A few months back, I wrote about how painful it can be to move away from family. The loss, the guilt, the grief. The whole sloppy mess of emotions I’ve felt over the last 7 years.
Since writing that post, I’ve gotten daily emails from conflicted and broken-hearted people trying to figure out whether or not to move. I remember being in that place. Trying to figure out what’s right. I mean, it took us a decade to pull the trigger, and by us, I mean me.
When I wrote that post, I was too close and raw to recognize my own coping mechanisms. At the time, I felt like I wasn’t coping. I felt like shit. Which is why I blogged about it.
Now that I’ve taken a few steps back, I know how I handle the times when I feel so much guilt about living away from family.
This is my best advice for coping with moving away from your family and creating a happy expat life.
Live in the present
Look, if I had to do it over again, I would do it differently. VERY differently. But I’d still do it.
And I’d probably still have some of the guilt of moving far away from family. But I’ve learned how to deal with that guilt and sadness.
One of the things that bring me great joy is exploring the world around me. The world I’ve chosen to move to is fascinating and exotic, even after seven years.
So instead of feeling super low and depressed, Mark and I hop on the scooter and go explore.
Or head to the beach for sundowners.
Those are little things that we couldn’t do while living in Chicago. Things that I feel blessed to have at my doorstep. To take my mind off of it and help ground me in the moment.
Our lifestyle in Chicago didn’t allow for that. Or maybe it was the lifestyle we created, but owning two businesses meant living for vacation, not living for a 7pm sunset.
If you are so busy feeling badly about your move, you’ll never be able to find joy where you are at.
I’m a firm believer in blooming where you are planted. Thriving, not just surviving. You need to make the most of your new home.
Remember why you moved away from family in the first place
Did you move away from family for love? Was it for a job? For an adventure?
Whatever the reasons, they were strong enough to propel you to make a huge life-changing decision.
You didn’t make that decision willy-nilly. It’s not like you quit your job and sold your belongings on a Monday and left on a Tuesday. It takes oodles of preparation, and a lot of thought and planning goes into it. It’s a lifestyle change. Not a vacation that you book with a travel agent.
When I see a magnificent sunset or a cool Chinese temple, I remember why we moved in the first place. It was to experience new things. See more of the world’s beauty.
This is a fresh start — a chance to follow your dreams. Don’t squander it by dreaming of your old life.
Change your focus
This is a little mindset trick that works for most situations.
Stop focusing on the guilt feelings and start focusing on the fantastic opportunities you are surrounded by.
You know the phrase “snap out of it?” Well, that’s just changing your focus. Same-same.
When you move to a new place, it’s easy to stay home, feel lonely, and wonder if you’re going to regret moving away from family. You need to get out of your home and break your state of sadness – find something that brings you joy. Take a walk. Eat ice cream. Read a book. Whatever brings you joy.
If you can’t seem to change your state, call a friend, call your mom. Tell them how you are feeling. That works too.
I’m not telling you to ignore your feelings. That doesn’t work. They’ll be back to bite you in the ass when you least expect it. Trust me.
It just gets you to change your state of mind.
Give yourself permission to be happy
That’s huge. Really, it is.
Subconsciously, you might be feeling guilty for being excited or liking your new home. Well, stop that!
When you are living away from home, no one, including your family, wants you to be miserable. They may not love your decisions or even understand them, but they don’t want you to be unhappy. They love you.
It’s ok to enjoy your new country. You’re supposed to, or you wouldn’t have left and created all of this emotional mayhem.
Live YOUR life, not someone else’s
Is it selfish to move away from your family?
NO. It’s not.
Only you know what is right for you. Your family doesn’t. So make you happy.
And since when are you responsible for other people’s happiness? You can’t be. That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself. I know because that’s precisely what I did. And it’s a total mind-fuck until you realize it’s an impossible mission. Good luck with that.
My mom wasn’t happy about us leaving. She didn’t like our decision. And I’m sure she was pretty pissed in some ways too. But in the end, she wanted us to be happy. She wanted us to follow our dreams.
