Raising a family far from your own family is a challenging endeavor. Yet, this scenario is all too common among recent generations.
In Wisconsin, wind chills dropped to negative 40 degrees last month. No joke. The winter lasts far longer than it should, with smog blanketing the snow banks for months on end. The summers are filled with intense humidity, doing a serious number on my skin and hair. But Denver, the city of sunshine, parks, and breweries? Our weather is a perfect mix of all four seasons, sprinkled with sunshine most days. We spend the better part of most days outdoors, and it makes a difference in all of our moods. So at what point do we start to live independently from where we were raised, just because we prefer it?
I realize that not everyone out there is fortunate to come from good families, the kind you want your children to be raised near. And not everyone is fortunate to have extended family still living. But for those individuals who choose to live away from their own parents and extended families, who do actually like their genetic roots, it’s tough.
There is no tapping out. No breaks, no “free” date nights, and no one to swing by at the drop of a hat just to save your sanity. There is no help planning the parties, no big audiences at the soccer games, and no Sunday night dinners where we take the night off from cooking and cleaning. When you parent a daunting 17 hour drive away from your village, there is no one to relieve you from the endless parenting duties, not even on sick days.
Family units now have the sole responsibility and pressure to do what villages once did. Grandparents and extended family not only offer the support of free babysitting and the freedom to schedule doctors appointments whenever we choose, but they provide the emotional stability of feeling less alone. Children thrive when they are able to learn from others, independent of their parents.
But when it’s just our family, just us, we have to learn to adapt.
So we rely on letters in the mail filled with stickers, and countdowns until the next visits are scheduled. And those visits are cherished, not only for the extra love and attention brought into our home and to our children, but for the sense of momentary relief on us parents. That trip that I know feels nothing like a vacation.
We hire our help. Date nights still happen, but at the bargain price of $16 an hour. We wearily learn to put our trust in others, even though we might prefer to keep it in the gene pool.
We get creative about figuring out ways to rely on our community. Asking friends and neighbors for rides to preschool, or babysitting the baby while he naps, becomes common place. Constantly reaching out to others ensures that we stay humble. It’s not quite reminiscent of a tribe, because a tribe feels more like family. People who care for your children as if they were their were their own blood, because they are. But it’s close.
We make sure that we have flexible jobs. Ones that allow us the freedom to take a morning off to get the kids from A to B, or to cut the day short to relieve a sick childcare provider.
In raising a family independent from our own families, we are forced to perfect the art of being independent and relying on our partners. I am lucky enough to have a partner that equally participates in parenting, cooking (more frequently than I), cleaning, and diaper changing right along side me. This means that at the end of all the days, we are both 110% spent. At what cost, I’m not so sure. But we make it work, with FaceTime, babysitters and expensive plane rides home. Our vacations turn into exciting trips to the Midwest. We travel to Detroit, rather than Disney. Milwaukee instead of Mexico. But it’s worth it, for the mere fact that our children get to grow up with the rest of their families, at least a few times a year.
Raising a family is hard. Raising a family without your own family is even harder.
When you have no help with the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and carrying of the babies, stress levels inevitably increase. Humans are not meant to live in isolated, independent boxes. This is something unique to current westernized populations. Our society is inherently communal. So if we choose to live apart from our own parents, at least we can use our friends and neighbors to fill a piece of that void. And in the mean time, we countdown until the next visit.