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$Monday: The Value of Living Close to Your Care Network

Right in the nick of time, before Covid lockdowns, my family shared our best-ever Thanksgiving, Christmas, and 9th birthday party, all at my parents' new house down the road from my house. Looking back at that time feels like a dream now. Those memories are going to be priceless in getting us through a very different kind of holiday season this year.

My parents and my immediate family are holding the line and not visiting with any other households indoors, and my parents' proximity to my house has made it easy for us to visit with them frequently, in each other's backyards. They come up with fun things for us to do together from a safe physical distance, like watch my daughter play in the sprinkler or an inflatable pool, or put up a badminton net.

It has been good for our mental health and family relationships to have that access to safe ways of socializing without having to go through all the complicated logistics of traveling in a pandemic.

My grandmother and several extended family members also live in town, a short drive away, so we can all look out for each other, do favors, and check in face-to-face--perhaps through a window or fiberglass barrier. It's better than having to choose between a frustrating phone call or a perilous journey.

This year, living near jobs and schools has become less important, and being geographically close to family (or very significant friends) has skyrocketed in obvious value. As a result, inter-generational households are a normal thing again, and grandparents are more inclined to settle near their grandchildren and personal support networks than to fly away to Florida or some other heavenly waiting room, relying upon commercial services and convenient air travel to keep them living independently and connected to family and old friends.

After the pandemic ends, unfortunately, I do not expect the childcare industry to bounce back. Many facilities have shut down permanently, and many childcare providers have been forced to look for other kinds of work. If we take good care of our precious grandparents, however, most of them will be around the moment it's safe for them to care for their grandchildren again. Having family members who can share or provide childcare can save parents many thousands of dollars a year, and it can benefit older relatives cognitively and emotionally to enjoy a strong bond with younger generations.

Of course, all of the above joys and benefits only apply to relationships that are healthy. No human relationships are perfect or without their challenges, but there is a difference between annoying and abusive. There is no overall benefit to living with or near abusive or toxic relatives. Healthy people get into arguments with their romantic partners, children, parents, other relatives, and friends over many things--different preferences and philosophies, different standards of behavior, different personalities. 

Good conflicts challenge the people having them to grow or become stronger in some way, even if the growth merely consists of learning tolerance for someone else's quirks. 

Bad conflicts, however, consist of one person tearing down, manipulating, or restricting another person for selfish reasons of control. The pandemic is a fine time to socially distance, not just physically but emotionally, from abusers or codependent takers who don't hold you in mutual respect and care. Sadly, the pandemic has exacerbated domestic violence, substance abuse, and gun fanaticism, which has made the home a serious health hazard for anyone living with an abuser.

Leaving an abusive domestic relationship is itself an extremely dangerous process, and having a strong social support network (which abusers tend to try to deny their victims access to) is critical to a survivor's ability to make a safe, clean break and successfully restart life in a better place.

For those not blessed with any healthy family relationships, framilies of deeply committed people who are not blood-related can serve many of the same purposes. It takes more work to build and nurture those connections that feel like kinship without a biological tie, but it is both possible and beautiful.

As we are learning this year, people matter more than money or career opportunities, and strong interpersonal relationships weave a much more reliable support network than anything an employer or set of private businesses can provide.

While I have absolutely loved traveling internationally, and I have witnessed plenty of success stories of people who have sailed on the wind to put down roots in a faraway land, the value of living in close proximity to your own human resources is incalculable. If you can't gather your family and best friends into one location on the map, put time and effort into nurturing new relationships close to home. Having a local tribe of people who you don't pay for their services to you, who expect good things from you and generously provide them in a fluidly mutual partnership, not only saves you money but could actually save your life. And they have no excuse not to come to your parties.

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