Ask Em: Moving Away From Family

11 August 2023

Several times a month I am tickled to receive a thoughtful query from an Em for Marvelous reader. I have a somewhat disappointing response rate – which makes me sad every time I think about it – but when life does allow, I love to respond, because figuring out life together is one of my very favorite things.

I recently had a conversation over email about moving away from family that begged to be shared with the group, and Leslie was gracious to agree. Listen in, and I look forward to hearing what you think in the comments!

Leslie wrote:

My name is Leslie, and I’ve read your blog for a few years now. It’s always a delight to read your thoughtful posts with the many questions/issues/topics that are relevant to me and my family (i.e. the practical handlings of two working parents… #preach). I am sure it takes a considerable amount of time, but for myself, it is truly much enjoyed and much appreciated!

I currently live in Texas with my husband and two boys (4 and 2). We are both in the medical field and are looking at a move in the next two years for further training purposes. One location we have thrown into the hat of possibilities is – you guessed it – North Carolina.

From what I’ve gathered, you and your husband moved away from both of your families to NC. Our move would involve a similar situation, as my entire family and my husband’s parents also live in our current city (though neither of us were born/raised here).

My question for you is simply – was it worth it? I hope that doesn’t sound rude or intrusive, we are just very seriously weighing our possibilities, and NC has come up as a pretty ideal spot location-wise for us to consider – the biggest “negative” being that our families are here. My husband’s parents may consider following us, but we would be moving away from my entire family and I’m just wondering if you have any thoughts on the ramifications of moving away from parents in particular.

Obviously no two situations are identical and each family has their own unique situations to consider, but I guess I just would love to know if the positives of your move have, in your opinion, outweighed the negative, and what the thought process may have been for y’all to consider the move and all it entailed.

Here was my initial response:

Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful email, and for your insightful question. Clearly a woman after my own heart!

First, I wanted to make sure you’ve seen this post from the archives where I talk about the choice to move away from family. And also, this one where I talk about the benefits of establishing our household away from family and some of the complications of having family nearby. (And also, separate from the family question, this post with a few things I love about North Carolina.)

I do think one significant difference between your situation and ours is that we moved away several years before having children. In that way, you have the benefit of knowing what life with kids and with family nearby looks like right now – something which we did not. So you have a lot of good data to use in your decision. In your shoes, I’d be asking myself questions like:

— How often do we see our family right now? 
— Do we have, or do we hope to have, regular traditions together that add to our life, like Sunday family dinners? 
— Do we enjoy spending time with our family? Do they mesh with our immediate family culture and support our parenting decisions? Or do we love them, but find spending a lot of time with them stressful?
— How much practical help does family currently provide? (i.e. Do they provide childcare? Watch the kids for date nights? Help with pick ups or drop offs?) Were we to move, would we be financially or practically able to fill in these responsibilities, or would it cause a lot of stress?
— What is our financial and practical ability for our parents to travel to see us and us to travel to see our parents? Now and in the future, as kids and parents age?
— And then there are the really big questions: What is our vision for our life/kids/family culture, and how does extended family fit into that? What might our parents’ aging process look like and how might proximity play into that? Are we okay with seeing our parents much less often than we might if we were to live nearby? This post, which I link to in one of the posts above, is not an answer, but certainly provides some food for thought.

Since you asked: yes, for us moving away from family was worth it. We love the life we have built here and think it was a good choice for our family. That doesn’t mean it’s sometimes hard, or that there aren’t more questions to consider in the future, but we feel peaceful and grateful with how things have played out so far.

I hope this helps, or at least gives you some things to think about :) Thank you again for reading and for your thoughtful question!

And then Leslie replied:

Thank you for the thoughtful reply! I had not yet read those posts from your archives. Food for thought, indeed.

I appreciate the questions you posed as things you might consider. In the back of my mind, I have contemplated similar questions, I think, and it’s helpful to actually bring them to the forefront. Having never lived close to any extended family growing up, it’s honestly difficult to know what living close to family long-term might be like, but that’s important to consider. And that Tail End article…could send you into a YOLO frenzy on just the right day.

