Loyalty to Job or Loyalty to Family?

4 Jun

Recently laid up with a bad case of the flu, shivering under a mountain of blankets, my body aching, I yearned for Mom.  Even at the age of 45, I still wanted Mommy.

I reflected back on how when I was sick she would soothingly rub my feet, hum a comforting tune, and spoon-feed me homemade chicken noodle soup.  I counted on Mom to care for me.  And technically, she still can.  Mom is a healthy, vibrant 75 year-old, always willing and able to lend a helping hand.

Yet when I awoke from a feverish nap, having swallowed my last Thera-flu six hours prior, it didn’t enter my mind to call her for help.  She lives 2600 miles away.  What was she going to do, sing me a lullaby and squeeze an aspirin through the phone?

Fifteen years ago, my husband and I were faced with a life-altering question—loyalty to family, or loyalty to the job?  The bank that employed him in Los Angeles closed down the office and offered to relocate him to their New York office.   While I was close to my family, I understood that choosing to live near them wouldn’t pay the mortgage.  So, following the paycheck, we picked up and replanted ourselves on the Right Coast.

Now I was experiencing one of the many repercussions of living away from my family.  I needed relief, in comfort and in pill form, and my parents were a six-hour flight away from the local drug store and me. So, I did what was becoming more and more natural to me.   Like a “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” contestant, I chose the Phone-A-Friend lifeline.  Fifteen minutes later, Maria was at my doorstep, meds in hand with a side of Gatorade to keep me hydrated and some soup to keep me nourished.   Not only did she bring provisions, but she also picked up my son from school and drove him to his tennis lesson.

I have come to rely on friendship instead of kinship for daily support. When listing emergency contacts on my children’s school forms, I designate a friend; when a medical procedure warrants a chaperone, I enlist a friend; when I need parenting advice, I ask a friend.  Even when I gave birth to my youngest daughter in my living room during an unplanned home delivery, it’s a friend I called to help until the paramedics arrived.

Friends have come to serve an increasingly important function in our lives. They are there to mourn with us, celebrate with us, and commiserate with us.  I recently attended three funerals for friends’ parents and grandparents.  When one friend had no family to make a shiva minyan to meet the quota for a proper Jewish memorial service in her home, friends rallied to make phone calls and soon the house was bulging with other friends and congregants.

A few years ago, in richer economic times, I splurged and invited 80 friends to my 40th birthday luau where we partied the night away eating Polynesian shrimp kabobs and sipping strawberry daiquiris, to a backdrop of hip swaying hula dancers and muscled male flame throwers.

In these leaner times, my brother invited neighbors to a “Recession” holiday block party “to celebrate the significant depreciation of your assets and massive reduction of your net worth.”  The menu promised “Sub-Prime rib, AIG Nogg, Paulson Lemon TARPS (made of Bernanke dough), and GM&M cookies (“Get here early for these, they won’t last long!” he warned.)

The invitation was a flyer, hand delivered, not mailed, and the party was potluck style, with “the lowest class contributions” requested. One guest brought a half-eaten bag of stale potato chips. The party was a smash, and friends shared layoff stories and offered one another support.

Our increasingly open society gives us license to share with friends a wider range of personal issues such as finances and health previously reserved for family alone.

Mind you, friends don’t replace family.  My husband and I cherish celebrating special occasions and events with my parents, who visit for five weeks bi-annually, and loyally attend our children’s piano recitals, tennis matches, and graduation parties.  We value our holiday traditions with them and have come to expect things like an overabundance of gifts on birthdays, my father lecturing my ten year old about the importance of a 401K, and Thanksgiving with Grandma’s signature green Jell-O.

I do, however, often feel left out of the mix.  It saddens me to miss out on some of my family customs that my siblings still regularly enjoy with my parents, the kind I can’t duplicate with friends, like Sunday night home movies or the relentless quest to discover the hidden ingredient in Great Grandma’s oatmeal cookies.  While I may outgrow friends, I’ll never outgrow family.

But in many ways, friends have become the new family.  They serve as a surrogate family in a daily existence that no longer relies on familial communal living as our ancestors did.  We laugh together, cry together, and even play practical jokes on each other.

