I don’t know how it is for you, but for me dealing with feelings of guilt for living far away from my family is definitely one of the recurring themes in my life. Seeing how sad my parents as well as my grandfather and other family members are, for not having me close by their side, is really a painful experience for me. Now, the fact that my father has recently passed away, has made these feelings even stronger.
We will never be able to catch up on the time we have lost. The time which we could have spent together.
These feelings of guilt for living far away from my family will most likely never go away. As such, there is only two options. Either move back home permanently, or learning how to deal with these feelings of guilt. While you will have to make your own choice about which of these options to choose, I want to share with you some of the lessons that I have learned when it comes to dealing with them.
Lesson #1: Both sides need to remember that this is their own life
Remember, your parents have sacrificed a lot for you throughout their lifetime. For a long period of time, a big part of their life was about taking care of you. It comes to no surprise then, that for a lot of parents letting go of having you by their side all the time is incredibly difficult.
In my experience, this often reaches the point where parents become emotionally dependent on their children. They define a large part of their own identity through their child. Once the children then decide to move to another country, they feel that they are loosing this part of their very own identity.
I remember vividly the moment when my father was telling me: “of course, we always knew that you would one day leave home and build your own household. It was partly how early you left Germany (with 18 years old) and how far you went (Indonesia, Australia, Iran) that has shocked us this much and makes it so difficult for us to accept”.
At the end of the day, both you and your family will have to embrace the fact that all of you are leading your own lives. You have moved on from the time that you needed their full support, although of course you still need their support on an emotional level. This is a fact of life that all human beings have to go through. It is just that the parents of expatriate parents are confronted with it with a much stronger intensity.
Here, it is very important that you communicate with them very honestly, and make sure that both of you are clear that both sides always remember that you are leading your own lives. For your parents, this is the time where their development duty is to refocus on their own lives after a period of taking care of you. For you personally, your duty is to gain independence, while at the same time slowly embracing the fact that sooner or later you it will be you who will be responsible for taking of your parents as they get older.
Lesson #2: Be very open and frank about your feelings for living overseas
In my experience, there are two reasons why people are moving overseas. The first one is a passion for seeing something new and different. The second one is because the expat has been sent by some external party such as his or her employer to another country.
If you are moving abroad for the second reason, then I would strongly recommend reconsidering your decision. It is very unlikely that you will ever enjoy your stay overseas, unless you are somehow able to move into the first category. If you are moving abroad for the first reason, then being open and frank about your passion for living overseas to your parents is incredibly important.
Let’s be frank: from the perspective of your parents, the fact that you are living overseas only has disadvantages. You are far away from them. Perhaps they sometimes feel lonely because of this. Perhaps they just miss you. But either way, the fact that you are living far away from them doesn’t really have any positive effect for them. They are probably trying to ease their pain with the fact that YOU are leading the life YOU YOURSELF want.
Yes, with that I am saying that your decision to move overseas is inherently selfish and you know it. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t be having these feelings of guilt in the first place.
But it is also a legitimate feeling that you want to live your life the way that you want. Following your dreams, seeing the world, making new experiences, learning new things constantly. That is what it means to live abroad. When your parents understand this and see how much positive effect living abroad has on your life, they will definitely be happy for you.
Although this will not extinguish their feelings of sadness for you being far away, it will make things a bit better.
Lesson #3: Constantly find ways to show how much you care about them.
This is a very important point. When you are far away from your close family members, you better make sure that you are going that extra mile to show them how much you care about them. Make some additional effort for little things like their birthdays or some holidays that are important to them.
Find different ways to express how much you care about them on a regular basis, so that they do not forget that although physically you are far from them, emotionally you are just as close to them as ever before.
I know it is sometimes hard to think of ways to do so from far away, but you should do everything in your power to support your family in any way you can. Sometimes, they will appreciate this even more because they know exactly that for you additional effort is required to make these things happen. Do not let the effort this requires or the money this takes stop you from doing anything necessary to support your family. You will regret it for sure.
Lesson #4: Always listen to the negative thoughts family members have about your lifestyle and any concerns that come up
I know, this can be very hard. Probably you are coming home in the hope of finding the time to refill your energy in a familiar environment. In the end, what should have been a time of relaxation turns into a situation where everybody is arguing with you about the lifestyle choices you have made. I know how hard it is and how draining it is.
The important point here is that you are listening very carefully to any negative thoughts your family members may have or any concerns that come up from their side. Although they understand that this is your own choice, inevitably they are worried about you and they primarily see the negative effects this has on their own life, rather than thinking about the opportunities your life abroad creates for you.
By listening carefully to any thoughts our concerns that come up, you show them that their opinion about these issues is important to you. Although you may not agree with their concerns at all, it nonetheless will make them feel more at peace that you are taking their opinion into account.
Although it is hard to stand a lot of negative feedback from family members over and over again, it is nonetheless a necessary step in order to make them more comfortable with the situation on the long term. Seeing them more comfortable with the situation, in turn, will also make put you more at peace.
Lesson #5: Make your family proud.
Everybody understands that living overseas has its own challenges and difficulties, even if they have never lived abroad themselves. If you manage the situation well and show that your time overseas brings you forward in achieving your personal goals and aspirations, your family members will certainly see and appreciate this as well.
If you can show your family that you are constantly making progress in your new country of choice and that you are slowly achieving your aims, I have no doubt that you will make them very proud.
Once your family members understand that moving overseas is an important step for getting you ahead in your career and other aspects of life and once they see the achievements that you are creating, their negative perception of your decision will also slowly become more and more positive.
The more proud you make your family, the less you will feel experience these feelings of guilt for living far away.
What are the next steps?
If you are experiencing feelings of guilt for living far away from your family, I want you to take some time and so some careful reflection.
- What can you do to make your family more comfortable with the situation?
- How can you return home more regularly and spend more time with your family?
- How can you make sure that you are in regular contact with your family and support them as much as possible?
- Do you listen enough to their concerns about your decision? If not, what can you do to make it better?
- How can you show to your family the positive effects your decision to live overseas has on both your life and their life?
Now, I would like to hear from you. Do you have these feelings of guilt for living far away from your family as well? And if yes, what are you doing about them? Let me know in the comments below.