Ask anyone to list the most important things in life and you can bet any money that ‘family’ will come way up there, if not on the top spot.
Yet, particularly in our younger years, many of us make the decision to prioritise other things – career, social life, travel, friends, love – which not only detract from our focus on family, but actually physically take us away from them. For many people it starts with university; a young adult keen to strike out on their own, discover who they are and prove their independence – a task which is much more easily done if you are well away from the supervision of your parents. For others it may be different influences, or just a sudden desire to explore the world away from their home towns.
For some of us, our home towns are a reason in themselves (I have many happy childhood memories but, let’s face it, Bradford was hardly the most exciting place in the world for a woman in her 20s!).
The opportunity to move is one of the great aspects of modern life. Easily accessible transport means we can move further away than ever, often with little planning, whether it be to another county or another country. Ever improving technology means we can keep in touch with people easily and cheaply, with Skype and FaceTime meaning you can see as well as hear your loved ones at the touch of a button, making separation so much easier to bear.
But however close the modern world might make you feel your family are, in reality they’re still miles and miles away.
As we get older and start families of our own, our younger decisions are thrown wildly into question. Having children of our own makes us reflect on the family we already had before our kids came along.
I moved to London 9 years ago on nothing more than a whim. After working for 6 months in France (another expedition entered into on a whim), I returned to my mum’s house with a recently earned degree, a backpack full of filthy clothes and no life plan whatsoever. After one day in a terrible temp job I knew I couldn’t stay put. I panicked, called everyone I knew and within a few hours had lined up a crappy job and an even crappier hostel in London for just three days later. My plan was to stay for one year: enjoy the sights, appreciate the museums and visit as many pubs and clubs as I could manage. One year later I was having far too much fun to leave. Another year on I had a new boyfriend, two enormously fun flat mates and no good reason to go. 6 years after that I realised that I had somehow gotten married, had a baby and bought a house in a city I had sworn I would never settle in. A whole life dictated by a bored whim on miserable Thursday afternoon in Yorkshire.
I have never regretted my decision. I have grown to love London in a way that I could never have imagined, and in just as many ways I can’t imagine ever leaving.
However, there is a nagging doubt in the back of my mind, fuelled entirely by motherhood.
It is regularly one of my greatest sources of sadness to look at the pictures of my beloved Nana and think my son will never get to meet her and know how much fun she was; how great her stories and how strange it seemed that such a clever woman could appear to have no common sense at all! I miss her, and wish she could have met my little boy.
Then it occurs to me that while I no longer have my Nana, he does have his. A woman with whom he bakes apple pie, learns silly songs and who taught him a long lasting lesson that sometimes the most fun thing you can do is just sit in the wash basket. He also has a Grandpa who he loves to read stories with, a Granny he adores and who has seemingly endless patience when it comes to his bedtime antics, and a Grandad whose bad jokes will perhaps, at some point in the future, provide some silly entertainment.
I like to think that we’re doing something great by bringing our son up in London, giving him all the culture and excitement my husband and I missed out on. It’s amazing to live in a city where there’s always something happening, where you have access to hundreds of museums and theatres whenever the mood takes you, and where you can meet people from all over the world just walking down the street.
Still, the more we get used to family life the more I notice what we’re missing. The truth is, when asked ‘what do you want to do?’ my son never answers ‘Let’s go to the portrait gallery, mum’ or ‘I really fancy a wander round Covent Garden and people watching over a coffee’. His answer is inevitably ‘let’s go park!’, occasionally joined by an out-of-the-blue request to see a relative who lives several hours away. His preferences are much simpler and more instinctive than my own.
So we have some big questions to ask ourselves. Should we stay in London and let our son only see his grandparents every couple of months? Or move out, to somewhere near them or where they may be able to afford to move and see him grow up as Grandparents should? How much are we living in London for our family, and how much just for ourselves? I’m not quite ready to give up on my big city dream, but at what point do we have to stop being selfish and put family back on the top of our list?