Blood may run thicker than water, and I don’t expect that my friends will massage my feet or spoon-feed me chicken soup like Mom used to, but in today’s transient culture where we follow our careers and not necessarily our families, I feel grateful to have friends I can count on.

Have you been faced with the dilemma, “loyalty to family or loyalty to job?” If so, how did you cope?

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(An abridged version of this piece was published in Hometown Quarterly, Spring 2012)

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35 Responses to “Loyalty to Job or Loyalty to Family?”

  1. Terri L. Spilman June 4, 2012 at 9:54 am #

    Wonderful post. I’ve struggled with this same issue many times in my life. I’m home now, but my husband’s family is on the “left” side. I too have had to recruit a few friends to drop Gatorade by in times of need over the years. I was so desperate, I used to say, “Just drive by and throw it in the front yard.” Friends do become your family. Hope you are feeling better. If not, the best I can send you an ecard due to distance.

    • Main Street Musings Blog June 4, 2012 at 11:35 am #

      Thanks, Terri. Maybe the compromise would be that we all move to the middle! Somewhere central, like, say, Dayton, Ohio!

  2. Norma Hopcraft June 4, 2012 at 10:35 am #

    Great post, Lisa, heartfelt. I miss my son, who’s living in Costa Rica. He moved out of my house by emigrating to CR, became a much more mature human being while on his own, and now I see him only once, if I’m lucky twice a year. Far-flung families are the American way — people used to leave Europe and never see their families again, or walk west and never go back. I’m glad you’ve found friends. Thank God they’re not too busy to bring you Gatorade when you need it. That’s the other American way — crushing busy-ness.

    • Main Street Musings Blog June 4, 2012 at 11:38 am #

      Thanks, Norma. Sadly, I suppose it is the American way. I empathize with you. Like California, Costa Rica is a long distance (albeit a beautiful place to visit). That must be tough. And you’re right, “crushing busy-ness” is an epidemic!

  3. crubin June 4, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    We’re in the same boat–we don’t live near any family members. I regret now that we weren’t able to do so, because it would be great for my kids to be near their relatives. It certainly would have made my life easier, too, when they were little. But we go visit others as much as we can, and for now, that will have to do. 🙂

    • Main Street Musings Blog June 4, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

      Sounds like you can relate. Yes, it would have been especially nice to have help when my kids were babies! Now as my kids get older, I hope and pray they won’t stray far from home!

  4. Paprika Furstenburg June 4, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

    Our family all lives in NJ, but everyone is at least an hour and a half apart. When my husband and I both had bronchitis and 102 degree fevers during one of last year’s blizzards, it was my friends that came over to help us shovel our driveway.

    • Main Street Musings Blog June 4, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

      If we just lived a little closer and I had four-wheel drive, I’d shovel for you!

      • Paprika Furstenburg June 4, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

        And I would bring you chicken soup and Gatorade. Your on your own with your feet though, but I’d bring you some lovely lotion.

  5. DarleneMAM June 4, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

    Lisa:
    I know what you mean about family and friends. Funny thing. My Mom moved away from us — halfway across the country — not the other way around! Her grandchildren are convinced she doesn’t like us! Thank God my sister still lives within shouting distance here in good old NJ!
    Friends hold us together when we need it and celebrate with us when we don’t. No, they don’t ‘replace’ family, but ‘yes’ they are family for many of us.
    Great post! And I hope you’re feeling MUCH better now!

    • Main Street Musings Blog June 4, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

      I think that’s not uncommon on the east coast—as parents age, they move south where they can warm their bones! You’re luck to have your sister nearby. Some of my friends have become like sisters to me.

  6. morristownmemos by Ronnie Hammer June 4, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

    Your post is a true picture of where society is in the 21st century. Our family, too, is either a long car ride or a plane ride away. So friends DO become your family for the day to day stuff…

    • Main Street Musings Blog June 4, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

      I think it is very sad. We learn to adapt, but no matter how you slice and dice it, relationships with friends aren’t the same as with family because there’s no shared history of childhood, or shared ancestry.

