visting with long distance family
March 23, 2011 11:01 AM   Subscribe

Am I visiting with my long distance family enough?

About 8 years ago I moved from the northeast to the west coast. I did it to pursue my career. And it has worked out for the better as I now do what I love to do for a living. The downside is that I don't get to see my parents, my sister, and my other relatives very often. I recently got married and so my wife and I have agreed to visit both our families equally. Her family lives about 8 hours from mine. So while it's doable to visit both at the same time, it might not always work out the way. My sister, who has a kid and another one on the way has been pressuring me and subtly suggesting that I need to come home more often. I know my mom and dad would also like to see me more, but they don't pressure me about it. My goal is to get home 2 times a year. But because of money, that can be hard. The price of plane tickets have gone up. And of course if both my wife and I go, that makes it a costly trip. The plane trip tickets can cost $600-$1000 total for both of us. If we go 2 times a year it runs close to $2000. We also wanna be able to have the occasional vacation for ourselves as well. But family is important. Also, I usually go to my family rather then them coming to me, since there's more room for my wife and I and we don't have to pay for a hotel or anything like that. My questions it terrible if sometimes I only make it back once a year? Is it bad if we sometimes take a vacation for ourselves instead of visiting the family? Usually I spend about a week when I visit. Any advice here is greatly appreciated!
posted by ljs30 to Human Relations (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My family has been far-flung for three generations. Once or twice a year has been the standard, until people get aged.
posted by RedEmma at 11:05 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Do they come visit you?
posted by pazazygeek at 11:18 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Be honest with your parents that it's a financial issue, and not a matter of not wanting to see them more often. That way they can decide to come visit you if they can afford it, or even may offer to help pay the cost of travel; even if neither are feasible, just knowing what's going on should make everyone feel better.
Also, I obviously don't know your family, but maybe taking a group trip with your parents or your wife's parents every few years (even if it's just going camping) would offer you some non-home vacation time and still let everyone get quality visiting in?
posted by you're a kitty! at 11:19 AM on March 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

In general, I would say that no, visiting long-distance family once a year is not at all terrible. But especially if you have young nieces/nephews, I can see the value in visiting more often if possible.

You mentioned that cost is a factor, as well as wanting to be able to take other vacations (same issue at heart, perhaps). Here are some possible things to consider if you haven't already

1) Road trip! If you and your wife are game for some driving, you could make a vacation of taking different routes across the country and see so many different things. This would be potentially cheaper than both of you flying, and/or would serve as a private vacation for the two of you that would have a few days or a week of time with your family (and hers, perhaps) in the middle.

2) Along the same lines, when you plan a vacation for yourselves to wherever (Europe, somewhere sunny, etc), build in a stopover back in the northeast for a few days. Your trips home needn't be long affairs, and this would lower the cost since it would be partially built in to your normal vacation.

I think in general, you just have to be as opportunistic as possible that when you fly over the area, or have a chance to be in there, you take the time to stop by and see them. I think it's easy to underestimate what value a weekend or a one night stay can have in helping to stay connected.

You probably might also need to address things with your sister in the meantime, to let her know that it's not as easy as just booking tickets and hopping on a plane. What she might mean as good-natured ribbing and reminding is clearly giving you some pause and making you feel guilty. If guilt is actually her aim, all the more reason to call her on it, I would say.
posted by dnesan at 11:21 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

My partner and I live on the other side of the world from our respective families. Before we had kids, we visited once a year. Then when we had kids, we switched that to once every two years, because a 12-hour flight with babies/toddlers is pretty much hell on earth for everyone. Our parents understand that it is stressful and expensive for us to return, and they definitely understand that we need vacations too. If they want to see us every year, then that means they have to visit us on the year we don't visit them. This has never been explicitly discussed, but we made it clear we were no longer coming back every year, and they eventually realised that if they wanted to see us, they were going to have make an effort too.

Encourage your family to visit you on the west coast. Going home once a year is not terrible at all, and taking a vacation for yourself is non-negotiable in my opinion.
posted by Joh at 11:23 AM on March 23, 2011

i'm east coast w/ family in colorado. i only get to see them once a year at christmas because of money limitations. as each year passes, i see them get older and i know there is not much time left. since my visits are so few, i tend to wonder how many visits remain - 10? 5?

granted you are married and there is the whole WE factor, but have you given a thought to visiting by yourself? that would reduce the cost of a second trip by half, giving you money that you could put towards a different getaway w/ the wife, just the two of you.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 11:43 AM on March 23, 2011

I think what the above comments are getting at is this: there is no set amount of visiting that is required. Family relationships are idiosyncratic, and visiting once a week can be fine for one person and unbearable for the next. Your sister clearly wants you to visit more, your parents seem somewhat okay with the current situation, so you've got to ask yourself this: why did I feel the need to post this here? Is it because you feel guilty about disappointing your family, or is it because you miss them and want to see them more? If it's the latter, then perhaps you should find a way to budget in more visits (the previous comments give ideas as to how to do that) but if it's the former, maybe you need to cut yourself some slack and balance your family's wants with your wife and your needs (vacations are a need IMHO).
posted by eggyolk at 11:50 AM on March 23, 2011

Once or twice a year sounds like more than enough given the distance and cost. And while I wouldn't expect a sibling with kids to schlep out to visit me, the road does go both ways.

