"Want to grab a coffee? My mom's watching the kids!" My friend's early morning text reminds me that, unlike pretty much every other parent I know, I don't have family nearby. It's a fact I'm acutely aware of every time there's a large gathering, like back-to-school night. My kids are hanging on me as we head into the classroom. Where are the other parents' broods? "At their grandparents' houses," my kids inevitably say. And for things like Halloween, the aunts, uncles, and cousins on our block get all dressed up to trick-or-treat with their extended families. And then there's us — just me, my husband, and our four kids. Of course, we're a big family on our own, but it can still get lonely since all of our immediate family members are states away.
My mom is just a quick phone call away, but it's not the same as her being able to come over and [help me]. Sometimes I get sad that my family is so far away, and there are days I would give anything to have my mom close.
Loneliness aside, I can't help but feel envious of my mom friends who get so much help from their parents and siblings. One of my neighbors, who lives within walking distance of her in-laws, her parents, and her brother and sister-in-law, trades off with everyone on taking the kids to school. Another neighbor's entire extended family lives in town and they're always coming over to help with projects around the house. Many of my other mom friends can easily call on grandparents or other family members to babysit, move furniture, pick up milk, or watch the kiddos so they can run a quick errand.
Even when friends' families don't live super close, they typically reside at least in the same state, but that's not how it is for us. My parents are a seven-hour drive away, and they're still hours closer to us than my siblings. My husband's parents and siblings also live about seven hours from us, so it definitely takes planning for us to get together.
My mom is just a quick phone call away, of course, and I do seek her advice often on parenting issues big and small. "Do you think I need to call the pediatrician?" "What is the right height to hang a kitchen chandelier?" But it's not the same as her being able to come over and feel my kid's head for a fever, eyeball the light fixture herself, or just make me a cup of tea and hug me when I need to vent. Sometimes I get sad that my family is so far away, and there are days I would give anything to have my mom close. Honestly, though, I've gotten really used to doing things on my own.
The upside of parenting with no help from family is the sense of satisfaction I get when I pull off the tricky balancing act that is my life with four kids alone. If I can make dinner while breastfeeding, after taking the other kids to swim practice and Girl Scouts, then help with homework and get four kids bathed — all before my husband gets home from work, might I add — then damn, I'm awesome! I also count myself lucky when my mom friends complain about how their in-laws have no sense of boundaries. I definitely don't have to contend with that issue too often.
Still, there are times I have to say "no" to things because I don't have the help I'd need. When my husband's out of town, we simply won't be able to make the art night at school because it's past the baby's bedtime and I can't find a babysitter. And sometimes I wish I could get a break and just get that morning coffee with a friend without my baby in tow. But I love where I live and have no plans to move to be closer to family. It's a trade-off parenting sans help from grandparents, but it sure makes getting us all together super special every time!