  7. writerwendyreid June 4, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

    I also still feel like calling for my mother when I am really sick or in intense pain. Unfortunately, I lost her to cancer 8 years ago so a phone call isn’t even an option. Talk to her as often as you can and value those friendships that are acting as a substitute for family. We never know how long we are going to have anything for.

    • Main Street Musings Blog June 4, 2012 at 8:20 pm #

      Thanks for sharing, Wendy. Our yearnings for our mothers run so deep. You’re right, it is important to cherish all the special relationships in our lives, and not to take them for granted.

  8. Young Mom Life June 4, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

    Ouch. The hardest part I had was Loyalty to WHICH family.

    I had originally moved out on my own to another state when I was 19. Not because I couldn’t stand my family, but for new opportunities and I was not fond of the area I had gone to High School in. Once I was out in the world, and found my husband, we had to think: Were we going to live closer to my family or his?

    We chose his: because I couldn’t stand Arizona. (No offence to anyone. It is grand for many people, just not me.) I miss my family, but we have discovered other methods of staying close. I post pictures of my daughter on facebook. I text and call my sister and dad. Email my dad a bunch too.

    But we have the nice touch of having his family near by: I don’t have to pay for childcare because they are more than happy to watch our daughter when we need it. We can do the family holidays.

    I haven’t been forced to chose between job or family yet, but I think it also depends on circumstances. For some people, their friends are the only family they have ever truly had.

    • Main Street Musings Blog June 4, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

      Yes, that is a dilemma. It sounds like you made a decision that works well for you. It was a very sad day when I had to say goodbye to my family and friends on the west coast, and it’s equally sad each time I say goodbye after a visit. Every decision has its tradeoffs. LIke you, I am lucky enough to have my husband’s family within driving distance and we enjoy a close and supportive relationship with them. But of course I still miss my family terribly, and have missed seeing my west coast nieces and nephews grow up. It’s hard knowing I’ll never get that opportunity back. Life is full of compromises. Thanks for sharing your story.

  9. muddledmom June 4, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    Neither of our families live nearby but we do what we can to foster relationships and have made families here with our friends. But when something bad (or great) happens, you’re right. It’s family you want.

  10. Carl D'Agostino June 4, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

    As an only child I could never understand why family members would live far away from each other. Unless they were creepy and intolerable.

  11. Perfecting Motherhood June 4, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

    In my early 20s, I moved from the suburbs of Paris to CT for a teaching opportunity. I eventually moved to San Diego because I couldn’t take anymore of the cold winters and sweaty summers. I never thought how far I would be from my family until I started my own family and realize how hard it’d be to visit, being 6000 miles away, at $1000 a plane ticket. Today I won’t consider moving back because I believe my kids will have a better life here and I can’t take them away from their dad. But I’m also very disappointed in my in-laws. They are very distant from each other from each other and from us. Honestly, they could care less about my kids and I’m very sorry to have this type of family for my kids. Their grandparents just don’t care about them (my mom does, fortunately). I’m now separated from my husband and I’ve been banished from that side of the family, which won’t make things easier for my kids. They’ll just have to learn to rely on my side of the family for relatives who care about them. I also have great friends I can count on but I’ve always considered family important and I’m saddened my kids won’t have that. At least I plan to be a much better grandmother to my grandkids one day!

    • Main Street Musings Blog June 4, 2012 at 8:48 pm #

      Yes, long plane rides were awful when my kids were little, not to mention the time change that always threw off our sleep schedule! Sorry to hear about your challenging family situation. I hope you can find the support you and your kids seek, whether through friends, family, or community.

      • Perfecting Motherhood June 4, 2012 at 11:59 pm #

        I’m the one who wanted (needed, really) the break from a very unhappy relationship. I guess the rejection from the in-laws was the added bonus. I have wonderful friends and a supportive family and I’ve always embraced change, something I want to instill in my children every day. It really makes life a lot easier, like moving 6000 miles away from home on my own!

