Advice

I love Alaska but my family in California is guilt-tripping me for ‘missing’ moments. What can I do?

landscape, cityscape, fall colors, intersection, traffic, roads, midtown

Dear Wayne and Wanda,

I moved to Alaska about four years ago. At the time, I planned to just come up for a summer job. That turned into a year-round job. I started making friends, and realized I really liked it here. I decided to stay. I enjoy my work in the tourism industry. I rent a place I like and am slowly saving money with thoughts of buying one day. Overall things are great. Except my family is driving me crazy.

My entire family lives in California in the Bay Area — my parents, some aunts and uncles and cousins, and my brother and sister. They are older than me and in the last few years, had their first kids. My family constantly pressures me about moving back. They guilt-trip me all the time. They talk about how I’m “missing” moments with my niece and nephew. My mom in particular talks about how deeply she misses me and how the family “isn’t whole.” When I can’t come home for holidays — which is often, as I’m trying to save money — I get a ton of grief about it.

In general, they’ve never accepted that Alaska is now my home. They’ve called it “my little experiment” and “an adventure.” They complain I’m “wasting” my college education and say I’ll never get real professional opportunities here. Their view is so narrow. They have no idea how many opportunities there are here that I’d never enjoy in the Bay Area. It’s gorgeous! I’ve tried to explain this is now my home. I don’t want this weirdness to exist between us. I want them to be proud of me and support my choices. What can I do?

Wanda says:

Speaking as someone who moved to Alaska “for two years” 20 years ago, I understand how the allure of this special place draws us in. I can also relate to the weird pressure we sometimes feel by well-intended and loving family members who miss us, and feel like we’re so far away. Even after all this time, I admit I feel a pang of emotion when someone texts a photo of the whole family at dinner — and I’m not there.

But I’m here: and like so many Alaskans, you included, I love this place! It’s home, and it’s special. People who’ve never been here have pop culture-influenced visions and preconceived notions and can’t understand the privilege and perks of living in the Last Frontier. Short of moving here, the next-best way to see this is to visit, and until each and every one of your family members has been up here to see you, they need to seriously lay off the exhaustive judging.

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That’s the beauty of modern travel: planes don’t just take off from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, they also arrive! From the West Coast! Daily! So next time you get a guilt trip about a missed holiday or a long expanse without shared time, invite them to visit. Propose specific times. A group gathering at Thanksgiving! An inspiring interlude during Iditarod! Or a random long weekend in spring before the tourists descend — and your work schedule likely picks up — to show them some of Alaska’s prettiest haunts.

Wayne says:

And they wonder why you’re staying put in Alaska.

I’m sure it’s all coming from a place of missing you, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t misplaced, annoying and hurtful. You could choose pettiness and deflect some of the guilt-trip commentary back at them. Like, “Mom, I’m not dead. In fact, I’m more alive than ever and you’re literally talking to me right now. So, the family remains whole.” Or, “My little experiment will allow me to buy a cozy home in a one-of-a-kind environment while you reside in one of America’s most competitive and expensive real estate markets, in an area where the cost of living is off the charts even by Alaska standards, and congestion and traffic are so brutal that I could leave Anchorage and be carving powder in Girdwood in the same amount of time it takes you to get into a Whole Foods parking space on the weekend.”

But you seem like a thoughtful, mature person who genuinely cares about your family and their feelings — maybe a little too much, considering how they disregard yours. So instead, let’s narrow the focus onto you and your chosen life in Alaska.

You love it here. You see your present and future here. And hey, they are even correct on one point — life here is an adventure. I mean, working in tourism in the most mind-blowing state in the country? Moose in your driveway when you’re in a hurry? A microbrewery and artisan pizza place just a stone’s throw away? Being surrounded by, and even befriending, some of the most unique people, from cheechakos to sourdoughs, in an incredibly diverse city? Need I go on? Doubt it — seems like you’ve already got it figured out.

You are living your dream, and the story is still unfolding. That’s exciting and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it or reason to apologize for it. Continue believing in it, trust your heart and choices, and don’t let your family, or anyone else, dampen that. If anything, they should be proud of you for being brave and striking it out on your own. If you need to pull away for a break from the noise, you’ve got a 3,000-mile buffer zone to ignore texts, emails and phone calls until they decide to treat you with some genuine respect, support and love. There I go with the pettiness again.

Wayne and Wanda

Wanda is a wise person who has loved, lost and been to therapy. Wayne is a wise guy who has no use for therapy. Send them your questions and thoughts at wanda@adn.com.

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