If we had stayed because we felt guilty about leaving her, she would have felt guilty for stopping us from following our dreams.
What an ugly endless cycle of guilt! It does nothing but destroy your happiness!
I recognize not everyone’s mom is as wonderfully supportive as mine, and for that I am sorry. That will make it harder. But you’ll just have to make a decision based on what is best for you.
Guilt can be crippling, and no one should be living their lives ruled by it.
On my death bed, I can promise you I’ll never say, “I’m so mad I followed my dreams.” I might say, “I wish I spent more time with family.” And that is a heart-breaker I’ll have to deal with. Sometimes it’s hard to have it all simultaneously.
At the end of the day, moving away from family and friends is up to you. But if you stop yourself from going because you feel too guilty, be sure to ask yourself, “Who’s life am I living – mine or theirs?”
At some point, you will start wondering what would have been. You might even begin to resent them for preventing your happiness.
You are not being selfish by following your dreams.
Accept the doubt when you move away from family
Some days you’ll swear you made the wrong decision. But those days will lessen over time as you create your new life.
It’s ok, you are human. Give yourself some grace. It’s an emotional roller coaster.
Don’t pick up and move when you are feeling so raw. It takes time to get into your new routine.
If you’re still really struggling after a year or more of living away, weigh the options. If going home, or somewhere else, will make you happier, then that is something to consider.
Don’t stay miserable. But don’t give up too soon either.
Life is short – don’t live it being ruled by guilt
I know that’s so cliché. But you know it’s true.
If you don’t follow your dreams now, then when? Will you wait until your parents die before you go? What if they live to be 102 like my gramma? I’m not trying to be harsh, but when does your life begin?
If your bestie came to you and said, she wanted to relocate but was worried about the guilt of moving away from elderly parents.
What would you tell her?
If both her parents were healthy and robust, you’d probably tell her to follow her dreams, and she can always move back when she feels the time is right.
Give yourself the same advice you’d give your bestie… make it happen!
If not now, when? There will NEVER be the perfect time when deciding to move away from family. You just have to go for it. You can always move back. Nothing is written in stone.
Know when it’s time to pack it up and move back (or somewhere closer)
It’s ok to go home. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It doesn’t mean you are taking a step backward. It means it’s time to move on.
If you find yourself unhappy more often than not, it doesn’t have to be forever.
It’s ok to make a change. Whatever that looks like for you. But do it because you are ready for it. Not because you are being guilted into to.
Know that home will be different because you are. You might not realize it, but you have changed. Repatriation isn’t a cakewalk either. Everything looks the same, but nothing will be.
What to do when your family makes you feel guilty for moving away
Try looking at it from their point of view. And be understanding. This affects them dearly too.
They are not thinking about it from your point of view. They are looking at it as a loss. And it is, in a way. All the usual things you would be there for, you’ll miss. That’s hard for everyone.
They love you and want you around. It’s not a bad thing. They aren’t trying to make you feel bad, but they know how much they will miss you, and that is extremely difficult. It all comes from a place of love. Love for family and love of self.
It’s time to choose you
It doesn’t matter if you’re moving out of state away from family or pulling a Raccuia and moving across the globe. At times, it still sucks.
But what are you going to do? Let it destroy you? Or your family? Or both?
No. You need to overcome the guilt of living far away from parents and bloom where you are planted. Or go back. There is no shame in that.
I’m not telling you that moving away from your family is the right thing to do. I am telling you it’s possible. And it can be done without letting the torture of guilt override the benefits and positivity that come with it.
At the end of the day, you have to choose you.
If you don’t, no one else will. Never feel guilty for wanting more.
If all else fails, have a good cry and call home.
PS: saying goodbye sucks, but your going away gifts don’t have to. Check out these brilliant gifts for friends and family. They’ll make you giggle and we all need that!
If you’ve moved away from family, how do you cope with the guilt? Tell me in the comments below.
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