I feel the pull of family in New Zealand but worry about my London life | Ask Annalisa Barbieri

I’m torn between two places – London (my current home) and New Zealand, where my parents and sibling live. I’m a mixed race 29-year-old female, and moved around a lot as a child. My family settled in New Zealand when I was eight despite having zero connections there. In my early 20s, I left home to move to Australia, then London. Initially, I never wanted to go back to New Zealand as I felt isolated there as a teenager.

When I first moved to London I started with nothing, but eventually landed a great job and developed close friendships. This took time and was not easy, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Now the friendships I have over here feel more gratifying than many of those I had growing up.

However, after not being able to see my parents for three years because of Covid, and not having seen my sibling in five years, I’m considering moving back to New Zealand this year. Both my parents left their respective countries when they were my age. I spent very little time with extended family growing up and saw how difficult it was for my parents to remain close to theirs with so much distance between them.

I’ve been thinking about starting a family of my own one day – and I’d want to raise children around my parents. This would mean dating someone who’s either from New Zealand or is open to living there, but the thought of leaving behind all of the wonderful relationships I’ve worked so hard to build over here makes me feel reckless.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve had a preference for excitement over stability. I get an urge to break free from anything that begins to feel too predictable. Now that I feel genuinely settled in London, I wonder if I’m simply finding reasons to move away because I want a new challenge. I flip-flop between feeling as though I’m ready to give New Zealand another chance, and suspecting that I just want to shake things up again. What would you do?

I wouldn’t make any decisions until I’d gone back to New Zealand for as long a holiday as possible. You haven’t been back for three years – I wonder if you’re projecting a fantasy on to it.

I consulted UKCP-registered psychotherapist Mark Vahrmeyer, who looked to your childhood experience. Being raised in a different culture to that of your parents and travelling a lot meant you had to be “highly adaptable and learn to fit in quickly. But the flip side of that can be the lack of belonging.”

What stood out to Vahrmeyer was that you were able to build your friendship group through the pandemic when no one could travel, and he wondered if this “presented an opportunity to build something over a longer period of time, when the option of travel had been removed. There’s the idea that you’ve done it in London so you’d be able to do it again somewhere else.”. And you might, but we wondered how that might work when the option of travel is there and you can flee again.

Part of being a child who travelled a lot is that you’re always the new kid, you’re always having to fit in. So that’s the familiar. What can become more scary is actually putting down roots – that’s the unknown. Vahrmeyer wondered if “this preference for excitement is actually a defence mechanism; and if you are confusing something actually quite traumatic [always travelling, never putting down roots] with excitement”.

He also thought this was “more complex than just being torn between two places. I think you might be torn between the sense of belonging you’ve built and family.”

Simply going by your letter, it sounds like you are very happy in London but there’s this pull to New Zealand based partly on duty, partly on not wanting to repeat what your parents did (raising a family without their family around them). But you are not your parents and the world is different now; communication is much easier, for one thing.

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Where would you be most comfortable on your own? Because that’s the one thing you can rely on. Everything else is out of your control (people move, they die, things shift). Also, you could meet someone from a country you’ve not yet been to and that could be your new adventure.

If I were you, I’d go to New Zealand on holiday, see family and see how I felt after that. I would not give up on what I’d built all by myself, for myself, just yet.

Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa, please send your problem to ask.annalisa@theguardian.com. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.

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