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By J. Kelly McCoy
This past year, new opportunities in life required that I live alone for three months and away from most of my family for five months. From this experience, I gained insight about many aspects in my life, but three in particular: the need to have a common purpose during trying times, the importance of being physically together as a family, and the value of relationships we too often take for granted. Last year, I was offered the opportunity to come teach at BYU-Idaho, but had a daughter who very much wanted to finish her senior year in high school in Provo with her friends from the last eleven years. My wife and I determined together that the best way to help all of our children bring better closure to their school experiences in Provo would be for me to move to Rexburg ahead of everyone else and live alone until our children(s school year had ended. As a result, beginning last January I had the opportunity to live alone for the longest time since my wife and I had been married 26 years ago. Although this lasted only a few months, it felt like an eternity.
One of our family(s biggest challenges during this period of separation was the need to remain emotionally together in purpose even though we were physically far apart. When living together my wife and I often talk and make decisions together about our relationship, about our children, and about the daily events of life. Although my wife and I often spoke on the phone during my time away, I still felt like a bystander in my own family(s day-to-day living. We still shared the same broader goals, but I often found myself becoming overly focused on my life here in Rexburg and my wife becoming overly focused on her life with the children in Provo. It was easy to become less connected, less intertwined in one another(s lives. It was frightening to me to see how easily the daily demands of life could cause us to drift apart on so many levels in our marital relationship.
This brought about a better understanding of another aspect of the connectedness within our family relationship. I was surprised how important physical presence is to my sense of being an effective parent. This challenge was most evident in my relationship with my 12 year old son, and my and my wife(s ability to parent him during this time. One of the most frustrating experiences I had during my time away from my family was to watch my son sometimes struggle, become moody, and even act out while I was 300 miles away with only a phone to keep me involved. Because I was physically absent from my son and daughters, I felt very limited in my ability to work with my wife to support and guide our children. These challenges made me much more aware of the great difficulties that exist for divorced parents when a mother and father attempt to continue being effective, responsive parents to their children after a divorce has occurred.
The last lesson learned was the sense of incompleteness that occurs when we come to define much of who we are through the relationships we share with the other members of our family. Through my many friendships with those who have long been single, I know that it is not necessary to have other people to establish a sense of personal completeness. But once we come to define who we are through our relationships with the others in our immediate family, it is an odd experience to suddenly not have those other individuals be a part of our daily existence and be constant contributors to our personal sense of self.
Although difficult, our family did pass through this time of separation quite successfully, and, as a result of the lessons learned, I have come to appreciate my wife and children and my relationship with each of them much more. I recognize, however, that my time apart was a minor inconvenience compared to many others who are separated from their families by greater distance and for much longer periods of time. In particular, I feel for the many servicemen and women who must currently be away from their families defending a way of life that they believe is worth fighting for. I suppose that the main lesson I have learned is that when we must be away from our families for extended periods of time (and even when we are not away) it is important that we cling to and cherish the relationships that are shared therein, and recognize the valuable benefits that come from our family connections.
J. Kelly McCoy is a member of the faculty in the Department of Home and Family at Brigham Young University - Idaho