My in-laws all live in one town--my husband is the only one who moved away--and it's easy for those families to forget that it's not always about someone coming to see you. I also think some parents, when their kids grow up, forget that they should own some of this too, and go visit their kids.

I now live in the west, and my family's most on the east coast, and we cannot go home once a year. It's too far and too expensive.

I think it's okay to say to your sister, "I love you and I love my nephew/niece. I'd love to see you more, but coming home more often isn't practical. So let's set up weekly/monthly Skype chats so I can see the kids more often." Eh, she probably just wants you to babysit!
posted by bluedaisy at 11:51 AM on March 23, 2011

I echo the idea that one of you could visit your family at a time, making trips less expensive and possibly more numerous. My stepfather visits his family 4000k away once a year or so, my mother only goes once every few years. Of course, his mother or sister come to visit once a year or so as well.

Also, how in-touch are you while you are separate? Emailing, phone calls, and skyping can do wonders for feeling closer. Maybe just a weekly phone call to check in and see how things are - this is what my grandfather does with his mother and she appreciates it greatly since she lives far away from all her relatives (yes, she is 91 and can still hear on the phone). I think that upping this factor might help your family feel not so distant from you.
posted by hepta at 11:51 AM on March 23, 2011

Am I visiting with my long distance family enough?

There's no right answer to this; every family is different. My wife's extended family gets together at least five times a year; my own we visit more or less once a year. Part of that is for financial reasons, but more of it is just, well, every family is different.

Is it bad if we sometimes take a vacation for ourselves instead of visiting the family?

There is a right answer to this one. It is not bad to sometimes take a vacation for yourselves instead of your family. Family visits aren't vacations, as far as I'm concerned...
posted by ook at 12:11 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Annually is probably all anyone can afford these days.

I have four kids. The distance to my parents & siblings & neices/nephs & aunts/uncles & cousins is about 1500 miles, or 24 hours of driving (which we have never yet dared!). So we fly out once a year, and make it as long a visit as we can -- about 12 days last time. My parents visit maybe every year, and the kids go ape to have them all to themselves. Then again, they go ape when they get to hang out at the lake and see their cousins, too. 7)

My in-laws live about 8 miles away, and so I take joy in having them in my kids' lives. When my parents can join us, or we can go out there to see everyone, my joy is re-doubled.

As for vacations, we have taken a weekend away as a family each summer, too, but it's nothing like The Trip out to my ancestral homeland!
posted by wenestvedt at 12:23 PM on March 23, 2011

I've lived halfway across the world from my family for much of my life. I think if you manage to see your family once a year, given how expensive travel is, that's good. If you could manage more, that would be great (assuming, and it sounds that way, that you get along well with your family), but not at the cost of occasionally going on vacations on your own.

I would agree with the suggestion above that you find other ways of connecting with your family. My siblings and I do a conference call once a week. Whoever can, shows up. Whoever can't, shows up the next week. It's a good way of catching up as a family. And of course there's email, video chat, etc. With young kids, in particular, video chat is an invaluable alternative.
posted by bardophile at 12:24 PM on March 23, 2011

I lived overseas for about 10 years, and I have a younger sister who is now living overseas as well. In both our cases, there was always a lot of pressure from the parents to return home, and there was no consideration about cost whatsoever. To make matters worse, after returning home at Christmas, one of my sisters decided to get married in the summer, meaning a flight home. The following summer my other sister decided to get married. I didn't attend, as it was too expensive.

Now that my younger sister is on the other side of the planet, there is parental pressure for her to visit home, despite the cost, and despite the fact they will be relocating back here anyway in about a year. So she's coming in the middle of the summer for a "family reunion", despite the fact that my wife needs to return home to take care of some family business.

As you can tell, I really resent the family pressure, because ultimately it's not about me, it's about meeting the emotional needs of someone else, no matter what the cost.

In short, do what you can. If you miss your family, go home as much as you can. If you would rather go on vacation, go on vacation.

It's a big world out there. We're on it for such a short time. I'll be telling my sons to go out and explore, have fun, and to come home when they are ready.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:28 PM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

My questions it terrible if sometimes I only make it back once a year? Is it bad if we sometimes take a vacation for ourselves instead of visiting the family?

