It was once the case that families would spend nearly all of their free time together. They would do the household chores together, eat together, play together, chat together, study together and worship together. These days it’s more and more common for at least one family member not to live together with the others. Improved means of transport and communication mean that more options present themselves to family members for education and people’s careers. The close-knit family has been torn asunder and replaced with the international family – the mother lives in Los Angeles, the father spends most of the year in Tokyo, the eldest child is studying at an International School in Shanghai and the youngest child is being taken care of by her grandparents in New York so her mother can focus on her career.
These situations can be of major benefit to the individuals – in the first case, the mother is free to concentrate on developing her career without having to care about her family, in the second the father is demonstrating his loyalty to the company by taking up a foreign post, for which he will be rewarded with a promotion or a directorship, in the third case the child is getting first-hand international experience and a sense of independence, and in the fourth, the child is benefitting from more attention than her mother can give her and the grandparents are delighted to be able to spend so much time with their granddaughter.
On the other hand, this situation puts a hefty strain on the family as a whole and the relationships it is made up of. Each family member will feel concern for the others, perhaps this will trouble the adults more than the children. On the other hand, while the adults will undoubtedly feel lonely and isolated at times, they will not be unused to the feeling and will understand that it is only temporary. Children may be more greatly affected by a sense of loss – a year may not sound like a long time to a grown adult, but to a ten year-old it represents a long time – 10% of their life to date.
While the father and the children may have people to take care of their daily needs, living in serviced accommodation, the mother still has to maintain the family home, and now she has to do it by herself. She may have thought that the company of her pets would cure her loneliness, but that also means she has to take care of them, wash them, feed them, walk them and play with them at the same time as having so many other things to do. Each member of the family will find themselves having to deal with problems on their own.
On top of all this, they may want to keep abreast of developments and news where their family members are located. News of an earthquake in Tokyo, for example, could be paralyzing for all members of the family until they can eventually make contact with their loved one and feel reassured that they are safe.
One way to deal with this is to arrange regular video meetings online. This can be tricky when all of the participants are in different time zones, but also presents a challenge when only one family member is away – the other family members might have to crowd around a small screen to see and hear the family member who is away. Thankfully this problem can be solved by feeding the image through to a larger screen, such as a TV and using a Bluetooth speaker to amplify their voice for everyone to hear. Check out http://www.speakerdigital.com/ in case you’re not sure what options are available to you.
Once the family unit is back together again, it’s important to do things together as a family in order to keep the bonds strong. You need to make memories together that each of you can look back on and remember happily during the times you spend apart. If times get tough, remember with a smile the words of George Burns –
“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”