“I don’t think my parents liked me. They put a live teddy bear in my crib”
“Most children threaten at times to run away from home. This is the only thing that keeps some parents going.”
Before anyone gets upset, let’s just agree that it would also be easy to make the case for five good reasons to live close to your parents and in-laws. Factors such as health and age come to mind first but there are also other factors such as love of family, economics, and the desire to help each other through thick and thin. We all know that throughout history, families have generally stayed close and, in many cases, multiple generations of families have lived together under the same roof. In no way do I wish to argue against the incredible blessing it has been and will continue to be for innumerable families to take care of each other in that manner.
In fact, I write this article against the backdrop of saying goodbye to my oldest son Robbie, who left yesterday to travel to Arkansas (over 1000 miles away), where he and his wife will begin their new life together with a new home, a new job, and a soon-to-be-born baby. How exciting is that?
And yet, I cried like a baby the night before he left. I had just put this home up for sale and the likelihood of him ever sleeping there again was very small. I reflected upon the many experiences we had shared in that home and my emotions just got the better of me. I was a cry-baby because I was crying about my baby boy. It just melted me.
Many years earlier, the author and his son Robbie
But even with the tears and sad feelings, I was the proudest and happiest dad around. This move for my son and his wife is not only the right thing to do, it is also the best thing for them to do. We are so happy for them. In this article, I would like to make the case that the gifts of modern-day transportation and communication options allow us to stay close as families while at the same time, derive the benefits of living away from each other. Even if this separation is for only a few years, these benefits can be described as follows:
I am sure that there is a nicer way to say “no interference” but it escapes me at the moment. From simple tasks and chores such as how to stack the dishwasher and maintaining the lawn, to more complicated tasks, such as raising children and managing money, there is a very thin line between parents and in-laws helping or driving you crazy. Well intended offerings of sage advice derived from decades of living before you were even in the womb and while they were still walking barefoot in the snow up-hill both ways, are given with such great love, but laced with unintended hurtful unspoken undertones of, “I guess you don’t look capable of figuring that out on your own”. Many a young bride or groom have gone to bed counting the minutes until grandma and grandpa hit the road. They begin to wonder if they are even fit to raise their own children or keep they job they have held successfully for the last five years!
I have found that even being aware of this tendency and working hard to not be that in-law I just described, I have failed again and again. It takes work to not be intrusive and not offer too much advice. The truth is that young married couples have their own skills to develop and much of their growth will come from trials and errors…their own trials and errors that are necessary for them to own that growth for themselves and necessary for them to go through in order to develop wisdom and insight.
Robbie…I would move that box a little more to the left because….wait, wait, wait!! I’m not going to make any suggestions…man that is hard!
By living some distance away the visits are less frequent so the younger couple has time to figure out which is the best dish washing soap to use and how often they should check the oil in their lawn mower. Amazingly they will find that they can figure most of it out all by themselves. That gives them time when the parents and in-laws come to visit next to be prepared with the really tough questions…like why did you raise your son to chew on ice or why does your daughter seem to be angry all the time. Those are answers that are worth driving an hour to get.
Find New Friends
Everywhere I have lived I have developed life long friends. I am so glad that we were introduced to new areas and situations where these friendships were nourished. When you move away from the family center of influence you will start from scratch and build a new friendship base. You will discover that people are generally good at heart wherever you go and that we all wrestle with very similar issues in our life journey.
You also will actually find that your new friends will become your parent’s and in-law’s new friends too. You will want to introduce them and consequently you enrich and keep fresh the older generation whose tendency might be that they are quite happy never getting to know another soul. There is nothing like old friends that you have spent your life with…but there is also nothing like the incredible new friends that you will meet when you move away.
Spread the Goodness of Your Family Name
The goodness of your family name is important. I loved the good name my mother and father gave me. But I also loved making my own name when we moved to new places. My grandfather, because of his involvement in his community, had a small park in Sonoma, California named for him back in the 1950s…Larson Park. Below is a picture of my father visiting that park a few years before his death.
