When the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, gives birth to her first child, she will be 5,400 miles away from her childhood home in Los Angeles, the place where her mother Doria Ragland still lives and works.
Although her mother has flown in to join her daughter and Prince Harry for the imminent birth – and the first few weeks of her grandchild’s life – eventually the 62-year-old is likely to return to home to her pets, her job and her daily routine in California.
Despite being in the fortunate position of being actual royalty, being able to travel frequently and having a network of paid support most new parents could only dream of, Meghan – like with many other parents – will be raising a child oceans away from her own mother and father.
Of course this brings positives, as well as negatives [but undoubtedly changes the way you raise your child and the relationship you have with your parents].
Jane Gibbon, 51, lives in west London after moving to the UK from Albuquerque, New Mexico, 17 years ago. She met a British man, who became her husband, and they now have a 10-year-old daughter, Milly. “Living away from your biological family, you now have a chosen family,” says Gibbon.
Has it been hard living so far away from her parents (and Milly’s grandparents)? The challenge has changed as her daughter has grown, says Gibbon. “The biggest difficulty is that enjoys spending time with them so much, and they share their passion for art (and curiosity in life in general) and we only see them a few times a year,” she says.
As a working mum, Gibbon has had to depend more on paid help with childcare than she would have liked. She also worries that as her parents get older their ability to visit the UK will inevitably start to diminish.
The same year Gibbon arrived in London, Elaine del Cerro Yau, 45, moved in the opposite direction to Washington DC, leaving behind her family in Worcestershire. She had a child while abroad – her son Mateo is now 8.
For the first two weeks of Mateo’s life, her sister flew out to help out but Del Cerro says it wasn’t the same as having family nearby. “It was a super lonely at times. Time difference was hard. I had to rely on the phone. I was quite resentful that friends could pop over to their mums’ for lunch.” She founds it hardest in the years before her son started school, she says: “It was hard to make mum friends. My friends were either working mums or had yet to start their family.”
It’s become easier as Mateo has grown up – they now FaceTime and Skype b back to the UK so he knows his grandma’s voice and face, and save up air miles to pay for regular trips to England. But it’s not easy, she says. “Family support is culturally huge for my parents, so it was odd for them to have me so disconnected from my family. There’s a definite disconnect between mum and Mateo, which saddens me.”
She also flags the cultural differences of a US and UK childhood. “I struggle with my son being an American sometimes – from the little things such as pronunciation and vocabulary, to the biggies like whether he’ll ever relate to my history and being British. I’m quite Victorian about manners, table etiquette, how he dresses – I’m not into the sweatpants and trainers. My American friends think it’s quaint (eye roll).”
I miss my mother when I am looking after everyone else, and I really want someone who would look after me"Pragya Agarwal
Dr Pragya Agarwal who lives in Merseyside also struggles with the cultural differences of raising her child miles away from her family in Lucknow, India. The 42-year-old moved to the UK 20 years ago to complete her Masters and PhD. She ended up staying on to study further and had three girls: Prishita, 21, and twins India and April who are two-and-a-half years old.
“I want my children to know their culture and be able to identify and learn about their Indian heritage. This is especially tricky now as my husband is Scottish, we rarely speak any Hindi at home, and we have no close networks from the Indian community. On these occasions, I miss my mother a lot. If she was closer, she could have brought the same stories, festival, food, language that I grew up with in my children’s lives. I am also not religious, while my mother is, and I do think that my children need to have some of that spiritual wisdom.”
Like Elaine del Cerro, she also struggles with loneliness. “Motherhood can be an overwhelming and exhausting as well as a lonely experience. I miss my mother when I am looking after everyone else, and I really want someone who would look after me, instinctively and unconditionally. Being a parent and being an immigrant brings its own set of challenges.”
Unlike the other mothers she struggles to find the time, and money, to go back to India as often as she’d like. And even FaceTime is a challenge when you have a big time difference. “I worry about my parents and their ill-health and feel guilty for not being close by to support them.”
Even being in a country much closer to your parents comes with challenges. Lucile Allen Paisant, 29, lives with her husband and her baby daughter Joyce in Leeds. She moved here from Brittany in France in 2016 for her husband’s job and had their daughter in May 2018. Her family still live in Rennes, which although only 500 miles away, still creates challenges.
“The first few months of my daughter, right after she was born, were difficult. I was talking to my mum every day on the phone and she came to visit every other week. You need that moral support when juggling a baby, work, and all the rest at the start. You need your mum when you become a mum!”
She also worried her parents weren’t building a relationship with their grandchild: “I want them to be close to my daughter despite the distance, and I want her to speak French. We try to video call regularly and my daughter recognises her grandparents (I think). The plan is to send her on holidays in France over the summer when she is older.”
There are advantages to living in a different country, of course. Samantha Fagan moved to Auckland, New Zealand, from Somerset to be with her husband who is a Kiwi. They had two sons, Joshua, 10, and Asher, seven, already, but the boys have now spent more of their childhood in New Zealand than the UK.
Your family can be people you chose as well as the people you are related to, so take time to find your village.”Samantha Fagan
She says the couple felt it was important for their family to embrace Maori language, culture and community living, with an open-door policy and the freedom for her children to roam around the neighbourhood. This was something they couldn’t do in the UK because they felt it wasn’t as safe. Their children also had the opportunity to attend a bilingual and bicultural school.
“We incorporated some of the practical aspects of Maori tikanga (or protocols) into our lives – from not wearing shoes inside or sitting on tables, to saying a karakia (prayer) before eating,” she says. “Your family can be people you chose as well as the people you are related to, so take time to find your village.”
Despite these advantages, Fagan admits it has still been “really hard”. She says: “I would have loved to have mum available for those days when I got stuck in traffic coming back from a meeting and knew I’d be late for school, or for those evenings when we really wanted to go to the cinema but couldn’t afford it because of the cost of getting a professional sitter.
“My parents aren’t big flyers, so for the first four years we didn’t see them in real life. It was, emotionally, quite hard seeing our kids spend time with their grandparents only on Skype.”
Sarah Sardon, 47, travelled in the opposite direction, moving to Tunbridge Wells in Kent from New Zealand. She has two boys, aged nine and 12. Like the Fagan family she says she tries to focus on the benefits of long distance family.
“My family all get on really well – we never fight or bitch about each other and I can’t help thinking its because we all live in different countries,” she admits. “We see each other every two years or so – more frequently if one of them visits the UK – and it is so brilliant. The quality of the time we spend together really does make up for the quantity of time we get.”
Sardon found herself a close-knit NCT group to rally round and support her in the early stages when she did miss her mum’s help and proximity. But the benefits are big. Her kids have two passports and her parents are relatively young, so it won’t be long before she can pack them off to New Zealand.
For now, they make it work by FaceTiming once a month. “They love love blowing raspberries at Grandpa – spitting all over my iPad. This has them in stitches for ages,” she says. “So they still get some special grandparenting.”
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