The good of child-rearing without family nearby

I recently read a post by Leah Campbell called “To the Mom Who Doesn’t Have Family On Call” that emphasized how great it is when you have family who help you raise your kids — and how it’s such a perk that many parents don’t even realize they have. Parenting without family nearby is hard, she writes.

Man, did I FEEL that post. With five kids, two full-time work schedules, and a tight budget when it comes to hiring babysitters, raising our children hours (and states) from other close family members can feel really isolating sometimes. Here’s the thing though:

Raising kids without family nearby isn’t all that bad.

I love my parents, and in-laws, and all of my kids’ aunts and uncles, so this is not meant as a knock on them. In a perfect world, we’d all be a bike ride away from each other. That would be amazing, actually.

There are some benefits to raising your kids almost completely within your smallest family unit, though.

Here are a few:

More reliance on your spouse

There is a lot more communicating that has to happen when one of you must be with the kids at any given point. You schedule things a little tighter and have to compromise when it comes to “extras” outside of work responsibilities. I am so thankful that I get to work out several days per week but most of the time I’m doing it at 5 a.m. because there’s no other time due to our work/school/extra-curricular schedules. So instead of it cutting into those responsibilities, I have to get my butt out of bed before the sun and make it happen.

On the best days, all are still asleep when I return. Sometimes there are some early risers though — and that’s where my husband steps in, no matter how early. If he has offered to stay up a few late nights with little ones, I skip my early workout so he can sleep a little longer that next day. The scenario differs in every family. There’s a lot of give and take and yes, it can feel overwhelming when it’s either you or him/her all the time. But in the end, it means you are relying on the person who matters most: the other parent.

Less input on everything

Everyone has an opinion, on everything. When you’re raising kids, sometimes suggestions with good intentions can be misconstrued as judgmental (particularly when there is some truth to the comments). When you don’t have your own siblings or parents constantly looking over your shoulder, you aren’t constantly feeling like you need to defend yourself, your kids, your spouse, your messy house, your bitchy attitude, your kids’ terrible manners, your non-nutritious snack choices, your unfolded laundry — and most of all, your parenting choices. Your family watches you raise your kids from a distance. As much as I truly believe it “takes a village” to bring up awesome little ones, there is a freedom in not needing to answer to anyone outside your home unit.

without family nearby

Higher parenting confidence

You learn how to do it all because, well … you have to do it all. So you pack all the lunches, and drive to all the activities, and re-learn all the math to meet Common Core standards, and apply the positive psychology techniques you just read about to your toddler’s meltdown, and learn quickly not to give a flying f#*% what other people think about you or your family. If you need groceries, you wait until your spouse is home or you brave the aisles with your kids in tow. If you want to go out to eat at that favorite Mexican place but can’t find child care or afford the additional cost of a babysitter, you pack your kids up with the promise of queso and hope for the best. Most of the time, it works out. You’ve got this and don’t need any outside reassurance.

More time at home, all together

When you have fewer people to see, you have more time at home. Of course it’s pretty easy to fill that time with other things that aren’t exactly bonding experiences. But if you play your cards right, you can eat dinner together (most of the time) and start some pretty great family traditions right there at home. I was talking to blogger Rachael about this post and she said there is less pressure to spend money, too, when your family isn’t nearby. So if you don’t want to go to Olive Garden that week when the rest of your family is going, you don’t have to go. Again, in a perfect world, we’d all have plenty of money for Olive Garden on a whim and be able to go with our extended family all the time. But when your budget is tight, not being invited to things that cost money by the people you love the most can be its own little blessing in disguise.

The effort factor

Seeing grandparents and aunts/uncles/cousins is an event, every time. You don’t take these people for granted because you know the time you have to spend with them is limited. When my mom visits, she stays a week or two and her only agenda item is spending time with my kids. The same is true when we visit her and my dad in Indiana. When we go to my in-laws, that’s what we are doing: going to spend time with them. We don’t have to squeeze them into our normal routine. Visiting is a separate, special thing all in and of itself.

The family you build

As bad ass as parents are, and it’s pretty bad ass, there are times you need to rely on other people. When you are parenting without family nearby, you have to find that community all on your own. Instead of picking those trusted people by default, you pick them based on commonalities outside genetics: the same school, the same property line, the same belief system, and more. You build up this trusted group and as you do, you learn a little more about the world outside your blood line. You become a more aware citizen of your community and the world. You learn new things. The great thing about this chosen family is that it doesn’t come at a cost to your given one. It’s a nice bonus.

Are you your own little parenting island, doing it without family nearby? Or are you incredibly thankful to have your extended family nearby? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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Category: Family Finances

Tags: extended family