Moving Away from Family – How to Deal With the Guilt Made Actionable

One of the biggest decisions you may ever have to make in your life is moving away from family. In many ways, it might be easier to make this kind of decision when you’re young, footloose and alone. But what happens when you’re moving your immediate family away from the whole family unit? I’m talking about the grandparents, aunts and uncles and the cousins you’ll be leaving behind. This is the situation I am in and I know it’s not an easy step to make.

It’s not a decision one takes lightly, no matter the reason for doing it. And, even if your decision is whole-heartedly accepted by the other members of the family, you’re still going to be landed with some heavy emotions. One of them being GUILT.

Managing guilt and the other difficult emotions is possible once you understand why and how these emotions happen. And, when you do you’ll be able to move with an open heart and at the same time, help your kids cope.

Why Are You Moving Away From Family

Oftentimes, moving to another country or even another state is because of a new job or promotion. I moved away from my home country (Hungary) to Germany first due to academic studies, then because of a job I changed to Switzerland – this is also where I currently live. This kind of move or moves make it easier to justify moving away from your extended family. And, while you may experience sadness when you leave behind close family members, you may not face too much guilt.

But how about the decision you’ve made to move because you don’t like the town you’ve grown up in? Or, you love the sea and have always wanted to move to a small coastal town? Moving your family away for these reasons might not be taken as lightly by the doting grandparents. And, the guilt will kick in especially when your kids will miss out on quality time with their cousins. We all know that online calls can help, but they’re not a substitute to physical touch, to spending time together.

Compile a Pros and Cons List

Whatever your reason for moving away, make sure you’re making the move because it’s the right one to make for you and your own family. It’s always a good idea to do a pros and cons list. This helps to give you clarity and if your kids are older, you could do the exercise with them.

Together, you can figure out how to manage the cons (invite the grandparents and cousins to visit often) and look forward to enjoying the pros (teenage son can finally live out his dream to be a surfer boy).

Your list of pros and cons could look like this:

ProsCons
- My new job means more fulfillment, more income or a new learning experience.
- I’ll be living in an environment I’ve always wanted to be in e.g. at the sea, by the mountains or in a vibey city.
- We’ll do more things together as an immediate family.
- The kids will enjoy the adventure (and so will I).
- We’ll meet new people and make new friends.
- My son can now learn to be a surfer boy
- My daughter loves hiking so we can spend weekends in the mountains
- I want to be happy.
- We’ll miss seeing the grandparents/aunts and uncles/cousins every weekend
- No more free babysitting!
- Leaving behind old friends
- No support structure

What to Expect When You Move Away From Family

I’ve already mentioned you can expect a range of unhappy emotions surfacing when you decide to move away from family. Besides guilt, which is one of the most commonly felt emotions, you can expect to feel anger, grief and even jealousy.

What’s going to happen to your relationships with the extended family? And, what about your friends and your kids’ friends? You’re likely moving to a new place where you don’t know anyone. And, your kids will be starting a new school, you’ll be settling into a new work environment or if you’re a stay-at-home parent, you’ll have to start a whole new support circle.

While I’ve mentioned the downside of moving away from family, there’s also the upsides to expect. Exciting adventures with your kids in a new town, making new friends and experiencing happiness because you’ve finally made a move you’ve always wanted to make.

Let’s talk about both the downsides and upsides. When you’re finished reading these, you’ll find a list of actions to take to help you cope with moving away.

1. Dealing With Guilt and A Whole Lot More

Even if you’re excited and know you’re making the right move you’re likely to feel some guilt. Especially if you come from a close-knit family and they’re fully supportive of your decision. You’re still going to feel guilty.

The first step to dealing with this emotion is to accept it’s normal. Then look at all the pros for making the move. Once you see all the pros, you can learn to accept and let go of the guilt. And, if your guilt is coming from unhappy grandparents or miserable cousins, then you have to accept it’s their stuff.

Expect to also feel anger (yours, your kids’ and your extended family’s). This is also a normal reaction when moving away from family. Once again, your list of pros and cons will give you clarity and a plan of action. Your parents may be angry you’re taking their grandkids away. That’s a reasonable reaction but not one that should stop you from making the move. Instead, sit down with them and devise ways of making sure they’ll see your children often. Even if it is online.

Grief may be an emotion you least expect especially when you’re so excited about moving away. But with every change a sense of loss will surface no matter how positive the change is. You’ll find you miss your family, your old friends and even the coffee shop you used to visit every day on your way to the office. But know that this emotion eventually goes away the more you settle into your new life.

2. Missing Your Extended Family

You may be surprised by just how much you do miss your extended family when you move away. All of a sudden, you’re no longer able to pop into your parents’ home for a quick cuppa tea before heading back to your own family. Or, the kids can’t spend Friday night with their favorite aunty (even if she did keep them up all night eating too much popcorn and candy).

