Geography of the Heart: Becoming a Mom in a Different State than Family


I’m the first daughter in my family to move to a different state in at least five generations. That’s right, I have broken a tradition dating back to the 1800s. Southern guilt is real, and it follows me like a little cloud of humidity I can’t escape.

My husband and I moved to Flagstaff in 2013. It’s three hours from his family, and I received a great grad school offer from Norther Arizona University (NAU). We never planned to live here for more than a few years. On the phone with my family I’ve been nervous to say anything too glowing about the town, in the same way you don’t want to brag about being in a new relationship to a friend who’s just been broken up with.

Here’s the thing: I tried not to, but I’ve fallen in love with Flagstaff and its small, snowy charm. It doesn’t have the fried chicken I’m used to, or the sweet tea, or the ocean. But it does have the “everybody-knows-everybody” atmosphere I grew up with. It has beautiful mountain trails, the smell of Christmas all year, and skies so black at night the stars burn brighter. Of course, that doesn’t mean I want to break up with my family. In fact, becoming a new mom in a different state, away from them has been incredibly difficult.

In this age of increasing technology and easy travel, there has been a kind of millennial diaspora where many of us leave our “homeland” in search of individual identity. We might expect that we can just log into our old lives, essentially uploading our past with us wherever we go. But how well does that really work? For my family with its context of over 200 years of daily face-to-face interaction, it’s a huge shift to navigate.

At most of the events in my life, there were four generations of women present. When I gave birth, none of them were able to attend. My mother never had to seek child-rearing advice. She sat on my great-grandmother’s back porch, and the women of the family laughed, and gossiped, and never held back their opinion on any topic. I miss the feeling of community that used to come so easy, and now has to be manufactured via a screen of some sort.

The New Age of Communication

There is an evolving idea about what counts as a “relationship” (not just romantically, but any interpersonal relationship). Some people still believe that if you don’t see each other face-to-face, you can’t have a meaningful relationship. I wager that many millennials disagree. But until all the generations alive have experienced handheld internet communication from birth, and have grown up connecting with family in this fashion, it won’t feel quite normal.

Do we just want too much? Are we trying to have our cake, and eat it too? I don’t think so. In the past when people moved they tried their best to remain in communication by sending letters. This desire for connection isn’t new, but many of us are serving as technological pioneers, seeing how much we can integrate family into our daily lives, no matter how far away we are.

I know one thing for certain: love can reach as far as we want it to. So, we just keep reaching out, even from a different state.

Flagstaff moms, how do you stay connected with loved ones far away? Do you have any tips, stories, or misadventures to share?