When family ties cannot be broken
Living in France has many positives, but it can sometimes be difficult to live so far away from loved ones. Connexion’s Gillian Harvey meets three families who have joined each other in creating a new life on this side of the Channel
Our son followed us to France — and turned our lives upside down!
When Bernard and Gillian Goodwin’s children — Claire, now 35, Fiona, 33 and Andrew, 28 — moved out of the family home, the couple looked forward a long and happy retirement in southwest France.
“I’m a nurse, and I intended to do the odd locum shift to bring in a little extra money, but that was it,” explained Gillian, 57.
Seven months after their move in August 2006, son Andrew began experiencing problems in the UK, so the couple encouraged him to come to France for a ‘new start.’
Within two weeks of coming over, Andrew met his future wife Jess. “We were standing outside a shop and she and Andrew just locked eyes,” said Gillian. “Before we knew it they were exchanging numbers!”
At first, living in an area with high youth unemployment proved to be difficult for Andrew.
“He went to college for a term, but he was too old and was asked to leave,” said Bernard, 61. “He then enrolled in a French course while he carried on looking for work.”
Eventually, Andrew found a job in a DIY shop in Angoulême, where he now works as a salesman in the electrics department.
He and Jess had their first child, Rosie, now four, in 2011 and were married in 2012.
“The first baby was a surprise,” said Gillian. “Then, on their wedding day, Jess confided in me that she thought she might be pregnant again!”
Jess, who suffers health problems which mean she cannot work, was correct – twins Charles and Felix were born in Angoulême, in 2013.
The family of five, who now live in a house they renovated in Saint-Paul de Chazelles, have turned Gillian and Bernard’s plans on their head.
“Being nearby and helping them out — which we’re happy to do — has had an impact on our plans,” said Gillian. “I now work more or less full-time. Bernard is retired, but that’s a relative term — we’re often helping out with the children these days.
“It’s completely chaotic — and not what we had in mind when we planned our move.
“But whenever I feel overwhelmed, I remind myself that, without family living so locally, life might have been a little too quiet.
“Our financial position isn’t what we had hoped at this stage in our lives, since money saved for our retirement has been used to give our son a helping hand on to the property ladder but we are happy to help.
“The kids treat us very much like a second mum and dad — Jess can’t leave them with anyone else. They’re a handful but they’re gorgeous!”
We decided to move to France to be closer to our daughter and granddaughter
For midwife Alice and husband Jon, a site manager, living in France was never really on the cards.
Jon, 58, explained: “We bought a house in Ahun in the Creuse in 2006 to use as a holiday home but there was never a plan to live there permanently. We had considered retiring to France one day but had our sights set on Normandy.”
Even when Alice’s daughter Kate, 33, and her chef husband Carlo, 47, decided to make the move across the Channel in 2004, the couple remained firmly rooted in the UK.
“We decided to do something different, which involved us working and living in a holiday park in Dorset,” said 57-year-old Alice. The French home was still just a holiday home.”
However, when Kate and Carlos had their first child, Jack, now two, in 2013 followed by their second son, Freddy, a year later, the new grandparents’ thinking began to change. “I found myself wanting to be closer,” said Alice.
“And we’d also seen the lovely life that Kate and Carlo had in Creuse – their lifestyle, the cost of living and the peace; suddenly it seemed like the right time.
“When we found that the campsite we were working at was to be sold, it was the obvious time to move on.”
Luckily, Kate and Carlo, who had intended to move to be nearer to his family in Nantes, decided to postpone their move because they discovered they were expecting baby number three, who was due in May 2016. “We might have felt a bit pressured to stay, had we not already come to that decision,” she admitted. But now we’re all going to move that way together in a couple of years’ time.”
For Alice and Jon, who moved in early November 2015, being near family has taken the stress out of emigration.
“Carlo is French so he’s been a great help with all the paperwork,” explained Alice.
For the time being, it seems as if the move has brought many benefits for both parties.
“We’re excited to spend more time with the boys,” said Alice. “They’re our only grandsons and they change so much, so quickly.”
Unsurprisingly, Kate is particularly pleased to have her mother and stepfather living nearby, especially with baby number three on the way.
“I think you need to be close to family when you have young children,” she said. “It’ll be a great help – I just hope mum and dad are up for a lot of babysitting!”
We were unsettled at first - but now we're so pleased we moved
WHEN school secretary Jill, 56, and builder Graham Harvey, 57, moved to the Lot in 2007, their son Andrew had initially planned to move with them.
However, just before the move, he met Jamie and his plans changed. “We met in 2006 and I gave birth to our first baby, Ava, now eight, shortly after Andrew’s parents moved to France,” said Jamie. “For me, a move to France was never on the cards, and Andrew obviously wanted to stay with me and the baby,” she added.
At first, Andrew and Jamie contented themselves with holidays visits.
“We kept coming over, but the stays got longer and longer,” said Andrew. “However Jamie was adamant she didn’t want to move.”
Jamie explained: “Living in the middle of nowhere at the age of 29 was not something I thought I would be able to cope with. I was worried I’d be isolated.”
However, when Graham’s building business picked up and he offered Andrew a job in France, the couple decided to give it a try.
“Andrew’s job offer came in October 2012, and we were there by the January of 2013,” said Jamie. “I just felt if I didn’t do it quickly, I wouldn’t do it at all!”
Jamie and Andrew live rent-free in the other half of Graham and Jill’s house.
“Their house consists of two adjoining properties,” explained Jamie. “We live in the slightly smaller one.”
“We have to move in with the in-laws during the summer as they rent our house out as a gîte.
“We’re saving, though, and hope to get our own property soon.
“Because we know it’s not forever, we are able to focus on the bigger picture, rather than get weighed down with the niggly problems that living very close to family can bring.
“We have lost revenue because Andrew and Jamie are in our gîte for the majority of the time,” Jill revealed. “And we sometimes have our fridge raided when they’ve run out of something!
“But having more time with family definitely outweighs any negatives.”
While Andrew took to life in France like a duck to water, Jamie struggled at first. She said: “I felt isolated and lonely.
“During the summer of 2014, I decided to take the kids and move back to England for a while. Andrew began to commute, spending as much time as he could with us.”
However, after Christmas 2014, when Andrew prepared to return to France after spending Christmas in the UK, Jamie had a change of heart. “I couldn’t bear for him to go,” she explained.
“I quit my job and we all came back with him.”
Jamie has now met a group of friends with whom she enjoys an easy connection.
She said: “I’ve now found some like-minded friends, more my age, and don’t feel so isolated. And the children love it here. I’ve also started my own little business, doing nails and spray-tans. It’s great, as I get to meet lots of different people.”