For sixteen years, my husband and I and our kids were ex-pats assigned to Mexico. One of the interesting things about living as foreigners in another country is your relationship with other ex-pats. It hit home this week when were catching up with a former co-worker from those days and I heard my kids call him “Uncle”. It was common in our ex-pat community for the kids to call the other adults Aunt and Uncle.
But it gave me pause, thinking about those unusual relationships. My kids have great relationships with their blood relatives. Their grandparents, aunts and uncles are encouraging and supportive in tangible ways. So, I’m a little stymied to put my finger on what makes these relationships unique.
Maybe the critical element is being geographically far away from your extended family. So these Aunts and Uncles step into the vacuum. It fills that need for the family connections that go unmet for months or years at a time. But, there also exists an element of choice. You can choose who to get together with for Christmas dinner or the Super Bowl. You can choose who comes to the kids’ birthday parties and who you ask to help you move. Back in your hometown, you know who your relatives are. You know how the pecking order plays out. There’s a clear distinction between friends and family. There’s no blurring of the lines.
Away from home, the line between friends and family gets blurred.
I’m grateful for the people that stepped into the extended family gap that was created by the logistics of geography. Our lives are richer because of it.