Obviously kids do not always end up in the same location as their parents, but another thing I’m contemplating centers around the idea that wherever my kids spend a good portion of their growing-up years, is more or less going to feel like home to them. And, in general, kids are probably more likely to go to college in-state, which typically ends up being where they find first jobs, spouses, and settle down themselves. Although that’s far in the future, contemplating our decision in light of what impact it might have on our kids’ lives long-term is definitely thought-provoking.

Anyway, I really do appreciate you taking the time to respond to my email. I hope you enjoy the rest of your summer and please enjoy a bite of biscuit next time for me.

Leslie was politely wrappings things up but I couldn’t help but respond:

Leslie! Have you been reading my mail?! John and I were JUST having a conversation about this last week! We were at our daughter’s swim meet, and the opposing team was honoring their seniors… all of whom were going to schools in the Triangle. This is extremely common here, and truly something that delights me. Between NC State, UNC, Duke, Elon, App State, Wake Forest, and then schools like UNC Charlotte, UNC Wilmington, Davidson, etc. moving a little farther out – there’s something for everyone and it very much seems like the culture here is to stay close for college.

This is SO different from where I grow up in New England, and specifically Connecticut, where the state schools are not particularly prestigious or plentiful and most of the students who can either go elsewhere in New England or even farther afield. Selfishly, I love the idea that our children have a very good chance of staying somewhat local for college, because you’re absolutely right – it makes it more likely that they’ll settle nearby long-term, too. Because despite not living near my parents, I very much want to live near my children :)

Now, readers, I turn it over to you! What would you add? Have you moved away from family? Have you moved closer to family? Have you always lived near family? If you have children, do you think about where they might settle? I would truly love to hear from you, and I’m sure Leslie would, too :)

P.S. This is a different style of post! Would love to hear if you liked it!

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August 11, 2023 8:59 am

Loved getting to peek into these thoughts as someone else who lives far away from their family! I moved from the Midwest to the East coast 9 years ago for grad school, and at the time, I did not consider it a permanent move. But then I met my now husband, and now I think I’m here for the long haul. It is definitely difficult being ~12 hours away from my family at times, but overall, I feel like this is where I’m supposed to be.
My big concerns are more long-term. I’m an only child, so caring for my parents as they age will certainly be more complicated with them so far away. Thankfully, they are in good health at the moment, but it’s certainly something that weighs heavily on my mind.

Kelly Strawberry
August 11, 2023 9:57 am

Love, love, love this post! And very interesting thoughts about the cultural college-choice location differences. Of course I went to Elon (only 45 mins away) but felt like everyone at Elon was from the Northeast or Ohio!
I grew up here in NC with only my parents and sister. No other relatives in the state, so just the 4 of us! As a child, I didn’t really notice this at all. We are a very tight-knit four. I’ve never thought about whether or not that was tough for my parents, but they love it here and I guess they created our family culture on their own – public school, church every Wednesday and Sunday, and of course we are all die-hard Duke fans! ;)
My husband was the opposite and grew up near extended family… in Annapolis having Sunday dinners with his grandparents each week. He chose to move to NC for college and pretty much swore he would never leave, so now here we are near ALL of my family (my parents and sister’s whole crew) and he is the only one from his family here in NC.

