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A Family Apart

Welcome to the May 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting With or Without Extended Family

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how relatives help or hinder their parenting. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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The last time all of us were together. (Image credit: Walt Palmer Photography)

The husband and I married and conceived shortly after moving a good seven thousand miles away from both of our extended families. This has been in a challenge, but in some ways also a blessing. We both have families we love and are loved by, and we miss them dearly. We keep up through phone calls, emails, and despite the challenging (sixteen hour!) time difference, try to make video chats via Skype happen at least every few weeks. Of course a big part of my goal with blogging, especially my What’s New posts each Wednesday, is to keep everyone in the loop as much as they would like to be. Our families are important to us, and we’re grateful for them, but the reality of our lives means that we simply can’t be involved with one another’s day to day in the way that we may if we were close by.

The inability to stay as involved as families that live near one another is a bummer, to be sure. I come from a relatively large family myself and always treasured my relationships with my siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and parents. When there’s a birthday, a major change, a holiday or just something to celebrate, I feel a twinge of sadness that I can only share it through a phone call. A few new babies have been born on both sides of the family since we left, and I try not to think about the fact that they’ll be walking, talking, full-fledged personalities before I have the opportunity to meet them. The wonderful thing about family, however, is that we can be secure in the fact that they care, even if it has been a week, or two or three or more since we’ve been able to catch up on the latest news with them. Even when a great deal of time has passed, I can still feel the special bond we all have when we have the chance to get in the same room. We won’t always be separated by such a great distance, and I’m grateful for that.

The silver lining on this whole thing is the strong bond we have been able to form as a family of three (almost four!). We’ve had nearly three years of marriage, and more than two years since becoming parents to establish ourselves. We have settled into a rhythm, figured out what’s important to us when no one else is watching, and really built a strong identity as a family. We all have values and traditions that come from our families of origin, and when a new family is formed, there’s a lot of growing and stretching and working out what should stay, what can go, and how it all fits together. We haven’t had to make the difficult decisions about which side of the family to spend Thanksgiving with, or how to spread visits around to make sure everyone feels like they get equal love and attention. Extended families come with a lot of joy, but they also come with expectations, and I’m grateful that we’ve been able to form a strong sense of what we value with some physical separation from those expectations. It’s in my nature to want to keep everyone happy, so even from this great distance I feel the heavy weight of knowing we’re not pleasing everyone all the time.

We’ll be moving soon, and I’m looking forward to opportunities to share in big events in the lives of people we love – the weddings, births, holidays, and anything in between. After three years of living in a house that my siblings have never seen, I’m eager to have them out for a visit and stay up late talking and watching movies like we used to. I’m excited to watch my children’s relationships with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins grow as they can finally experience these people as more than just faces on a screen or in pictures and stories we tell. We’re fortunate to have such special people in our lives, and I’m grateful that we can share with them and benefit from their wisdom and experience from a place of knowing who we are and what we value as a family unit.

