Growing up in Canada, I never imagined that I’d find myself settling in the UK. My older sister moved here and when I visited her over my last summer at Uni, I met the man who I would eventually marry.
I was just 21 when I moved thousands of miles away from my parents. 3,549 miles, to be exact.
Fiercely independent and full of excitement, I saw it as a romantic adventure, flying over the ocean to race into the arms of the man I loved. At the time I didn’t think about the people I was leaving behind, who I loved just as much.
I miss my parents every single day
Fast forward a few years and add a couple of kids into the mix – and I see things very differently. I’m no less independent but I miss my parents every single day.
I wonder what it would be like to live nearby and know that Dad had spare car seats for the kids so he could take them out at any time, or have Mum drop in unannounced with some of her famous honey cake just because she can.
The other day, I read an article in the Daily Mail called: ‘Non-stop guilt of the long-distance carers: You and your children in one country, your elderly parents in another’ and I got an actual lump in my throat.
The piece states that 2.4 million Brits are now part of the ‘sandwich generation’, caring for both parents and children. And when those parents are on another continent, things get a lot more complicated.
This was a glimpse of my future and I didn’t like it.
I know it hurts Mum that she can’t cuddle my boys whenever she’d like
Despite the distance, I’m close to my parents and I want my boys, aged 6 and 3, to have a good relationship with them, too. We Skype Mum and Dad for hours at a time and while it’s wonderful to watch them pulling silly faces at each other and singing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ together, it’s not the same as sitting on Grandma and Grandpa’s laps to do the same thing.
I know it hurts Mum that she can’t cuddle my boys whenever she’d like. It hurts me too.
I also know that my parents are getting older and they need more help than they used to. At times, like when they’ve moved house, or have needed ferrying to hospital appointments, I haven’t been much more than a voice at the other end of the phone.
I’d do more if we lived nearby, but from my home in Hertfordshire, I feel helpless. Sometimes I don’t even know where to start.
That said, when we’ve really needed one another, we’ve been there. Over the years, I’ve flown home twice to be by my dad’s side in Ontario when he needed urgent surgery and my mum was here for both of my boys’ births.
I don’t want to be far away from my parents but my choices mean that they’re missing out on time with their grandchildren and vice versa
Mum took my eldest out of my arms when I was too exhausted to comfort him on our first night home from hospital. And when my youngest arrived quickly at home before the paramedics could get to us, Mum stepped in and delivered him.
Those are the kind of moments that create bonds in a family. While I wish we could make
more of those memories together, I treasure the ones we do have.
If I didn’t, the guilt would take over. Because, while I was too young and naïve when I moved away to envisage this situation coming up years down the line, I chose this. I don’t want to be far away from my parents but my choices mean that they’re missing out on time with their grandchildren and vice versa.
Birthday presents for the boys arrive in Amazon boxes, which I open in secret so I can wrap the books and Batmobiles that Mum and Dad have ordered in brightly-coloured paper like they would if they could. I take photos and videos of school plays and football matches, feeling thankful that my 82-year-old dad has recently signed up to Instagram.
Still. It’s not enough for any of us, is it?
Not that I would dare to complain about it. I have friends who’ve lost their mum or dad and I can see that their struggle to parent without parents is real. I’m lucky that mine are still here smiling at me, even if it is from the other side of a screen.
I know that my parents are getting older and someday they’ll need more help than I can give them from afar
Instead, I try to see the positives. It’s a cliché, but absence does make the heart grow fonder. I hear from my siblings that my parents talk about the boys non-stop. And when we do spend time together, it’s that much more precious (even if our visits always end too soon and I inevitably wind up walking through airport security with tears in my eyes).
Of course, I know that my parents are getting older and someday they’ll need more help than I can give them from afar. My two brothers live nearer to them than I do but I don’t believe that means they should have to take full responsibility when the time comes. Yet I honestly haven’t worked out what I’m going to do about it.
Will I visit them more often? I’m not sure time – or budgets – will allow for it. Plus, as I work freelance around the kids, jetting off on my own would leave my husband at home with childcare issues.
At some point I’ll be well and truly sandwiched between two generations, both of whom will need me. Still, I tell myself that nobody can really prepare for their parents to get older because you have no way of knowing what will happen next. I don’t know if I’d need this justification if mine lived up the road rather than across the pond.
I make sure every device in the house is charged up for our marathon Skype chats
So for now, I’m taking things as they come and making sure every device in the house is charged up for our marathon Skype chats.
We’re looking forward to a visit to Canada this summer when my parents will get to spend 24/7 with my kids – and I can’t wait.
Mum and Dad are already stocking up on toys and Swimfins for their adventures together. I’m sure they’re going to exhaust themselves – and the kids – making the most of every minute.
While that will be wonderful, sometimes I wish I could just pop round for a cup of tea and a piece of honey cake instead.