It’s the holiday season. Power plays are brewing over where you’ll spend key dates. Maybe this year, there’s not a snowflake’s chance in the Bahamas you can fly home. You already miss your family’s table full of drama and issues; the relaxation of being with “your people” even if your people are a little—okay a lot—dysfunctional. You’re suddenly faced with coping with long-distance relations (on top of the stress of getting gifts for French relations)!
How good are you at managing this stressful aspect of living far from home? And what if there’s an added kick of a loved one being particularly alone, unwell or struggling?
“Hi, nice to meet you. I’m Lizzie. One of seven kids. Oh, yeah, but we never see each other. We live ‘all-over’, it’s kinda impossible to get together, and dad’s, like, 94 now...”
When it comes to discussing how to “cope with long distance,” I’m somewhat of an expert. That is not a good thing. The refrain you just read has been my catchphrase for many years. “Oh, us? Yeah, we post on Facebook to stay in touch…except for those not on social media at all…or without a working telephone.”
As each holiday season swings around, it feels more difficult. Quite a few in my family are alone, unwell or struggling. Here are my coping mechanisms for anyone feeling that aching sadness, guilt or panicky chasm that long-distance relations cause.
Fly home when others don’t
The costs of flying during the holiday season can be insurmountable. So, look at other time periods and if a deal comes up or an opportunity arises, make the most of those “off-peak” chances. They are gold. Your relationships might go smoother without the strain that gift-giving celebrations can cause. Sometimes it’s nicer to see loved ones in a more 1-to-1 way.
Diversify your comms
If you have technological challenges, keep exploring options until an app saves the day. One niece no longer uses Facebook, landline, or What’s App, but she’s now on Viber so voilà free chats and calls make the 12,000 miles between us disappear. For my parents, Dad’s hearing is so bad even phone calls are difficult so I send him little emails and gift him funny books on his Kindle as he still loves to read. I know my mom doesn’t like to phone calls longer than 10 minutes so I set a timer and get off pronto so she’s not exhausted.
Stay in close touch with the caregivers
If your loved one is unwell or in decline, and the reality is you’re too far to help on any daily or weekly basis, stay in closer contact with those who are shouldering the care. See if you can relieve them for a few weeks over the summer. Ask them what else you can do to help. If you see conflicts arising, get the least drama-prone of your family to hear out both sides and mediate in some way.
Prop up a tablet on the mantelpiece and Skype to “spend some time” with your family even transatlantically. Make sure people here in France realize you need to “see” your family also even if they find a talking tablet a little weird. Okay, you don’t need to be patched in for three hours straight, but some chunk of time goes a long way when you can’t travel to be with them in person.
When you do travel to see your family, know it will trigger guilt. Especially as your departure day looms, know that emotions will rise like a good cheese soufflé. Set and broadcast a rough schedule BEFORE you arrive and try to stick to it so things don’t get out of hand. Tell everyone what you can (and can’t) manage because there’s nothing worse than leaving a sobbing wreck because Aunt Jemima hijacked your last day when you hadn’t seen your brother more than that one night around a table with 15 others.
Bring a bit of home to France
Make Marmite on toast, or whizz up some mac ‘n’ cheese at will. Sometimes the Frenchness of the holiday season can start to feel almost unbearable. Slip a family recipe into the in-laws’ spread. Okay, not the Marmite on toast, but something cute like Christmas crackers—they were my jam to inject a few of my traditions into how they do things.
I realize I’m full of wonderful advice but let me assure you, I struggle to live this list. I’m late with birthday cards, sporadic with calls, and simply useless at extended Skype lovefests. This is all advice I long to follow. Know that when it comes to navigating the painful distance caused by living in another country far from your native land, whatever way you handle it is completely normal.
Thank those techy start-up millionaires for the apps and devices. For my parents’ generation, it was telegrams and a long slow boat trip. Coping with long-distance relations is stressful. So be kind to yourself and know you’re not alone if you too struggle with the ocean(s) of salt water between you and your family. And send me YOUR tips to handle holiday season far from home.