Long Distance Relationships

7 Mar

She’s only five years old, but my daughter is already in several long distance relationships. They’re not the romantic kind, of course, although her long-time “boyfriend” lives 4 hours away.  The two of them have known each other since they were babies and have a special connection. She even talks about them getting married when they’re grown up. For now, they only see each other on rare occasions, which seems to be typical of most familial relationships in my daughter’s life.

When her mother and I moved from New York to Texas in 2001, we understood the distance between us and family members would make seeing our loved ones on a regular basis more difficult. Four years later, I thought the birth of our baby girl would change that. I assumed we’d have visitors every year. I was wrong.

My mother, older brother and two sisters visited just weeks after my daughter was born. A year later, my older brother returned for another visit, and soon after, he moved in with us. No one else came back to visit us in Texas. Almost six years later, my daughter hasn’t spent a moment in Texas with a single grandparent, aunt or uncle—except for Uncle Will—since she was less than a month old. Even Uncle Will is no longer close by, separated by 4 hours of driving between Houston and the suburbs of Dallas.

When I was growing up, spending time with relatives was a constant. We shared holidays, reunions, Saturday night visits at my grandparents’ house and frequent Sunday visits to the homes of aunts, uncles and cousins. While we were creating wonderful memories together, the relatives who lived in other states were often missing those experiences. Now I’m raising a child who is missing many family experiences as she grows up, and I don’t like it. Some may argue that we choose to live far away and that’s part of the consequences of a long distance relationship. They have a point. But I still don’t like it.

The distance between my daughter and most of her relatives is overcome at times by phone chats with her grandparents and the Christmas gifts that arrive for her every year. But she’s starting to realize what she’s missing, and my response to the situation is changing.

I used to focus more on wanting her to see these people, to interact with them as much as possible. Now I realize that it’s more important to help her cultivate good relationships regardless of whether it’s a person in her daily life or a person she rarely sees. I no longer perceive the long distance relationship people as “absent” from her life. While they’re not present, they’re still a part of who she is, and she deserves to learn about them and love them no matter what. We’ll look at pictures together and I’ll talk about an interesting quality of each person or share a fun story about something that person did or said. She’s naturally inquisitive so she’ll ask a lot of questions, and that helps me understand what interests her most.

Moving closer isn’t an option right now. Neither is traveling to see everyone. But what is within my reach is finding ways to help my daughter feel close to her grandparents, aunt and uncles and create new ways to connect them with regularly. I also want her to realize that while I’m facilitating the development of those relationships, it will eventually be her responsibility to help them grow and flourish in the years to come.

I admit, it’s all a work in progress. But that’s what defines any good relationship, right?

7 Responses to “Long Distance Relationships”

  1. Dee March 7, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

    Marc, Having lived those years of family visits and sharing fond memories of those times, I also felt your struggle to keep in close contact with those at a distance. I am on the other side of that fence with my 4 grandchildren living in other states. Now with SKYPE we can see them and they can see us! It is a wonderful tool. Keep that in mind…and keep on writing. Loved the story!!! Cousin Dee in VT

    • Marc Isaacs March 7, 2011 at 10:58 pm #

      The Skype option is terrific. It’s the perfect means of communicating face-to-face when separated by miles. I have an account already so it will be a matter of encouraging others to sign up and use it.

  2. Aunt Kathy March 7, 2011 at 7:19 pm #

    I can sympathize with your (and your parents!) “absence” dilemma. I have half of my grandchildren close by that I can see often, the other half are in 2 different directions. At least we get to spend time together more often than you do, since the distance isn’t as great. Shall I make an attempt at writhing some “anecdotes” of your days as a child that you can share with your little angel? Like you and Will running through the farmhouse yelling “Legs in the kitchen!”????????

    • Marc Isaacs March 7, 2011 at 10:59 pm #

      “LEGS IN THE KITCHEN!” That’s a classic story. Yes, I’m sure she would love to hear that one.

      • Aunt Kathy March 8, 2011 at 7:31 pm #

        And of course there’s the ever popular bow on the head with “you’re going with Aunt Kathy and Uncle John on their honeymoon!”

  3. Betty Myers March 9, 2011 at 2:10 am #

    I’ve been reading to my grandkids over the Internet. It’s great to be able to share story time even when we’re not together. It has enhanced my relationship with my grandkids. I went to http://www.readeo.com and used the code readtome92 and got a 1-month free trial! They have a library of books for you to choose from. I hope this information helps.

    • Marc Isaacs March 9, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

      Thanks. I’ll check it out. My daughter’s grandparents have dial-up service and that seems to limit their interaction with her online.

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