  12. earthriderjudyberman June 4, 2012 at 10:32 pm #

    Lisa, I left home when I was 21. My parents were about to move South and I wanted to stay where I had a job. After I married, I regretted that my folks lived so far from us – they were in Nevada by this time. Cost factors limited visits out West and they never returned East.
    My folks weren’t able to be there for so many important events in our children’s lives. So when our daughter and her hubby were about to start a family, they asked us to move from New York to Florida in 1999. Not wanting our future grands to go thru what our daughters did, we quit our jobs and moved to Florida to be near our children.
    It was a tough decision. There are many things I miss about New York – our friends, our house, our jobs, the change of seasons. But I truly am glad that we made the move. We get to spend so much time with our kids and grandkids.

    • Main Street Musings Blog June 5, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

      Judy, thanks for sharing your story–that’s quite a sacrifice you made, and it sounds like in the end it was a worthwhile endeavor. You have a very lucky daughter and family.

      • earthriderjudyberman June 5, 2012 at 10:00 pm #

        Thank you, Lisa. We feel blessed also. Each person/family has to make the decision that’s right for them. But, it’s human nature to second-guess yourself. 🙂

  13. Huffygirl June 5, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    Two years ago my son and family moved from Chicago where we could drive to visit them, to Denver. Now, we see them 3-4 times a year if we’re lucky and plan our visits out well. And we get to take exciting airplane flights to visit them, where we’re doused with cold soda or strip searched for our efforts, not to mention the expense. I wish they were not so far away, but they have to live their own lives, and Denver is much better for raising kids than Chicago.

    • Main Street Musings Blog June 5, 2012 at 5:15 pm #

      I read first hand about the soda situation on your flight! Yes, travel can be cumbersome, but it sounds like you’ve been able to keep perspective about your son’s move, and can appreciate his decision. We have good friends who moved from the east coast to denver, and they love it there!

  14. Dawn@LightenUp! June 6, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    Wow, Lisa, yes – both our families live 3 hrs away, and it has been SO difficult at times, esp when the kids were little. Growing up, my grandparents helped raise me, a good 50% of the time. And I have to say, neither set of grandparents have helped us by having the kids visit or coming down to help. It’s sad, really.

    • Main Street Musings Blog June 6, 2012 at 5:17 pm #

      And I know you work, Dawn, so I’m sure it’s a juggling act. It sounds like it’s been challenging for you, but I have to say you seem to really have your act together. I’m sure having as great a sense of humor as you do helps!

  15. funnyortragic June 9, 2012 at 3:14 am #

    Since undergrad, I’ve always lived pretty far from my family. I am overwhelmingly sad when I think of how I’m missing my nieces and nephews growing up, but I probably wouldn’t be if I lived there anyway–I’d be struggling to pay the bills with 3 part time jobs. It’s cold comfort. That is, until I go back to visit and get stuck in the middle of some family drama that always ends with many dramatically slammed doors.

    • Main Street Musings Blog June 10, 2012 at 8:16 am #

      Then again, isn’t that part of the beauty of family? We never get to slam doors with friends.

  16. Wendell A. Brown AKA The Brown One Poet July 4, 2012 at 3:53 am #

    I feel you, when my wife and i were living in Omaha, both of us in the military, when she became pregnant with our third child, he was born at 24 weeks. We were both far away from our families. But in the miltary our family was always our friends! My wife was in the hospital 6 weeks before she gave birth and stayed another 5 after, i had a ten year old at home, i still had to balance the job, the school, my wife and my newborn. My friends, took care of my daughter while i was at the hospital, they clean the home, helped her with schoolwork, prepared her meals , ironed the clothes and made sure they brought her up to see her baby brother! At the job i did not have to worry my boss and fellow workers took care of all my loans! Neither of our families made it out to Omaha! But God gave us a much larger family and it still grows everyday, in everyway! I have found in my life blood is not always thicker than water. But spiritual love from the heart is eternal! Loved your post!, And thanks for visiting my site!!!

    • Main Street Musings Blog July 4, 2012 at 7:40 am #

      What a heart-warming story. It sounds like you have friends with a deeply generous spirit. I am glad that the military was able to serve you in the way of family support and that your large family continues to grow. Thank you and your wife for serving our country.

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