Somehow this idea of a “normal” family being “a mother, a father, a child or two point five children, and one home” persists as conventional. I say “somehow” because unconventional families are nothing new, and evidence abounds that unconventional families are not inferior purely because of their makeup. Long distance parenting is an unconventional family style. The idea idea that long distance parenting is extreme contributes to the stigma.
Sometimes when I step back and look at my family with my kids and their families, it can take on the appearance of some sort of cobbled together patchwork of not quite perfect stories. Like stitched together pieces that sometimes aren’t exactly the right size, held together by love and intention.
In my own family, I am estranged with my mother and I am growing closer and closer to my father, who I didn’t have a relationship with for the first part of my life. I have a sister by blood, one by adoption, and step siblings. I have conventionally “former” family members that I still consider to be part of my family network. My immediate and extended family members are of different races, classes and backgrounds. Instead of having the immediate proximity of blood and marriage family, I’ve chosen a hodgepodge of folks for my local chosen family. My family is scattered across the globe.
My son, in addition to inheriting my unconventional family, has had multiple sets of grandparents by virtue of my remarriage, and their divorces and remarriages. When we talk about family, we talk about Nanna So-and-So or Grandpa-So-And-So… not just ‘Nanna’ or ‘Grandpa’ because there are so many. When my son was young, I partnered with my village of friends, and with partners, to care for him. They are also part of his family.
My long distance family members, chosen, blood or marriage, are never really that far away. We text, we call, we video chat. I take a trip every few years back to the east coast and road trip around to see folks. We are a ‘like’ away on social media. We know the ins and outs of what’s going on with each other.
I was a long distance parent and my son’s father was a long distance parent. When my son was growing up, he always had one parent at a distance. It’s not conventional. But it worked for us. My son is well adjusted, with great relationships with both parents. That was just how his family worked. It’s not taboo or extreme to us. It’s family sticking together no matter what. Even at a distance. And isn’t that what family is about?
When I consider my family, I feel a deep sense of love and peace. I don’t think ‘taboo’ or ‘extreme’. I don’t believe the stigma attached to the various forms of family relationships in my life that don’t fall into conventional boxes. Over and over, we, as societies, need to adjust laws and social norms to account for families that don’t look like that convention. That’s because family doesn’t follow convention.
Like many types of family, long distance parenting doesn’t fall into society’s nice neat boxes of “conventional”. Surely we know by now that just because a child grows up in a home with a mother and a father doesn’t ensure their success. And we know that simply having long distance parents doesn’t adversely affect a child. But still this taboo and stigma persists.
The thing I’ve learned over the course of my life is that family doesn’t fall into neat packages and boxes with well defined corners and edges all the time. Not every family has a mother and a father and 2.4 children who live in a two story four bedroom home in the land of Never a Care in the World with exactly two sets of grandparents who live until an age at which it is perfect to pass on without incontinence or senility. Family isn’t about perfection of roles, a predetermined number, a perfect distance. It’s about ties.
Family is a quiet knowing and security that you have people. They have your back. Your people support you and love you no matter what. They care about what’s going on in your life and you in theirs. When you talk, it’s like no time has passed. Family works around distance and heartbreak and schisms. Family isn’t conventional… family is love.