August 11, 2023 10:14 am

Oh, this post is right up my alley and something I (have to) think about a lot. Since I’m German and my husband is American, we have always had the dilemma of living far away from at least one side of our families. For a long time, that was his side of the family. Five years ago, we moved from Germany to the States where we now live about 8 hours away from my husband’s family (so, no Sunday dinners ;)) and, well, an 8 hour plane ride or more from mine. And I have to say, my family (and friends) are pretty much the only reason we keep going back and forth about potentially moving back to Germany. Even knowing that we still wouldn’t be living close enough for Sunday night dinners or family helping with childcare or anything. But I know my siblings and mom would be there to celebrate birthdays and other milestones with us and our kids. And I’d love to be able to be there to celebrate theirs. And for my kids to grow up with their cousins!
As much as I do love the idea of Sunday dinners or a “quick” coffee and chat with my sister or sister-in-laws, it’s just not what we have right now. And it makes the time we do have together all the more sweet and valuable. Even though it can be a lot to spend weeks together at a time ;-)
Another factor is definitely the question of where our kids will one day end up. Even though, if I take myself as any kind of indicator, that’s something that’s very much out of my control, ha! I grew up in the same area, near cousins and grandparents and all, and look where I ended up ;-) But it is something we do talk and think about and take into consideration.
Leslie: thanks for letting Emily share your conversation. I feel like, maybe sometimes there is not just one right choice. And seeing how much thought you’re putting into this decision makes me pretty certain you’ll make the right call for your family. All the best!

August 11, 2023 3:00 pm
Reply to  Kerstin

My parents and sisters live 1800 miles away and we get along really well and I wonder if part of that is that we don’t spend a lot of time together. We generally will be together for a week a couple times a year and though it is intense, everyone enjoys it for the most part. Which is more than I can say for my inlaw who live 10 minutes away! Maybe distance is the secret to family harmony! Ha!

August 11, 2023 11:54 am

Last fall we moved specifically to be closer to aging parents after spending the last fourteen years 10-12 hours from all family. Our motives included wanting our only child of then 10 months old to have family in his life more than once or twice a year and also wanting to be present to help family with problems related to aging. We have older parents and are older parents so this is a bit different than families who have children a decade earlier than we did or our parents did. Most of my similarly aged friends and acquaintances aren’t yet having to factor in the age of their parents as part their decisions.

Kristen M
August 11, 2023 2:55 pm

Ooo what a great topic! I can speak to it from a bit of a different perspective – I’m the child of parents who moved away from their families to NC in 1991 – so I grew up in NC away from extended family. However – I’m also the oldest of five kids and exactly to the point that NC kids tend to go to NC colleges – we all went to state schools in NC and all live in the state (with 4 of the 5 of us living in within 30 minutes of the home we grew up in Raleigh – much to my mother’s delight!) I also have lots of friends from grade school who were also transplant kids, many of whom moved away after college but have now returned after having kids to be closer to their parents!
As a kid – I missed being close to my cousins but I also got to go on long summer trips to visit my mom’s family in MA (sometimes as long as 3+ weeks!) and my dad’s family in South Dakota and I have such a deep connection to this tradition that my kids now experience trips up to MA in particular every summer to see my extended family now and deeply love them just as much! We occasionally would visit other times of the year – the trips we made for Christmas to both places in particular I have very fond memories of and my grandparents would visit often – especially my maternal grandparents who would come at least twice a year for at least a week. That’s when my mom definitely got her breaks and my parents could escape for date nights and even trips away! At the same time I would say my immediate family built a VERY strong connected culture as a result of being the only ones here in NC and we now have strong holiday traditions in particular that makes it so that none of us want to miss a Christmas Eve at Mom and Dad’s or a fully loaded Thanksgiving table – even now with competing spouse family traditions. I think if we had grown up close to extended family that’d look super different.
On the other hand – as a grownup with kids now, living near family is my favorite. I have a long list of people to ask to watch my kids, we see cousins and grandparents almost weekly, and my kids have deep relationships with extended family that they are very close with. My husband and I do not have any plans to leave NC but leaving my family would definitely be a factor in me voting against it. (There’s also the fact this is home and I’m deeply connected to an extended network of family friends we also built while being the only ones around back in the 1990s and early 2000s!)
All to say – I think there’s plusses and minuses to both! But I also think your kids will be ok if you have confidence in the decision and see it as best for you family. Also as a long transplanted NC resident – it is the best place, truly, to be :) <3 (my husband is also a transplant who moved here in high school – his family footprint here is smaller but grandparents and great grandparents on his side both now live within 45 minutes of us – and two of my brothers married awesome women who also grew up in Raleigh but whose families are also transplants haha – it’s a VERY common background in the Triangle which I think helps make it so welcoming!)

