day and realize that you haven’t spoken with your parents in 2 weeks. Losing touch happens so quickly, even in some of our closest relationships. We make it a point to talk with our parents once a week on a specific day around the same time. While this worked for our parents, I have learned that every relationship is different and communication styles can be different. My siblings are all in school and keep crazy student hours so planning to Skype at a specific time is really impractical. Email, Facebook and our family blog all serve as vehicles to keep us in touch with one another. Find a way to communicate with each other and make it a priority.
Embrace your new home. No, it doesn’t make your family any closer, but when you accept your new life and find things big and small to enjoy, it makes the distance not feel quite as far. Find a church, a library, a coffee shop, a museum, a great restaurant, a bookstore – anything that makes you happy and allows you to begin to be connected to your new home. It can also help your family to know that you are settling in. My mom has said many times that knowing we are happy and content in our home helps her to not worry about us nearly as much.
Surround yourself with memories. I love to have family pictures in our home. We have moved a lot in the last 5 years and no matter where we are living, it doesn’t feel like our home until our pictures are around us.
Be honest. I really struggle with this at times. I want to present the perfect front to our families. I don’t want them to worry about us. Although I don’t think having an emotional breakdown every time we talk is helpful, I have had to learn that it is okay to let them know when I am struggling with being left out.
Develop new relationships. I could never replace my family or friends I have known for years. However, developing relationships in the places we have lived has made a huge difference in dealing with being separated from our old lives. We have had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world with different backgrounds. We would never have met them if we had not stepped into our new life. These relationships have shaped who we are today and I am incredibly grateful for every one.
Remember why you are separated from your families. When you are the supporting partner it can be difficult to remember what your spouse is doing, the pressures they are under and what the ultimate goal is. Remember why you made the decision for your spouse to pursue further education and what your long-term family goals are.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list and I am far from an expert. Being separated from family is never easy and it does take time to adjust. Know that if you are willing to make the effort it can be done without sacrificing the relationships that you cherish.
If you have found yourself relocated to a new place on your graduate wife journey, how do you handle being separated from your family and friends?