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The Life Advantage I Won't Give My Kids

Photograph by Twenty20

My son found a photograph recently, a portrait of me with my mom, dad and sister on the day of my First Communion. He showed it to me, looking very confused, which I assumed stemmed from seeing a 6-year-old me wearing what looked like a mini wedding dress and veil. But that wasn’t it.

“But you were all together,” he said. “And now not. Why?”

He’s been having some difficulty lately accepting that one day he won’t want to live with his dad and me in our house. He has offered everything from being our housekeeper to giving me the contents of his piggy bank if we let him stay.

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But what he also doesn’t understand is why, even if adult children do want to leave their parents’ home, everyone in my family is so far away. My mom passed away well before he was born, but my dad and sister live in the U.S. while we live in the Netherlands.

We live in a very family-oriented community. My son regularly sees his friends being picked up at school by a grandparent, which is unlikely to ever happen for him. He doesn’t have nearby cousins or aunts and uncles, while his friends regularly gather with their extended families to celebrate birthdays and other events.

Because of this, I’m an American without a home state and an Irish person who would never be received as authenticly Irish.

He invited many school friends to join him for his next birthday party, which he’d like to have at his granddad’s house—alovely idea were it not for the 9-hour flight.

None of this distance feels strange to me, because I grew up the same way. My mom came from Ireland, my dad from New York, and, because he was in the Air Force, we moved quite regularly. We were never that close to any extended family members.

Because of this, I’m an American without a home state and an Irish person who would never be received as authenticly Irish. A recent study found that children who move, particularly between 12 and 14, can be traumatized in adulthood. My children are unlikely to move, but I have been asked often in my life whether I minded, whether it was difficult.

Short answer: No. It’s actually impossible for me to imagine growing up in one town, just as it likely is for those who did so to imagine moving as often as I did. You know what you know. I can say it almost certainly had an impact on me, which has good and bad sides. I’m very open-minded, because I’ve been exposed to a wealth of perspectives and lifestyles, and have less of a static idea of what is “normal” or “right.” Because of this, though, it can be hard for me to take a firm position on some things, because I can see all the sides.

I have three children and a husband whose job will keep us here until my children are way too rooted and at home here to even consider wanting to go elsewhere.

I’m very adaptable. I feel at home almost anywhere. I have only had good experiences of meeting interesting people everywhere I’ve been. The flipside of that is that I don’t really take firm roots anywhere. I continued the family tradition of moving frequently into my adulthood and have loved each place I’ve called home. I’ve only ever left a place because I wondered what else I might find—not because I’ve been unhappy where I was.

Because of this, I find it a bit difficult to sit still. For the last 9 years, I’ve lived in one place. I have three children and a husband whose job will keep us here until my children are way too rooted and at home here to even consider wanting to go elsewhere. And I’m fine with that. It’s just so different from my experience.

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My dad and sister have also done a lot international relocating over the years, and we’ve all landed where we’ve landed. It’s a pity not to be closer, particularly now that I have children, but we’ve all chosen to be where we are happiest and where it makes the most sense for us and our families.

It’s a tough thing to explain to a 5-year-old. But on the plus side, he and his sister get to enjoy annual family visits across three different countries. All told? Not a shabby way to go through childhood.

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