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Dealing With Unsupportive Grandparents — In a guest post at Natural Parents Network, The Pistachio Project tells what to do when your child’s grandparents are less than thrilled about your parenting choices.
  • Parenting With Extended Family — Jenny at I’m a full-time mummy shares the pros and cons of parenting with extended family…
  • Parental Support for an AP Mama — Meegs at A New Day talks about the invaluable support of her parents in her journey to be an AP mama.
  • Priceless GrandparentsThat Mama Gretchen reflects on her relationship with her priceless Grammy while sharing ways to help children preserve memories of their own special grandparents.
  • Routines Are Meant To Be Broken — Olga at Around The Birthing Ball urges us to see Extended Family as a crucial and necessary link between what children are used to at home and the world at large.
  • It Helps To Have A Village – Even A Small One — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama discusses how she has flourished as a mother due to the support of her parents.
  • The Orange Week — Erika at Cinco de Mommy lets go of some rules when her family finally visits extended family in San Diego.
  • One Size Doesn’t Fit All — Kellie at Our Mindful Life realizes that when it comes to family, some like it bigger and some like it smaller.
  • It Takes a Family — Alicia at What’s Next can’t imagine raising a child without the help of her family.
  • A new foray into family — As someone who never experienced close extended family, Lauren at Hobo Mama wrestles with how to raise her kids — and herself — to restart that type of community.
  • My Mama Rocks! — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment is one lucky Mama to have the support and presence of her own awesome Mama.
  • Embracing Our Extended Family — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares 7 ideas for nurturing relationships with extended family members.
  • Doing Things Differently — Valerie at Momma in Progress shares how parenting her children far away from extended family improved her confidence in her choices.
  • Snapshots of love — Caroline at stoneageparent describes the joys of sharing her young son’s life with her own parents.
  • Parenting with Relies – A mixed bagUrsula Ciller shares some of her viewpoints on the pros and cons of parenting with relatives and extended family.
  • Tante and Uncles — How a great adult sibling relationship begets a great relationship with aunt and uncles from Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy.
  • Tips for Traveling With Twins — Megan at the Boho Mama shares some tips for traveling with infant twins (or two or more babies!).
  • Parenting passed through the generations — Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes talks about the incredible parenting resource that is her found family, and how she hopes to continue the trend.
  • My Family and My Kids — Jorje of Momma Jorje ponders whether she distrusts her family or if she is simply a control freak.
  • Parenting with a Hero — Rachel at Lautaret Bohemiet reminisces about the relationship she shared with her younger brother, and how he now shares that closeness in a relationship with her son.
  • Text/ended Family — Kenna of A Million Tiny Things wishes her family was around for the Easter egg hunt… until she remembers what it’s actually like having her family around.
  • Two Kinds of Families — Adrienne at Mommying My Way writes about how her extended family is just as valuable to her mommying as her church family.
  • My ‘high-needs’ child and ‘strangers’ — With a ‘high-needs’ daughter, aNonyMous at Radical Ramblings has had to manage without the help of family or friends, adapting to her daughter’s extreme shyness and allowing her to socialise on her own terms.
  • Our Summer Tribe — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger shares a love of her family’s summer reunion, her secret to getting the wisdom of the “village” even as she lives 1,000 miles away.
  • My Life Boat {Well, One of Them} — What good is a life boat if you don’t get it? Grandparents are a life boat MomeeeZen loves!
  • Dear Children — In an open letter to her children, Laura at Pug in the Kitchen promises to support them as needed in her early days of parenting.
  • Yearning for Tribal Times — Ever had one of those days where everything seems to keep going wrong? Amy at Anktangle recounts one such day and how it inspired her to think about what life must’ve been like when we lived together in large family units.
  • I don’t have a village — Jessica Claire at Crunchy-Chewy Mama wishes she had family nearby but appreciates their support and respect.
  • Trouble With MILs– Ourselves? — Jaye Anne at Wide Awake Half Asleep explains how her arguments with her mother-in-law may have something to do with herself.
  • A Family Apart — Melissa at Vibrant Wanderings writes about the challenges, and the benefits, of building a family apart from relatives.
  • First Do No Harm — Zoie at TouchstoneZ asks: How do you write about making different parenting choices than your own family experience without criticizing your parents?
  • Military Family SeparationAmy Willa shares her feelings about being separated from extended family during her military family journey.
  • Forging A Village In The Absence Of One — Luschka from Diary of a First Child writes about the importance of creating a support network, a village, when family isn’t an option.
  • Respecting My Sister’s Parenting Decisions — Dionna at Code Name: Mama‘s sister is guest posting on the many roles she has as an aunt. The most important? She is the named guardian, and she takes that role seriously.
  • Multi-Generational Living: An Exercise in Love, Patience, and Co-Parenting — Boomerang Mama at The Other Baby Book shares her experience of moving back in with Mom and Dad for 7 months, and the unexpected connection that followed.
  • A Heartfelt Letter to Family: Yes, We’re Weird, but Please Respect Us Anyway — Sheila of A Living Family sincerely expresses ways she would appreciate her extended family’s support for her and her children, despite their “weird” parenting choices.
  • The nuclear family is insane! — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle is grateful for family support, wishes her Mum lived closer, and feels an intentional community would be the ideal way to raise her children.