No. No.
posted by John Cohen at 12:38 PM on March 23, 2011

You are my brother and I am your sister and I complain bitterly about you moving to the other side of the country often. No, you never visit often enough. I want you here for every holiday and for every one of my children's birthdays, and I want to be there for every one of your children's birthdays. I want your children and my children to grow up seeing each other more than once a year. But, practically speaking, I know that this can't happen.

What my brother and I have done is set up a long-range plan for seeing each other. We mostly forget about the holidays, because that's just too stressful to travel and try to cram holiday festivities and good together time into a short school holiday. Instead, we visit him one summer, and the next summer he & his family visit our house, and we try to make it a 7-14 day visit. That way, on the summers we are not planning an expensive airplane trip to visit him, we can spend our vacation budget going somewhere else on our own, and he can do the same on his end. By doing it in the summer, not on a specific holiday, there are no holiday pressures with a zillion things going on, and it feels like quality time is spent between the families.
posted by molasses at 1:02 PM on March 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

Is it bad if we sometimes take a vacation for ourselves instead of visiting the family?

No! It's good to take a vacation for yourselves. Don't let anyone guilt you for spending quality relaxation time with your spouse. Family is important but so is your marriage! Frankly, so is your own sanity--if you need to take a solo vacation, that's ok too!

Keep visiting once per year (or however often makes financial sense), and you don't feel bad if you choose to make a second trip elsewhere. Tell your family that they're more than welcome to visit you at your home. Sure, it's easier for the married-without-kids folks to do the traveling, but still: your sister and her family, or your parents, or the whole bunch could probably manage a trip out west every couple years.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:16 PM on March 23, 2011

The most important thing is to stay connected and feel connected. Physical presence isn't required for that to happen. You can stay connected - and probably mollify the various relatives somewhat - by sending cards and presents for events (not just birthdays - anniversaries, Valentine's Day, etc.), sharing pictures from your lives (Halloween party! Picnic!) and doing regular video calls. Skype is your friend.
posted by bq at 1:52 PM on March 23, 2011

I live across the country from my entire family, too. I try to visit twice a year, but some years it's only once a year (And I refuse to feel guilty if it's once a year so that I can squeeze in travel to other places). I also encourage anyone and everyone to come visit me - with a degree of success, since New York is a major tourist destination.

Some family members pressure me to visit more often, and now that my niece is getting to be an interesting age, I really wish I could. But short of someone paying my way, it pretty much is what it is.
posted by Sara C. at 7:29 PM on March 23, 2011

For what it's worth, I'm in the same situation. Usually I try to make it back twice a year, but this year I'm not sure how that's going to happen. I feel badly but my mom is really supportive about the situation and will chip in to get me airfare to make it home.

In some regards it's sad (seeing my father only sporadically before he passed away last year, though I was there when he did so that was worth it), but we still talk frequently and keep in touch and the love's there. So despite the fact it can't happen the way we'd like, it makes visits home all the more special.

I'd say if nothing else though, if you can get a good phone call in often (or better yet, Skype)-- it'll keep that connection despite the miles. Or letters, handmade things, etc-- things to remind family that you're thinking of them.
posted by actionpact at 8:02 PM on March 23, 2011

Once or twice a year seems reasonable to me, as would having your families come to you in small groups. I agree that not at the major holidays is better.

Is it possible that your sister's complaint may also stem from feeling an increasing burden of caring placed on her shoulders alone? You may want to have a separate conversation with her about whether she needs additional support helping your parents (like housekeeping or driveway clearing) that you could pay for if you can't be present.

Regular skyping and email can also ease the distance.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 6:33 AM on March 24, 2011

I also feel bad that I don't visit my family often enough, especially because the list includes at least semi-separate visits to my divorced parents and my brother with nieces, not to mention my husband's parents, or his brother who recently moved far from them. But it just goes, and they're beyond getting offended at my absence, because they know that's the way it is.

We do significant amounts of "family vacation planning" - not visiting the parents unless the brother can also come, planning vacation trips where we all meet up somewhere (for example, camping in state parks halfway between, or a visit to my aunt who's far from everybody)
posted by aimedwander at 10:29 AM on March 24, 2011

You're not being selfish to want your own vacation, that's important bonding and relaxation time with your wife. Visits once a year or so seem normal for a long distance family. I'm not nearly as far away (about an 11 hour drive) and probably will see my parents twice this year.

My mom moved halfway across the country from her parents and brother. Since my folks weren't in a financial situation to travel much, my grandparents would come to us once a year, maybe twice. It also helped when they retired and had an RV. My uncle and his family, we only saw maybe once every five years or so, but kept in contact with letters and phone calls. (I actually see them more now, since I now have the money to visit and I realize my grandparents don't have much time left).
posted by weathergal at 3:11 PM on March 24, 2011

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