Expect to miss your family. A whole lot more than you expected. And, expect your partner and your kids to miss their extended families too. This is all part of the experience of moving away from family.

If your family is important to you, make sure you keep up the connection. We have WhatsApp calls nearly every day with the grandparents and we see them once or twice a year. By putting effort into staying connected with your extended family you’ll effectively be dealing with the guilt as well.

3. Doing It Alone (Almost)

Moving away from family often means you’re on your own. You’re with your partner and kids, yes, but you no longer have a (free) babysitter on call! Grandma is no longer round the corner for you to drop off the kids so you and your partner can have a date night. Or, when the school calls to say your daughter is not feeling well and needs to be picked up. Your stay-at-home sister now lives 1000 miles away so she can’t help you out when you’re stuck at the office.

Expect to be on your own when you move away from family. Until you’ve built up a new network of friends and a reliable support structure, you’re going to have to manage a lot of situations on your own.

Watch out for those sneaky emotions creeping in. When the going gets tough and you’re trying to sort out a situation without your family nearby, you may end up feeling guilty, angry or remorseful. Especially when it means your kid is stuck at school because you can’t get there to pick them up.

4. Coming Together as a Family

You may be far away from the grandparents and other special family members, but your own immediate family will come even closer together. Learning to navigate a new environment with your own family unit will create a stronger bond between all of you.

Your kids will realize you are also learning and feeling lost and experiencing overwhelming emotions. They’ll also realize you’re happier because you made the move for all the right reasons. What you’re doing for your children is teaching them new life skills to cope with a wide range of emotions and to cope with being in a new environment.

By working together as a family, you’ll all be able to explore your new home and town with excitement knowing you’re all in this together.

5. It Takes a Village to Raise a Child

In past times, it would be the whole village’s responsibility to raise a child. When before you relied on your extended family to be your village, you now need to grow your village elsewhere.

Expect to make new friends. Before you know it, your family will grow and it won’t be blood relations! Instead, it’ll be a new “village” with new friends. It’s important to expand your support system especially when you have kids.

Moving away from family can leave a big hole so fill it with new friends. It may not be quite the same as the special bond your kids have with their grandparents but they’ll still feel love and support. And, so will you.

6. Getting Together With Extended Family Will Be More Valuable

Family in the beach

When we see our parents every week, as much as we love them, we may take them for granted. But when you come together a few times a year, these moments become treasured.

You value each other more, you want to spend more time together and it becomes quality time. You may end up having deeper conversations with your mother that you never had before. Or, your children bond closer with their grandparents because they know they’re not going to see them as often anymore.

Expect get-togethers with extended family members to become more valuable if they’re important to you. Distance doesn’t need to break down a family. Instead, it could enhance it.

Action Steps for Dealing With the Guilt When Moving Away from Family

Now that you know what to expect from moving away from family, you could take the following action steps to help deal with the guilt (and everything else!):

  • Make your list of pros and cons and refer to it often.
  • Sit down with your family and talk it out (this includes your own family and your extended family).
  • Read this book by Brooke Braum “Moving Away: The Emotional Side of Leaving” to help you navigate your way through all the emotions such as guilt.
  • Explore ways of staying connected. With digital technology being so easily accessible to everyone nowadays, there’s no reason why regular online chat or calls shouldn’t take place. Keep your relationships going with extended family even if they’re now on the other side of the world. With Zoom, FaceTime and WhatsApp it’s so much easier to chat every day.
  • Even if it’s only once or twice a year, make sure you organize trips to visit each other so you have something to look forward to.
  • A nice idea for helping your kids deal with missing their grandparents is to ask the grandparents to record a story using Cali’s “Beauty and the Beast” recordable storybook. This way, your kids will hear their voice whenever they want to.
  • Set up a support structure as soon as possible. It could be as simple as finding a reliable babysitter in town who you can call on whenever you need help with the kids. Or, getting to know your neighbors and asking for their contact numbers. When you know you can rely on someone to help you out, you’ll less likely to experience feelings of guilt or frustration.
  • Make sure you give your kids the space they need to discuss their fears and let them feel sad when they miss their extended family. It’s also important they don’t feel guilty for moving away even if it was your decision. Children can very quickly take on feelings of guilt so it’s essential to help them talk through whatever they’re feeling. Sometimes, all you need to do is listen.
  • Suggest your children send grandma a special book – “Knock Knock What I Love About Grandma” – telling her why they love her so much.
  • Get to know your neighbors, get involved in local activities and join clubs in the area. If you’re a young mom with young kids, find the nearest mom support group or a play group. Connect with your older kids’ new friends’ parents.

Final Thoughts

Moving away from family can be fraught with emotions, both unhappy and happy. To deal with the guilt of leaving behind extended family, you need to understand your reasons for moving away and putting a plan of action in place.

It all boils down to you being happy with your decision to move away. If you’re happy then everything else falls into place. And, the guilt can be dealt with more constructively and positively.

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