Thoughts on Family Relationships and Staying in Touch

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As another significant birthday passed for me recently, I was reflecting on the value of family relationships and staying in touch through visits or other channels of communication.

When I first came out to Asia, the only practical way to stay in touch was letters and postcards. When my mother died, I was surprised to find out she had kept all of them in a box. Nowadays my kids explain how hard it is to find time to write e-mails, which to my mind is so much easier than sourcing, writing, and mailing a letter, that it’s a little hard to accept why it takes so long. However, I do realise that much of it has to do with the increased speed at which we are forced to live. If you wrote a letter from Asia in the 1970s, it would take at least two weeks before a reply came back, usually longer. Now, an e-mail can secure a reply within minutes, so keeping up with them can get stressful.

It’s very easy when you first come to a new country to devote some of your time to staying in touch with family and friends back home, as there are many interesting new things to write about, but as you get more settled and find more things to occupy your time, it becomes easier to let these things slip.

Similarly, those trips you were planning to return home and visit everyone become a bit more of an effort, and slowly, families drift apart. Asians seem to be better at holding family reunions based on festive customs or other special celebrations. Family members seem to regard it as more important that everyone attends.

As I get older, I find I really appreciate having the family together and seeing them make an effort to show up. This is something I probably would not have appreciated as much as a younger person. Of course, many Asian families are larger than their Western counterparts so they can create a bigger event. Had I stuck to my original plan of staying single, I would not even be thinking about family reunions, but with six kids it becomes something rather different.

I’ve learned that most Asian families have a bit more order in them in terms of age and hierarchy. My life was rather haphazard – which is of course entirely of my own making – but it does leave me, curiously, with a daughter who is still in primary school and a son-in-law who is older than my wife!

One nice thing about having kids later in life is that you become less concerned about people not visiting because there is always plenty of activity in the house. Of course, there are also times when I wish the house were empty and quiet, but on balance, I know which option I would choose.

For all those of you who rank yourselves badly in terms of making an effort to visit and otherwise stay in touch with friends and family, I hope I can encourage some of you to make a little more effort as nearly everyone appreciates it, even if they may not express it that clearly. One day the shoe may be on the other foot and you will be the one looking forward to visits… even if they are only holograms!

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Source: The Expat magazine November 2015

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