August 12, 2023 1:14 pm
Reply to  Kristen M

I have an extremely similar situation, Kristen! My parents moved to a small town on the outskirts of NC’s Triangle from Tennessee in the late 80s, and my sister and I were raised here. I now live 15 minutes from my parents and my sister is about an hour away.
We saw my grandparents and extended family a ton, going back for holidays and for week-long visits in the summers. We also traveled almost every summer of my school years with my dad’s parents and cousins. I feel like I have deeply meaningful relationships with my grandparents despite growing up 5 hours away from them. (Side note — and this may be a small town thing — we were considered so weird growing up because my parents were not from my hometown. The fact that we went to Tennessee for Christmas just shocked my friends, ha!)
Now, with my own son, I am unbelievably grateful we live so close to my parents — and that they are super eager to help out. I think it would have been much more difficult for me personally to navigate the first year of Foster’s life as a stay-at-home mom if I did not have my own mom 15 minutes away willing to give me a break whenever I need it.
My husband has not lived close to his family since he graduated high school (so for 14 years), but they are actually moving about an hour away any day now! I am thrilled that we will get to have so much family so close by.

August 11, 2023 2:56 pm

Thank you and Leslie for sharing your thoughts! This is something I have thought a lot about as well. My dad was in the military growing up so we never lived closer than 3 hours to family (usually more like 2000 miles) and my extended family was never very present in our lives (we traveled every couple years or so to see grandparents/cousins, but with very few exceptions, most never traveled to see us). My parents got married and immediately moved to Germany so when I graduated high school, I thought nothing of going to college in Indiana from Arizona. Isn’t that what everyone did? Fast forward to meeting my husband who had lived in one place his whole life, surrounded by extended family and friends who were in 2nd or 3rd generation of friendships. I admit upon meeting him that I saw his world as small (I was a world traveler!) but getting to know him, I also saw the benefits of having family nearby and long running friendships. I knew that marrying him would mean that this would be my life too and I came around to that. It’s not all sunshine and roses (some of those broken friendships a generation or two ago still manage to trickle down tension to our generation) but my kids are 4th generation at their school, my son’s best friend is a 2nd cousin, my MIL comes over in the afternoon to meet the school bus and our holiday get-togethers are now absolutely bursting at the seams. My parents and sisters still live in Arizona but we are fortunate that we all have the time and financial situation to travel regularly back and forth. My parents were just here for two weeks and got to experience daily life with us (and my husband and I went on our first weekend getaway in 9 years!) I don’t know what the answer is (my sister is 1 hour away from my parents and neither side are comfortable spending too much time together) and while my inlaws are close, they also cause a lot of stress and frustration and were not willing to help with childcare until our youngest was 5. I don’t think a lot about our situation (we’re not going anywhere!) but I do think about our kids. Will they stay in the area? Will they include us in their adult lives? Will we get to be active grandparents? So many of my peers want little or nothing to do with their parents and I don’t want that for us! I hope our investment and enjoyment of our time as both a family unit and an extended family (which requires lots of traveling!) is setting us up for a close life-long relationship.

