There’s no shortage of memes and articles on the Internet about how simultaneously heartbreaking and gratifying it is for parents to see our kids spread their wings and fly. Even as we mourn their leaving us, we celebrate their courage and independence, and we congratulate ourselves for raising confident kids who are ready to take on life without us.
No question this should be celebrated, and we parents should definitely be giving ourselves and each other a hearty pat on the back. After all, this parenting gig is not for the faint of heart–especially the part when we have to let go.
But what if I told you that in addition to encouraging my children to fly, I also encourage them to land (eventually) close to home?
Some people find this admission shocking, even selfish. After all, shouldn’t I let my kids make their own choices, independent of my desires or dreams for them? Of course. I should. And I do. But in addition to helping my children develop the confidence and skills they need to make it out in the world, I consider it a part of my job to help them see the benefits of settling close to our family because I believe those benefits are numerous–and not just for me.
While Americans tend to celebrate independence and making it on our own, historically, people have raised their children with or near extended family. In the past, parents had a support system to help them care for, supervise, advise, discipline, and entertain their children. Today’s parents are expected to do all of this on their own while also maintaining careers and spending their evenings and weekends carting their children to various sports and activities.
My children already know the joy of being raised near their grandparents.
We live on our family farm with my parents close by–different residents, same property. Growing up, my kids saw their “Big and Bobi” almost every day. And with my husband’s parents only three hours away, they were also close enough to be a regular part of our kids’ lives.
Not only did our parents help us with childcare and give us a chance to go on the occasional date night, but they also enriched their grandchildren’s lives with their stories, their wisdom, and their love. It made an impact. My married son and his wife have already made the conscious decision to turn down opportunities in other parts of the country to raise their future children near family.
One down. Three to go!
Another reason I am encouraging all my children to consider settling close by is so they will have the chance to enjoy adult friendships with their siblings. My bother’s career as a theologian prevented him from living close to our rural hometown, but his work as a college professor allowed him to come home for extended visits, sometimes for several weeks in the summer. This gave us the chance to share our parenting journeys and get to know each other as adults in a way we might not have if we had only seen each other once or twice a year.
I have always encouraged my children to think of their siblings as their best friends.
And while it’s certainly possible for friends to stay close even when they live far apart, there’s a special kind of relationship that comes from being a regular part of each others’ lives.
Because my brother spent his summers visiting us, some of my kids’ best memories are sleepovers and campouts and long, lazy days with their cousins. They know when it comes to lifelong friendships, there is nothing like family.
My desire for all of my kids to settle close to home might sound old-fashioned or provincial, but they would be in good company. According to this article in The New York Times, the typical American lives within 18 miles of their mother.
Like all mothers, ultimately, I want my children to settle where they will be the happiest, and I’ll support any decision they make. But I want them to at least consider that happiness isn’t just about a career opportunity or a cool city. It’s also about being part of a close-knit, supportive family and spending your life surrounded by people you love.
In fact, I think it’s mostly about that, and telling (and showing) my kids this is just another way I am preparing them to leave my nest and make a home of their home—close to me or not.