Maintaining Family Relationships When You Live In Different Countries

With emigration becoming the norm for more and more families in Ireland, does technology really help to bring people together from around the world?

The phone beeps, the ‘WhatsApp’ symbol flashes in the corner of my screen. I already know it is a message in our ‘Brothers and Sisters’ group as there had been whispers weeks previously that our youngest sibling had some news to share. With big families like ours, it’s rare a secret stays a secret for long.

There are seven of us siblings and out of the seven, it was the youngest one who made the life-changing decision to move to the other side of the world. 

Seven years ago she packed her bags and left for Australia so she too could experience life ‘down under’. She is one of the lucky ones, she was heading straight to family - our uncle has been living in Australia for most of his life, so Australia has always been part of our family. Many cousins had gone over before her and I am sure many will go after her.

It was hard work with her being so far away. We often missed calls, sent messages without thinking of the time difference (which would panic her with the noise of her phone beeping constantly in the middle of the night). We soon learned that time difference is something to acknowledge before sending her random ‘GIFs’ or silly videos of us. 

She missed milestones, which we played down as we could hear the disappointment in her voice when she’d ask “who else was there?” 

She and her husband worked day and night and finally became Australian citizens seven years after they left Ireland. For us, it meant that she was not coming ‘home’ and that ‘home’ was now both Ireland and Australia.

She has come home for visits four times, each visit that bit longer and each visit more bittersweet than the visit before. We could all see how happy she was and how much she loved the life she had built in Australia. 

She now has two beautiful baby girls that we have yet to meet.

Despite access to technology, we still get lonely for her which is hard to explain unless you have a sibling or family member living so far away. 

I often think of my granny, my grandad, my dad and his siblings - how did they just carry on not hearing from my uncle for months at a time? My uncle thinks it’s amazing how we can all connect at the touch of a button these days compared to the day he said goodbye to his family and went off to Australia.

He visited all through my childhood but even as a child I knew my uncle would never move back to Ireland. He was, from his head right down to his feet an Irish-Australian.

I mean that literally - he didn’t dress like anyone I knew, wearing hats that he often said ‘were for the outback’ and shoes that were boots, never shoes.

Yet, when he spoke and laughed I could see my father, his sisters and brothers shine through him.

Home never truly leaves you and I remember thinking he isn’t Australian, he’s Irish too because he’s so like my dad despite him living a whole lifetime in Australia.

Maintaining Family Relationships When You Live In Different Countries
In the past decade alone, almost 1000,000 people moved to Australia from Ireland.

He had an unusual accent and I remember asking him for a Kangaroo like ‘Skippy’ the next time he visited. Instead, he brought a ‘didgeridoo’, which I can assure you was some fun but quickly became an ‘outdoor’ instrument.

He kindly explained to me that a Kangaroo to him was like a giant rat and there weren’t really ones called ‘Skippy’. The older my uncle got, the less he visited as the journey became too much. He is living happily in Australia with a lot of his family around him, a lot of them coming from Ireland, a lot of them my family too.

I checked the ‘WhatsApp’ - there it was ‘We are coming home on the 23rd for a few months’ - yes the whispers were right. I felt my eyes sting as the pictures of her daughters (my nieces!) popped up on the screen, with the message ‘Get ready to meet your nieces’.

The 23rd couldn’t come fast enough.

There was painting, redecorating, bedroom cleanouts, chimney cleaning and baby products stockpiled- as my parents' home got ready for four people coming from Australia instead of the usual two. 

My husband and I drove to Dublin airport and stood waiting at the arrivals gate, an experience I have never had until that day. My neck was sore from trying to look past the bend to see if they were going to be the next passengers through.

Finally, they walked through and I didn’t quite know how to react. This was my first time seeing my baby sister fussing over her own babies while her husband pushed all the luggage with a proud-dad smile plastered on his face. 

While technology is keeping families like ours in touch daily there is nothing that can replace hugging your little sister in the flesh - being able to hold my nieces and cuddle them and being able to hug my brother-in-law and actually look at them all, in person.

There is no technology that can replace human contact and I am not sure I would want there to be. 

I would love my sister and her family to move back to Ireland, I’d be lying if I said otherwise. But what I do know is I want my sister and her family to be happy, have a good life and good friends and family around them and if that means living in Australia and seeing them online more than in person well, that’s just how it has to be.

My older sister went over to Australia earlier in the year and plans to go back in another year or so.

I am sure there will be more visits over to Australia as the years go on, but my reality is that it isn’t somewhere I will be able to travel to due to Ethan's needs and the length of time I’d be gone for.

However, that just means with each visit my baby sister makes back to Ireland, it will always be that little bit extra special to me and all my boys.

I think it is safe to say that us Irish know a lot of people who now live in Australia, the figures are actually quite shocking. My family is definitely not the only ones who wait patiently to meet new family members at the arrival gates in Dublin. 

In the past decade alone, almost 1000,000 people moved to Australia from little old Ireland. It is safe to say that my sister and her young family have plenty of Irish over there to always remind them of home.

Ger Renton

Mammy, Wife, Writer, all round fixer of bruised knees, broken toys...always looks for the smile even through the tears!

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