After I had my children, I often wondered how friends who had moved “away from home” (away from their parents and families) were able to cope.
My mother and father, in many ways, make my family possible. In today’s crazy world of child rearing, it’s inexplicably hard for mom and dad to do it alone. Without grandmas, grandpas, uncles, aunts, cousins and the like nearby, I don’t know how other parents do it.
Today, as I sit in a hotel room in Omaha, supporting my husband’s employment with an out-of-town company, my mother is walking a few days in my shoes. Since Wednesday, she’s been shuttling my girls to and from school, to and from gymnastics and cheerleading, feeding and enduring my ridiculous dogs, likely doing my laundry and cleaning my house. This trip, she dealt with the dishwasher repair man and a birthday party I forgot about. And she still has a makeup trombone lesson to get to before I land back home. Her gps is getting a workout, and no doubt everything she brought to my house is covered in white fur.
As a parent, I often wondered how the mothers of my generation – those 70s and 80s moms – ever dealt with being mommy. They seemed to be so much more graceful, competent and together. Then, I remember disposable income then was much less (meaning fewer belongings), fathers did less helping, kids expected less and women perhaps were not pulled in so many directions. But they were still better at it.
I’ve always worked to keep my family in driving distance of my extended family. We’ve never lived more than an hour away, and our most recent move, to within a half hour of my parents, was designed with grandma and grandpa in mind.
I’ve been blessed to have never had to leave my children with anyone other than the most trusted people in my life. I’m glad I’ve never had to decide if new friends in new towns or some type of service was safe enough for my kids. They stay only with people I trust most. I’ve often wondered how hard it must be for parents to leave their kids with strangers – that stat, one in four girls will be sexually abused by 18, echoes in my mind. I can’t imagine the stress.
We’ve never had to board a plane or travel farther than across town for holiday celebrations. I watch my mother and father’s brothers and sisters struggle with geographical distance from their grandchildren, and I pray their hearts heal. I send gifts and drag kids to family events so that each of my aunts and uncles and even my brother’s in-laws hear the sounds of kids laughing regularly, and see the miracles of their growth. It’s a gift I find I’m always able to give, that’s always happily received.
Extended family is more than people to babysit and car pool when you can’t, however. They comprise a community that provides love beyond the nuclear family and provides kids with a safety mat that spells out what might happen if mom and dad are somehow restricted by health, distance, or even death. Extended family is extra padding, backup support, a help desk. It’s permanent. It teaches all how to deal with relationships we can’t jettison from our lives and what it’s like to have people we can count on when the world lets us down.
Families can be close even if they aren’t geographically near. And they can be distant even if they live across the street. But children so often have the super human power to heal family wounds and rejoin broken bonds. Let them work their magic where possible.
Family first, as my 10-year-old reminds me. Family first.