5 hard things about parenting when you live far away from family. How to manage the difficulties on your own.
Our family has spent the past few months this summer in Florida with my extended family. It has been, in short, amazing. Since we live most of the year on another continent across the world we are not used to having family nearby. At least, since we’ve had kids we haven’t been used to it. In Sydney, our nearest family member is 5 hours away by plane. That doesn’t make for convenient babysitting.
When we were planning to move to Sydney, because we felt it was God’s plan for our family, we had friends tell us there was no way we’d be able to raise children without family. They said it’d be so difficult and so hard and wondered how we’d do it. Well, it is hard, but I have to say… it is totally doable. However, there are some dynamics that we have as a family – or don’t have as a family – that will be different than those who are used to grandparents, cousins aunts and uncles all the time.
- No family babysitting. I think people with family nearby often take for granted what a blessing it is to be able to call grandma over. When your family is nowhere near then you drastically minimize the times that you need babysitting and you simply learn how to do things with the kids. When I have an appointment, I just take them all with me. Unless, of course, I can leave them home with my husband. Events that aren’t kid friendly get shoved aside for places and activities that welcome children. We oriented our life to where our kids were with us most everywhere simply because we didn’t have easy access to babysitting nor did we find it financially viable to hire people often. Having been near family this summer has made me realize just how different the two sides of the coin are.
- Holidays and birthdays are all upon the parent’s back. For both of my children’s first birthdays I cried. I cried because I felt like a horrible mother since I couldn’t throw a party with 15 members of extended family. I felt pathetic and sad and envisioned my children growing up scarred. I quickly snapped out of it and made the best of it. We had special meals and pancakes with sprinkles and party hats and fun decorations that nobody saw but us. We took special picnics and trips to fun playlands and we just made it a family affair. They won’t know the difference, of course, but having grown up with a large extended family, I felt the lack. However, I was determined my children still felt special and I just realized, it’s our job to make them feel special and that’s just what we did.
- The deep feeling that children are missing out. If you never grew up around grandparents then you may think, “oh what’s the big deal?” I did and I know just how big the deal is. I have to balance my introspection with the knowledge that we are where we believe God has us. However, when I see grandparents at church with their children and grandkids and old people and young people taking walks it hits me hard. I know my kids are loved and get plenty of attention and are doing great. I know they don’t “feel” the lack of grandparents right now. It is my own battle to fight, feeling guilty. I think we mothers often feel guilty for many things, don’t we? However, by becoming part of a church family or other group you can meet people who will love you and your children. People who do remember your children’s birthdays and who will cook for you for one month after childbirth. They may not be blood-related, but they are family.
- A high capacity for mothering and confidence in your own abilities. I in no way want to diminish the capacity of those with family nearby. What I mean to say is that when there’s no one there to help you then you learn to help yourself. When you need to multitask then you learn to do it. When you know there are very few people you can call in the middle of the night (at least, very few people who you’d be wiling to call in the middle of the night) then you learn to fight the nightly battles yourself. I found my capacity to handle things increased. People will say “wow, I don’t know how you do it without family” and I will say, “Well, you just do what you have to do.” And I mean it. I love being with my kids and love the day in and day out challenges, and I believe that the fact that I had to rise to most challenges alone (with the help of my husband) has brought us closer.
- The need to humbly ask for help. This is a lesson I’m still learning. And I will admit, I stink at it. I’m okay at asking for help in certain areas and in others – where it really matters – I am bad. I wait until I absolutely am going to be crushed under an approaching army tank before I will send out a casual “Perhaps, maybe if you’re not busy, I mean at some point in the near future, hopefully, you could rescue me from imminent death. But don’t worry if you’re booked, xo” text. Before coming to Florida this summer a church friend told me that I needed to grow (she stopped short of saying grow up, though she could have) and learn to ask others for help. Whereas I have no problem calling my mama to ask for help, I do need to learn to ask others for help. I am more than willing to help others, so I am going to try to extend myself the same courtesy.
While we have a 5-year plan to move our family Florida where we’ll enjoy the country (we’ve eaten figs, grapes, and blueberries straight off the tree, vines and bushes this summer and loved every minute) and family, we know we are where God has us now. That means our only option is to bloom where we’re planted. Ultimately, it’s the parents whose influence has he greatest effect on their children and so being where God has sent you is the best decision you can make for your children.
Rachel blogs at A Mother Far from Home