Raising A Traveling Tribe:: The Downside of The Wind In Your Hair

by Tina on May 18, 2015

in family, Raising a Traveling Tribe

Traveling Mama Flight

We spend a lot of time here on Traveling Mama promoting the idea of travel and life abroad.  It can feel a bit glamorous and sexy at times and sometimes it feels that way to us, too, but now and then it also means giving up things that matter to us and making hard choices that can leave us feeling uncertain and even sad.

I’ve been struggling A LOT since we got back to Denmark with feeling like I have abandoned my family.  While we were in the US I was able to really be there for my family, celebrating birthdays, babysitting my nephews while my sister and her husband went on a date, getting to know babies who were born while we were away, and helped take care of family members when they were ill.  While it may not seem like anything that big, it felt HUGE to me.  I was THERE.

And now I am back here, with the wind back into my hair, and the world at my feet, and in the midst of loving life, there is a part of me that longs to go “home.”  My sister’s son recently had a serious spinal operation, one of many procedures he has been through in his life, and I realized that in the thirteen years of his life I haven’t been there for him, my sister, or her family.  Sure, I’ve called, wrote e-mails, and even skyped with them, but it’s not the same as being there with them, is it?

It’s hard enough missing the good times, but not being there when times are tough is just downright painful.

I’ve known many people over the ten years we have spent abroad who have gone back home for this very reason and a great many more who have never left because of it.  Being the one who leaves can be so glamorous.  My God, some days there is just nothing like the freedom that comes with selling everything you own and just GOING, but you give up more than just your stuff, and as many people who have moved away from their family can attest to, sometimes the price feels pretty steep.

So, what do you do?  It’s a funny predicament when you aren’t running away but rather towards something, isn’t it?  When you are happy for what you have found but still long for what you have left behind?

Some go home, some stay.  The lines are not quite so clear and somehow in the midst of all of it, you have to try to make peace with the dissonance.  I can’t say that I’m there yet, but I trying to find my way all over again.

What about you?  Have you moved away from your family and struggled with being the one who isn’t there?  

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

sara (kanpaikanpai) May 18, 2015 at 2:38 pm

oh Tina, I resonate with this so much. I was living in Japan when my granddad died and couldn’t make it to the funeral. The last couple of years I’ve been living in London while my grandma was very sick, i felt bad I couldn’t support her and specially my mum who was taking care of her… When she died last year I manage to get to the funeral just on time, leaving London in a rush at 2am! It was so important just to be there! I had a baby afterwards and it’s my parents first grandchild, I often feel it’s no good to keep my son away from the grandparents. And I also struggle with the idea that my parents are getting old and someday will need help… My brother also lives abroad. It’s so difficult. Travelling and moving abroad opens so many doors, makes us grow so much but also divides us. I feel I can’t go back, I’ve outgrown my hometown but being abroad for long doesn’t feel right as well! I think all choices have pros and cons and we, the globetrotters feel it more extremely, the greatness of adventures, the sadness of being away from our loved ones…
So no answers here, just I know how you’re feeling!


Tina May 18, 2015 at 10:15 pm

Your words truly are a comfort to me. Thank you so much and I am so sorry that you have to understand the hurt. My grandfather passed a few years ago while we were in Morocco and I wasn’t able to make it back. I’ve regretted it ever since. I’m so glad you made it and could be there with your family.


Papou May 18, 2015 at 3:33 pm

Family is one of the most important designs God has made in us – both physical and spiritual. So, while we may not be physically near now, we are still connected spiritually through God.


Tina May 18, 2015 at 10:16 pm

Thanks, Dad. Love you so much!


bobbekay May 18, 2015 at 6:16 pm

I did move away and raised my children away from any family. It is a compromise………..pluses and minuses. I like who we are and how my children have grown into responsible, caring adults with families of their own. I gave them their wings too, and now I feel it is my job to be there for them, wherever they are, as often as I can.
If I had to do it over again, I doubt very much if I would have done it any differently. We missed a lot, but gained a lot too. It is just who we are.


Tina May 18, 2015 at 10:18 pm

You are absolutely right. Most days we are thrilled with our life and our family is happy for us. It’s only when someone we care so deeply for is hurting and we cannot be there to physically hold their hand and hug their neck that it hurts so much.


Susan May 18, 2015 at 6:28 pm

I have never lived abroad but all over the southeast and now in CO in the past 42 years of marriage. We have moved with because of my husband’s employment. It is a struggle at times and if the truth be known, it’s always in the back of our minds especially since our parents are now in their eighties and ninties and our daughter has lupus and is not well most of the time. So yes I do know how you feel. I make trips back east periodically visiting, helping out and when there is illness. I will say one thing though I could not do it without the help of God. I would be leaning on my own strength completely and that doesn’t work.
Having said all of that I have loved living in the places we have lived. We have made so many friends and been blessed in each location…which by the way has been “27”. I would not want to have missed one moment!
For me the best way to handle the stress and the longing to do the right thing for our families has been to pray and seek guidance.
In a few years we are planning on retiring and heading back east. Still each day is new and who knows what will happen or where we will be. As always God will provide and that is the best place for me…depending upon Him and His timing. 🙂


Tina May 18, 2015 at 10:23 pm

Well said. HE is the greatest comforter and I, too, think of all the wonderful people we have met and all the beautiful moments that we have had over the years and feel incredibly blessed by all of it. It must be such a great challenge to have your daughter ill and your parents getting older. May you find the strength you need and even happiness in the midst of it. xo


Gia May 19, 2015 at 6:48 am

Tina, as always, your photos so accurately and beautifully capture the sentiments in your writing. The feeling in that photo so distinctly reflects how I feel about an upcoming move for my family. While it is not another country it is half way across this one, to a place were we know no one, to a city we are eager to explore and learn from but I also feel torn about leaving San Francisco and my family and friends, from the life and comfort I’ve known here.
I don’t have any answers but my strategy for now is to look forward to the adventures we have planned in our new city of Chicago and to do our very best to stay connected and grounded to those we have left behind, and those we look forward to meeting.


