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Distance adds bittersweetness to Mother’s Day

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At a time when emigration has resulted in numerous family members living in different corners of the world, occasions like Mother’s Day can be more bitter than sweet. But though the challenges of living far from one’s parents or children are considerable, some families still find special ways to make such days memorable.

“Being away from my mom has been one of the toughest challenges of this move,” says Channing Haefner, 21. “She’s not just my mom; she’s my rock and my confidante. Not having her around for simple things like outfit advice, sharing my day, or enjoying dinner together has been difficult. She knows me better than anyone else in the world.”

Having always longed to live in Europe, Channing recently took up a post as an au pair for a South African Jewish expat family, using her childcare and psychology background as an opportunity to live abroad. She flew out in March this year, just one day after her brother’s wedding. “I quite literally went from hugging my family under the chuppah to an airplane waiting lounge in less than 24 hours,” she says.

The contrast of immense joy followed by sadness was jarring for the whole family, says her mother, Andy Haefner, especially since her oldest daughter left to explore America a few days later too. “It was an incredibly emotional time for us as a family. Driving out of the driveway when we took Channing to the airport and watching the kids stand there with the cats with everybody crying ripped out my heart. Never again will our family be completely whole.”

With two daughters overseas and their newly married son having moved out, the Haefners now only have their youngest daughter at home. “It was really difficult for me as a mom with a family of four children with an incredibly busy household to literally being left with one,” says Andy, who admits that she worries that her family will ultimately be split into different corners of the world and that she’ll never get to see her future grandchildren all in one place.

Nevertheless, she has always encouraged her children to travel, and believes in giving her kids the space to find their way, free from guilt. “For me, to travel and to show children different worlds and cultures is just as important as keeping them in school, if not more important,” she says. “Channing has always been a free spirit. She has had an innate desire since she was little to learn about the world, to be incredibly independent and stand up for things that she believes in, and to forge her own identity. We’ve never held her back.”

While she’s embracing the rich culture and sense of growth, belonging, and safety that her move has provided, Channing is upset at the thought of spending her first Mother’s Day without her beloved mom and grandmother – her “second mom”.

“They’ve always been my biggest supporters, encouraging me to explore the world fearlessly while I’m young,” she says. “Not being able to shower them with the love they deserve this Mother’s Day feels like a missed opportunity. I cherish memories of past Mother’s Days spent singing, baking, and enjoying breakfast in bed with them, evolving into personalised gifts and well-deserved massages as we grew older.” Yet she’s determined to make the day special even from afar, and has planned some surprises with her siblings.

Andy says she’s put Mother’s Day on the backburner this year. “I think it’s going to be a really difficult day not having all of my children around,” she says. “Mother’s Day has always been sweet. They plan something special and meaningful for me, when normally I’m the planner and doer. It’s always been the day that I get to be spoilt and my kids give it a lot of thought. It’s not about the gifts, it’s about relishing the day together and I’m really going to miss that. Yet, I don’t think our bond and closeness can ever be broken with them being far away.”

Estelle Donnelly, the mother of two married sons, one living in Israel and another in Amsterdam, says she finds Mother’s Day quite commercial, but the fact that her sons make an effort to spoil her from afar, often ordering gifts through NetFlorist, the Chevrah Kadisha, or Selwyn Segal, makes the day special. She says missing her children isn’t specific to a particular occasion, although birthdays and Mother’s Day sometimes highlight their absence a bit more.

“Any day when you think of specific things you miss, it can be hard. You have days when you suddenly feel a bit sorry for yourself, but then you have better days.” Donnelly says she’s not one to fuss. “No-one ever forgets the special occasions, and as long as you know that they love you, it’s fine.”

Spending Mother’s Day with her daughter-in-law’s family, which has become a tradition, does help to brighten the day. “We all get together and the kids overseas get involved, contributing in different ways. Then we’ll video call them and go around the table chatting, and we make it as nice as we can. This year, we’re having a Mexican theme. We get on well, so we get together and still have that sense of family. We’re all in the same boat.”

This Mother’s Day will also be less bittersweet for Donnelly as at the end of May, her entire family will be having an informal reunion in Amsterdam, a trip that falls over her birthday. Her sister from the United Kingdom will join them too, and everyone will be together for the first time in almost six years. “We’ll also meet our second grandchild for the first time,” she says. “Ultimately, our kids need to do what they have to to create the future they want, especially with the uncertainty here, but we always try and keep as close as possible.”

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