August 11, 2023 4:48 pm

I find this topic so interesting, especially when comparing my own experience to others. I was born and raised in NC, my Mom still living in the same home I grew up in, but we were at least 3 hours from any family. We saw grandparents and aunts/uncles/cousins 4 – 6 times a year and this seemed very normal to me since this was all I knew. It made seeing family such a treat since we didn’t get to see them often.
After graduating high school, I decided to go to college in TN, 9 hours from home, ready for adventure and new experiences. But I knew my plan was to always move back to NC because I love it so much and I’ve never been anywhere I like more. However, I intentionally did not move back to my hometown, instead choosing a city 2 hours away both for independence and more opportunity for a recent college grad.
My siblings and I all moved a couple of hours from home, but we are the outliers in our extended family as all of our cousins stayed in the same towns as their parents. My Mom asked why I thought this was the case and I told her that I think she and Dad raised us to be very independent. Both through their own example of moving away from home and family and also through our upbringing, where we were always encouraged to be very self-sufficient. I don’t think this was intentional on my parent’s part, but I think their own life experience informed this (subconscious) parenting philosophy.
As a 20-something, being two hours from family was no problem, an easy jaunt if you will. However, now adding kids to the mix, I’m not “jaunting” anywhere! I know compared to others, we are quite close to my family, but I’ve been surprised at how far away it feels sometimes. And honestly, I thought we would see each other more often than we actually do. We have built a good community here with our church and school. But there are times when I wish my kids were able to see family more often and foster deeper relationships.

Meghan H.
August 11, 2023 5:19 pm

I loved this post and would love seeing a recurring “advice column” series here on a variety of topics!

I grew up in the Twin Cities (Minnesota) and my parents, brother, and all of my aunts, uncles and most of my cousins still live in the Twin Cities. I went to college a couple hours away and met my now-husband, whose parents and most of his family live in the Twin Cities, too. When we started our family we lived about 30 minutes away from each of our parents. We moved last year and are now even closer to my parents (about a 12 minute drive) and within biking distance to brother and his family. My parents also own a lake home in northern Minnesota, so especially in the summer, we spend even more extended time with them when we visit the cabin.

I love it, especially the babysitting help, the little everyday moments like stopping by to borrow something or help with a quick yard or house project, and casual weeknight dinners or events. One interesting big side-effect of living close by both our families (and especially the amount of time we spend with mine) that I only came to appreciate recently is that it really takes the pressure off of the big holidays to be special/perfect family bonding time. Of course we still want to enjoy our families on days like Thanksgiving and Christmas, but these times feel a little lower stakes (and for us, more relaxed) when we know my kids will see their grandparents and cousins again soon.

Of course, there are some downsides, too, especially when it comes to finding appropriate boundaries around how much time we all spend together (especially me being conscious of how much my husband wants my parents casually stopping by and popping into our life). I’m positive that having family who we love and trust living nearby makes raising kids easier, and that’s something I’m very grateful for, but recognize I haven’t had to deal with and grow from some challenges that would exist if we didn’t. But overall I’m grateful to live where we do near the family we have.

August 11, 2023 9:06 pm

I bought a house near my parents before I was even engaged because in my 20s settling down near family seemed like the top priority. Now, in my 30s with kids, it’s one of my biggest regrets. Proximity to family didn’t come with the network of support I had imagined for my kids or the relationships I had hoped for. There are so many other things I wish I had taken into consideration when choosing a home.

August 11, 2023 11:21 pm

My husband and I met in college, both over 1000 miles from each of our families, and he was in the ROTC program so I knew when we got engaged that being near to family wouldn’t be in the cards for us, at least not for extended periods of time. We also had a baby (and then a second!) surprisingly fast after getting married (we’ve been married 4 years, have 2 kids, have lived in 3 states, and are on our 6th home ????) and so we had to grow up/get used to being married/settle into life as a family relatively quickly and very far from family. I think it’s been sweet for us to have that independence and to really think about how we want our family culture to be, but I also regularly pine for living near family. I don’t know if it would be wise for us to live near by… I find it easy to slip into mothering how my mom mothered when near her for extended stretches which I don’t love, and my husbands family can be difficult. But part of that difficulty is the fact that we live far away and their other two sons, one of which is married and also has a child in between my two kid’s ages, live within 30 minutes of them. We are regularly left out of the loop, obviously don’t participate in the 4 generation Sunday family dinner, and they regularly watch my niece for overnights, random date nights, or any other afternoon when my BIL and SIL are just feeling like they want a break. But I know it’s hard for my SIL to be close to my in laws too who can be overbearing. There are so many trade offs! We’re in the stage of contemplating having my husband get out of the Army and thinking about where we might land if so (ironically NC is up there, although there aren’t too many aerospace engineering positions there unfortunately). I would love for my kids to know their grandparents deeply, like my husband and I did, but I don’t know if *I* want that for myself. It’s hard making choices for your well being but also for your children’s and balancing it all.

