For most of the past two years I have been living 1,100 miles away from my beloved children. The decision to move far away from them did not come easily but I have had to live with it every day since then. I have tried very hard to soothe myself with the fact that they live in my ex-wife’s hometown, a small place with very few job opportunities and where, for more than eight years, I struggled to earn a living and to make friends. I know that my life there was mostly unhappy and unfulfilling but, when my ex-wife and I were together, I at least could comfort myself in knowing that I could enjoy spending time with my kids every day.
When I agreed to move to my ex-wife’s hometown 10 years ago, I did so with an open mind and a sense of adventure. We had just gotten married and were leaving behind a lot of stress and strain. For one thing, we both worked in downtown Washington, DC, and the horror of 9/11 was fresh in our minds. For another, we had just survived a nightmare scenario, in which my whole extended family went to war with us over our wedding plans, which were apparently not in line with their highfalutin standards. The idea of raising our family in a tidy little New England village near the ocean seemed quite seductive at the time. I would find a job, and she would stay home and raise the kids.
Over the next eight years I struggled mightily to hold up my end of the bargain, living, as we did, in a small town located 100 miles from the nearest big city. For a while I had a secure, albeit boring and low-paying, job with a public agency that just barely allowed us to afford for her to stay home with a baby. When that job proved untenable and I couldn’t find anything better, I launched a consulting business, which went well enough, but forced me to travel a lot and came with no security. After our second child was born and the national economic meltdown came, I found myself with less and less work and, thus, less and less income.
Then came the final blow; she told me that she wanted a divorce. I begged her to reconsider, but I couldn’t get her to talk about anything, much less convince her to go to counseling to work things out. She had made up her mind that she wanted me gone, and so I gave up and moved out. With each week that passed I became certain that I wasn’t going to be able to afford child support, rent, or anything else, unless I somehow found a decent job nearby. Well, after years of trying, it didn’t surprise me that I couldn’t find anything, not in the depths of the recession. With nowhere else to go, I decided to go back to Atlanta, where I went to grad school, began my career, and still had lots of friends (something I sorely lacked in the little place I had been living). I also had another reason to fly south; after my divorce I had innocently contacted an old girlfriend who had also been through a divorce with a young child (I just wanted her advice), and we soon got back together.
Fast forward to the present. I am happily married, living with my new wife and stepdaughter, holding down a good job with a healthy income, and generally enjoying a comfortable life in a two-income household. So why is it that I am considering giving up this terrific new life and finding a job back north? It’s simple: I love my children and I feel like I’m missing out on too much of their childhoods by living this way. As it stands, I’m only able to see for one long weekend about once every two months, plus six weeks in the summertime. As they get older maybe that will do, but right now it’s just not good enough for me.
If you are reading this, you are either a long-distance parent, have been one in the past, or you love somebody who is one. Whichever one it is, you have lived through the same emotions that I have expressed, so you are uniquely qualified to answer my simple question: am I crazy? Can it possibly be worth throwing away a good and happy existence in a place I actually enjoy to return to a place where I spent eight frustrating and unhappy years just so I can spend more time with my kids? Is it better for my kids for me to be happy and able to support them financially, or is it better than I see them all the time, regardless of anything else?