Monday, 6 December 2010

Managing Expectations When Visiting Home- An Expat's Struggle

Do I set my expectations of my family too high? This is something I've been pondering for the last few weeks. As an expat living in London I only get home to see the family back in the US once a year. My parents visit every summer and we have had one off visits from various family members over the years. But basically, besides my parents who we see twice a year, we only see the family once a year.

Cue the whirlwind visit home. It's an action packed drive-a-palooza where the husband and I try to see and stay with everyone in a short two week period. A bit like pool balls on a billiards table, we obediently drive all over the state of California. The goal is to try and make sure we get in "quality time" with our various family members who don't even have the decency to all live in the same place.

After the driving (7 hours between southern and northern California) comes the visits. Now normally when you see your extended family it's in short bursts. A dinner for a birthday, or a Sunday lunch, or a meal for a holiday. But rarely (unless you're still living with them) do you go from not seeing someone at all to being on top of them 24/7 sleeping in their guest rooms and sitting our their couches "visiting." I find that within an hour or so of each of these visits I'm ready for a break. I've missed these people all year and couldn't wait to see them, but now I'm starting to remember the things about them that drive me crazy.

So much pressure is put on these visits as well. Trying to squeeze in a year's worth of experiences into a couple of days is exhausting. Any suggestion of doing things not with the whole group is instantly taken as rejection. "I don't want to go to the park," is taken to mean, "I don't want to spend time with you." When really I just don't want to go to the park and watch people happily playing with their babies when I've just lost mine. Wanting to spend some quiet time reading a book is seen as, "you don't want to spend time with me," when really it's just that I need a few moments of quiet in my day. It's an exhausting balancing act where we try and make everyone happy and end the time feeling like we didn't get a vacation at all.

Then add onto it that this particular visit was the first one after losing our son. I don't know what I was expecting from my family, but quite a few of them let me down. Somehow I was expecting more sympathy and questions about how we are coping. But instead I got the same old conversations about the same old things. A few family members even opted to take our time to talk all about themselves.

I left the US very disappointed. But now that I've had time to reflect, maybe I was just expecting too much. After all, they only get to see us once a year and I'm sure they just didn't know what to say. It's not like there's a manual on how to help a family member who's lost a child. Perhaps they didn't want to upset me with questions? Perhaps they wanted our memories of the visit to be happy? Perhaps they were waiting for me to bring it up?

Perhaps I need to give them a break??


  1. Thanks for visiting my blog - and I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your baby.

    I do agree with you about the expat dilemma of not seeing people and then having to put up with them 24/7! I am sure your relatives are not talking to you about the baby because they don't want to upset you. A close friend of mine similarly lost a baby and she was always upset that her mum would never talk about it with her. But I think people genuinely are afraid to broach the subject - I am sure it's not that they aren't thinking of it.

  2. I think you're probably right nappy girl.

  3. I agree with nappy valley girl. People feel uncomfortable talking about a baby who has died. There are no common memories to share. They don't know what to say, so they say nothing and wait for you to bring it up. They think they will make you uncomfortable by talking about it. You almost have to give them permission to discuss it.

  4. It is so tough to know what to say to someone coping with a loss of any kind. Thank you for the reminder that we need to get over being uncomfortable and let our loved ones know we are thinking about them and are there for them.

  5. People cope with things in different ways...maybe you should have told them how you felt about the passing of your son because it may have been a really difficult thing for them to broach. As far as the visits go - treasure them because there will come a time when they aren't possible. I have not been in your situation and cannot imagine anything worse. Take care.

    I'm over from Blog Gems

  6. I have just found your beautiful blog through blog gems. I can't even begin to imagine what it must be like to lose a son like you have.
    Thoughts that you share here will always find someone who listens and tries to understand and sends love your way. x

  7. You are right about treasuring the time with my family. As much as they drive me crazy, I love them and know they won't always be around.

    It's nice to have this blog as a place to share my thoughts. I am amazed at the kindness of the people who leave lovely comments.

  8. I found myself in a similar situation over the holidays with my sister as you were with your family. I didn't know if she wanted to talk, or if she wanted some 'time off' from thinking about her baby so I was trying to keep it casual yet watching for signs that it was ok to talk about baby without her breaking down.

    I am not dismissing her, or your feelings about your babies when I explain this, it is just that people cope in different ways and with different situations and sometimes it is hard to know what the right thing for onlookers to do. The last thing I want to do in this kind of situation is add to someones grief and upset.

    Big hugs. Jen xx

  9. Oh! I would be so angry with them letting me down like that... at the same time, what can you do? I just hope you feel better now. I just realized that the online community is a brilliant way to share difficult things to. There is ALWAYS someone listening!

    A big hug from Norway!

  10. I imagine the expectations you have a subtle and under-articulated in your own mind. It is disappointing when people don't live up to your hopes for them, but obviously, very hard to do too. Maybe you need to express your needs more clearly to others so they have a chance of meeting them? I hope the visit home this year goes more smoothly for you! Thanks for Rewinding x