I’ll never forget what the nurse said to me the day I was being released from the hospital after my first child was born. I’m sure I looked like the typical new mom as I packed up my tiny bundle of joy — a mix of fear and excitement written on my already-exhausted face. Sounding concerned, she said to me, “You do have some help at home, right? It’s important to have help in the beginning.” Stubborn and naive, I responded that while our family all lived out of town, we would make it work. She shot me a sympathetic look that screamed, “This mom has no idea what she is in for.”
My husband and I live in the Boston area, and both our families live out of state. That newborn phase was a rude awakening to what our geographic arrangement meant for us as new parents. Just one year after losing my own mom, I stumbled through the first few energy-draining months emotionally raw, experiencing postpartum depression, and feeling mostly lost but too afraid of “failure” to admit it. I approached motherhood with the same persevering attitude that had served me well in my adult life, but it soon started to sink in that life with young children was going to be difficult on our own.
While my husband and I both have supportive families and an incredible network of friends who have become like family, there are still many aspects of raising our little family away from our bigger families that prove a challenge. These are some truths that we — as parents raising our kids away from our own parents — know to be true:
You have to pay for all your help
Daycare bills larger than mortgages, date-night babysitting costing more than the dinner itself — without the help of extended family or local grandparents, our childcare costs top our monthly expenses. My husband and I have resigned ourselves to the fact that, due to logistics, we won’t be going away for a romantic weekend until our kids are grown up. It hasn’t stopped us from squeezing in much-needed date nights, but we are more selective about what we do on the occasions we get out.
You will find creative ways to get breaks
About 95% of the reason I joined the local YMCA when I had a baby and a toddler was to take advantage of the free childcare included with memberships, and I am not ashamed to admit it. Some days all I needed was a few minutes to catch my breath, and all I wanted to do was ask my mom to come over so I could take a hot shower. Between gym memberships and drop-off activities that I trusted, I had to get a little creative to get a breather here and there without spending crazy cash on childcare.
You will expand your network
I slowly learned that joining local mom groups and investing time and energy in school and community activities helped me meet more people, many who are living away from family and in the same boat. My friends are on my kids’ emergency contact lists at school, and neighbors’ kids help us with babysitting. It’s not always perfect, but we all seem to help out in each other’s time of need.
You will suffer major burnout over the holidays
We’ve been traveling for the holidays for more than a decade, and while it is worth it to see family, it begins to take a toll. My kids always seem to get sick around the holidays and don’t sleep as well when not at home. Routines get broken, bad habits surface, and you face the challenging task of explaining how Santa knows to find them at their grandparents’ house (as you stealthily hide presents under blankets in the back seat). We eventually started taking our vacations near our families so we could have more quality time that is less rushed than during the holidays.
Some days you will be envious
I’ll sometimes see a grandparent picking up a child at school, and I get a pang of envy (and guilt), thinking about the limited time my kids get to see their own. Or I’ll overhear a friend say her parents are watching her kids for the weekend on a day I am particularly burned out. Some days I just want to call a family member to come over and see something hilarious the kids are doing, or even to ask for help on a day when the entire house is sick. The reality is, your friends are in the same boat with the demands of young children, and you can’t expose them to the unfortunate occasions when everyone is contagiously ill anyway.
While we made the decision to live where we do, it doesn’t make the challenges of a young family any easier, and we do our best to not take for granted the limited time we do have together. (I am also aware that just because someone has family close by doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t experience these realities either.) Since it “takes a village,” and our biological one is not physically nearby, I am grateful for the one we’ve created on our own. And, at the end of the day, that’s all our little family can ask for!