Erin May 19, 2015 at 8:40 am

Yesssssssssss… This whole post is something I have been really struggling with lately. I’ve been living abroad for 3 years and I just re-contracted to stay a fourth year. I am starting to regret my decision because being away from home is so incredible hard. This sentence you wrote was especially hard hitting to me, “It’s hard enough missing the good times, but not being there when times are tough is just downright painful.”

I think I will have to return home after my fourth year. I cannot bear being away any longer. I also strongly feel that in order to gain perspective on my experiences abroad I need to return home to a familiar place. So after this year I plan on returning to Texas for a few years at least. Afterwards, I will decide if living abroad is still something that I want to do.


Ceri May 19, 2015 at 11:31 am

I completely resonate with this. I’ve been living in Korea for over a year and so much of it has left me feeling guilty: One of my best friends who’s like a sister had medical issues that I couldn’t be there for; My father was rushed to hospital; Two of my oldest friends married each other.

And I wasn’t there for any of it. And I know they just want us to be happy and live our lives here but it’s so hard to be away from them. It makes you feel so selfish.


Caro May 20, 2015 at 10:32 pm

Hi Tina, I’m following your blog a long time now and I have never left a comment on a blog but your post just speaks from my heart. I’m living in New Zealand but I’m originally from Germany, raising a family here. I stopped counting the funerals, births, birthdays, weddings and family get togethers I missed over the years but it still hurts every single time I’m not there. But when I see my family and friends it’s always so special and everyone makes an effort to spend quality time together. I try and focus on those moments rather than the ones I keep missing. I’m sure you’re a great sister, daughter, friend …. even if you’re not physically there all the time.

Caro x


Maria May 21, 2015 at 2:00 am

Tina, I know how you feel more than you know… I have been away from my home for 25 years and sadly, all those feelings you describe don’t go away with time. In fact, they become more intense. I have missed out on big celebrations, births, deaths, being part of everyday life with my family and getting to know new little members of the family. I enjoy where I live and my kids are born here and established in their culture and their community and life goes on at high speed. I have always had this sense of being torn, literally… I know that my emotional self is 2 complete halves trying to co-exist. Sometimes I cry a lot when the two sides realize that they can never be one. I cannot have one without the other, but they also can’t be combined. I love them both and I am forced to choose. This is what happens when you have been away for a long time, because you absorb every place, where you have lived, into your heart. If I was to move back home, I would miss my home here. But I think about it a lot as my kids are growing up and my parents are getting older. I live in CA, USA, and my home country is Denmark. See, we have the exact same feelings, but in the opposite situation. Home is home. It is where the heart is, but what do you do when the heart has 2 homes that can’t be combined?


Nancy G. May 23, 2015 at 12:30 pm

I am so sorry for your nephew’s struggles. I hope that he is recovering. I don’t think there are any easy answers in life. You do the best you can with what you know at the time. There are seasons that revolve and change. You and your family are where you are now, but who knows the future. Plus and minuses with each choice. Do what you do with a loving and kind heart and follow your inner light.


Maria May 24, 2015 at 1:35 am

I second what Nancy G. said! I am sorry about your nephew, but glad to hear he’s doing better. I always have to remind myself that we are lucky to live in a time where we can purchase plane tickets and be somewhere within a day or two, if needed. Skyping, texting and e-mailing is also a plus. I know that it’s not the same as holding someone dear to you in a tight hug, but I remember stories from my family about people that emigrated to South and North America years ago. Some never came back! It was too expensive and too hard back then… One came back 20 years later for the first time since he left. It sounds like you have a wonderful family and I am sure they would love for you to be there, but they also know that you do what you need to do for your own family and that you still love them very much, since love knows no time nor distance. Hang in there, I know how you feel. I hope your nephew gets better soon.


Kate May 31, 2015 at 3:03 pm

Wow, beautifully stated. When I was eleven my Mother and I moved from rural Ohio to Tokyo where we stayed until I graduated high school. After attending college in the states, and never fully fitting back into rural college town life, I married my husband and we moved around the states for the next three years. Recently we have found ourselves back in Ohio and I have to say, moving home is almost as hard as moving abroad. You become a different person when you leave home. I am so grateful to still have friends from childhood and family who support us so much but we have grown in two different directions. We have different goals and priorities.
This summer my husband and I are moving to Rome for a few years. It is going to be difficult to leave family and friends. Some think we are crazy for not buying a home here and starting a family; we are not choosing the “white picket fence” life you also mentioned attempting. We have to reassure ourselves we are striving for our goals and not the goals of the silver screen American life.
Thanks for writing this, it is good to know we are not alone in our feelings of sadness and confusion.


Carly Hanchin January 2, 2016 at 11:17 pm

My husband, who is European, and I are talking about adopting a more nomadic lifestyle — spending a few years in a new city before picking up and discovering a different one. This is definitely something we’ve discussed. We’d be leaving my family in Virginia, though maybe be closer to his family in Sicily. Reading about your journey has been a great resource for me!


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