Nearly four and half decades later and on the other side of this great country, my father and mother were inducted into the Florida Tourism Hall of Fame by then Governor Jeb Bush. They left my father’s family business in the late 1950s and moved to Florida to pursue their own dreams and against the wishes of his family. They settled about one hour from my mother’s parents in a small town named Kissimmee and started over. Their struggle from rags to riches and contribution to family and community is exemplary.
My wife and I have also moved away from our parents during much of the time while while we raised our children. My parents supported us in that decision even though it was hard for everyone. We are content that in the locations where we have lived we have worked hard, served others and for the most part, have been good neighbors. It is not necessary to have a park, bridge or an airport named after you. It is important however, to have your name stand for something good and positive in your own circle of neighbors and friends. We hope that wherever our children live they are able to create their own legacy and add to the goodness of their name.
Starting from scratch is part of the magic and fun in the journey that you make together with your spouse. Creating a name for yourself because of your hard work and goodness is a legacy that you leave your kids…not just the name itself but also the understanding and example of how to create their own good name.
Give Your Extended Family and Yourself a Break
It is simply not necessary for everyone to attend every soccer game, graduation ceremony, or birthday party in your family. Give everybody time to live their own lives and save the family get-togethers for special moments that, in a long list of things to do, really merit the time and energy to do.
Choose wisely what you invite your extended family to attend being sensitive to the demands that they have on their lives. Common sense can prevail if everybody gets together and simply agrees on an outline of attending and not attending certain functions…sort of like all agreeing that this year instead of exchanging Christmas presents with our 3rd cousins we will just all show up and actually get to know each other better. Distance works to your advantage in this case.
Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
When you do get the opportunity to visit with your parents and in-laws only every so often it just makes it more special. Those moments become cherished and planned-for events. As a child we went to my maternal grandparent’s home every 3rd Sunday of the month. It was about an hour trip and my two siblings and two parents and I made that trip 12 times a year, year after year.
I looked forward to it. My cousins and aunts and uncles would all be there. We threw the football and picked fruit. We scratched the cows and went on trailer rides. We swung on the sack swing and looked for doodle bugs. There was always a big meal and everyone drank iced tea in a brightly colored tin cup. That is, everyone except the men who for some reason congregated at the open car trunk of whomever brought the good stuff that day. The thought of sitting on the porch after dinner and throughout the day, laughing and singing still warms my heart. We truly grew to be a very close knit extended family.
These are tough choices but you should not be afraid of them nor be afraid to change your mind as circumstances change. We now live next door to my mother-in-law and about an hour from my 86 year old mother. We have come full circle. We are ready for either mom to move in with us if the need ever arises and we look forward to the many opportunities to get together. Getting friends and girl/boyfriends to meet the grandparents is a top priority for my children.
Each family situation is different and there are different seasons in life for each generation. As you consider the options before you, especially for young families, do not be afraid to venture out on your own and find your own way. Most likely, eventually you will be back to live once again close to your parents and in-laws but this time you will be the one that is offering them help instead of the reverse. You will be the one worrying about lawn care and loading the dishwasher. You will be the one seeking ways to help because of the incredibly indebted feeling you will have towards your parents and in-laws. This cycle plays out day after day, year after year, lifetime after lifetime.
So I have stopped crying and am going to let my son and his wife figure out their own dishwasher and lawn care and will bite my tongue when it comes to offering suggestions when they begin to have children. What a great journey they are on! I am with them in spirit as they work their way towards the wonderful future that awaits them.
I just can’t wait to buy an RV and pay them a little visit! I am sure they won’t mind stretching out an extension cord from their garage (which probably could be organized a little better) and letting me park the RV in their driveway (which probably needs the grassed trimmed off the edges) for a few weeks…after all, I’m family and I am here to help!
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