Living far away from extended family has both its advantages and drawbacks. When I hear tales of the interference of in-laws in the lives of many couples, I feel blessed that my in-laws live three thousand miles away and speak a different language.
I would have liked to meet my late father-in-law, whom my beloved suggests would have liked me. Sadly, he passed away many years before we were married, but I have met many of his friends, who always treated me with affection and respect.
As for my wife’s in-laws, fortunately she has always enjoyed a good relationship with my parents, after the initial shock of our nonconformist union. Though they were justifiably alarmed by the speed of our decision to marry, it was never in their nature to interfere in our life together. In any case, we live too far away to be bothered by anything other than phone calls.
Our family has been scattered for years now. My parents moved away from Hull while I was at university. And the rest of us: we migrated to wherever we found work. For me, Hanwell was more affordable than Maidenhead, a counter-commute west instead of east. Just as I was about to take a room closer to work, I met my beloved and settled in West Ealing instead.
For peace in our lives, these long-distance relationships certainly have their advantages. But there are distinct disadvantages, the most noticeable being the absence of secondary childcare. Growing up, if my parents wished to have some respite or go out for the evening, our grandparents could always be called upon. I remember many a happy day visiting East Park off Holderness Road with my grannie as a child.
In the past few years, my parents have moved down to the south west to live close to my sister. Apart from enjoying an active social life there, they seem to be on hand for regular childcare duties for my nephew, which I confess makes me a little envious. The only respite we seem to get is on our wedding anniversary, when I insist on offloading the kids on others to enjoy a couple of nights away.
Extended family near at hand offers some the chance of downtime and personal space. For us, respite is the school day. If we want to go on a date, it will have to be a day off work between nine and three, but even then it is likely to be aborted by the jealousies of our children. The planned midweek trip back to our old turf for reminiscence and Persian cuisine now aborted in favour of Sunday lunch there as a family instead.
There will be no “us time” after all. But, then again, what is “us time” in the midst of an extended family? I confess that we have built a house back home to escape the demands of in-laws always ready and waiting to knock on a door, just when you had something else in mind. In-laws, I feel, are best enjoyed in small quantities.
Some might lament that as the selfishness of the age, but I think it is more the reality of migratory lifestyles, be it domestic migration for work or the international relationship. We have all settled all over, far from wherever we once called home. This, the life we chose.