Apparently I have a lot more thoughts on this than I expected to! All in all I loved reading this conversation and the questions you posed to consider in reverse for moving toward family in the next few years :) as always, new posts on your blog are a joy!

August 11, 2023 11:30 pm

I don’t know if I have much to add to many of these excellent comments. Lots of good perspectives. I always thought I’d move away from my family and not because we aren’t close. I have really good relationships with my parents and sisters. Mostly, because we were a military family that moved around and my parents left their families and hometowns when they were young adults to join the Army. So I figured my path would be similar and I would go away to college and then live in a different state or country with my my own growing family. I feel like most of the plans I’ve had for my life had turned out completely different, so this one shouldn’t surprise me lol I currently live an hour from my parents (it used to be 30 but they moved), and 45 minutes from each sister. And I live 3 hours away from where the bulk of my cousins, aunts, and uncles, and my 94 year old grandmother on my mom’s side stay in VA Beach. And I love it. It’s great to have family that can babysit and drop everything when you need them, not just for kid things, but health reasons (2x kidney transplant recipient here), weather related reasons, social reasons (like a last minute movie/lunch date who won’t judge you for being late and leaving early without saying bye lol). And I didn’t think this would matter, because I didn’t live next to my cousins growing up: But I love being able to easily attend family events with my daughter and have her be able to experience creating that bond with her younger cousins.

Can and should people create a familial community with their neighbours and friends who live near them? Absolutely! That said, I haven’t made many new friends as an adult. So I’m pretty thankful I’ve got a family that I love nearby to be that social support system for me.

August 13, 2023 5:02 pm

Love this post format (I could think of a lot of things to ‘Ask Em!’) and also the topic is one dear to my heart. My husband and I just made the difficult decision to move away from family that we love. For us, it was mainly location driven. We had the opportunity to move to our dream city, and it truly has surpassed all expectations. It does help that this city comes with incredible public school systems, low cost of living and moderate climate :) for us, the move was worth it 100%. Of course, the negative is I miss our family, but I love knowing we get to share new, exciting experiences when we visit them or they visit us and (as a planner) it’s fun and builds anticipation to map out the entire year in advance for when we’ll get to see each other. Is it more work? Yes. More inconvenient? Yes. Do we have to be more intentional? Yes. But those have been challenges we happily take on in exchange for the other factors that prompted our move.

August 30, 2023 9:27 pm
Reply to  Em

Haha we moved from St. Pete, FL to Signal Mountain, TN. And yes, they are as polar opposite as they sound :) literally from the beach to on a mountain!

August 18, 2023 8:59 pm

Thank you to Leslie for inspiring you to write this post! My husband and I don’t have children. Four years ago, we made the decision to move from Alberta, Canada to Florida (a distance of 4500 km or 2800 miles) for him to pursue his dream career. Both of our families live in the province which made it easy to see everyone on a regular basis whereas now we try to ensure we see our parents and siblings (plus their families) at least once or twice a year. It also makes the time we do get with family and friends sweeter because it’s so limited.
I do sometimes feel guilty about not being as present for our parents as they age but fortunately our siblings live close by. I also worry about missing out on important moments with our nieces, but we make an effort to FaceTime, send cards and gifts, etc.
On the “pro move” side, I also cannot discount seeing my husband thrive in a role he’s dreamed about since he was a child. I also appreciate that the move has given my husband and me the space to develop our own traditions and really become a team, which could be a challenge due to demands from both sides. I feel like we are a much stronger unit because of the move. It’s also given us the chance to live in a new city and explore an entirely different part of the US.