 

17 Responses to A Family Apart

  • I wrote about this recently (http://shealwayslovedlarking.blogspot.com/2012/04/adventures-in-motherhood-how-close-are.html) and think about it quite a bit, actually. Most of the moms I know live within an easy drive (or walk!) of their own parents, and I get really jealous of that. But I also have a good friend living in London with her husband and their toddler and I’m glad that I am closer than she is to her family. It’s all relative, I guess (pardon the pun). I’m happy for you that you’ll be able to enjoy those family connections once again — parenting in isolation is difficult, and even if you have a wonderful support network of friends in your area it isn’t the same as those bonds with siblings and parents (or at least that’s how I’ve felt). p.s. your wedding dress was so lovely! :)

    • melissa says:

      I really enjoyed your post, Courtney. It definitely seems that there are benefits and drawbacks to being close with extended families, but for those who are close – the benefits usually seem to outweigh the rest. We’re still going to be a good distance from both sides of the family, but so much closer than we have been – as you say, it’s all relative!

  • Amy says:

    I really appreciate your perspective on this, Melissa! Even though most of our extended family lives several time zones away, we had no less than 10(!) visits from family members during Daniel’s first year, which did make it difficult for us to establish any kind of rhythm or pattern as a family (especially given Daniel’s sensory challenges).

    I wish there was a way to have family close enough to visit often and provide support and help…while avoiding all the expectations and obligation that seems to always accompany those kinds of situations. It can be such a tricky balance, and though I long for more community at times, I also find myself envying the freedom and independence your family has had during such formative years for all of you. …I guess there’s no perfect option.

    • melissa says:

      Thanks, Amy! There really isn’t a perfect option, but we all do the best we can with the situations we’re in. Your families must really love you to have made 10 visits within a year, but I can see how that would make it incredibly hard to settle into a rhythm. It seems like you’re finding a good groove with your brother around – hopefully you continue to get the support you need!

  • Laura says:

    You have an excellent point in that you’ve gotten to be a family unit and really grow into yourselves. That’s huge gift!

  • kimia says:

    I’m so happy you’re going to be closer to your families. :) But it is also such a gift to have had time away to develop your habits, patterns, etc. on your own.

  • That is a great point about the advantage of having the early years without outside influence: the strong bonds you form, and the new traditions you can make as your own family. I’m also a people pleaser, and I’d worry what sort of parenting decisions I’d talk myself out of if I lived nearby.

  • Jess says:

    I live very close to both my family and my husband’s family, it is a blessing and a curse ;) I do know that I have been through a lot these past few years and my extended family is what brought me through. Also the bond my children have with their grandparents and my sisters is more than I could have ever dreamed.
    And gorgeous wedding shot! Love the colors!

    • melissa says:

      I’m so glad your family has been such a strong support for you, Jess. It seems like you have some incredibly special bonds with them. All of your sister talk lately has me missing my two sisters an awful lot, too!

  • I love that you focus on the positive things that can come from living away from family. We are just now trying to sort out plane tickets and itineraries for a visit to my family in July. Often, and this time is no different, this is the hardest time for me: I don’t want to *plan* a trip to see them, I just want to see them now! It has made reading some of this month’s carnival quite difficult, actually, but I am glad that I have read yours!

    • melissa says:

      I’m glad I could give you a post that doesn’t add to the feelings of missing your family! That really is tough. I find myself settled sometimes, in a nice rhythm that helps me forget how nice it can be to have everyone nearby, but then there’s a big life event for s or someone else, a planned visit, or a holiday, and it all comes flooding back and makes me long to be closer. I hope the time between now and July goes quickly for you so that you can enjoy your family again!

  • What a great perspective! Finding your way without being watched is wonderful and takes the pressure off! It’s wonderful that you’re heading back to being close to family now that you have your family’s sense of self sorted out :-)

  • teresa says:

    That’s really amazing. I’m so glad you see the positive side of this experience. And now to be able to try something else!
    It’s hard for me to imagine that you’ve only been married 3 years. Your family seems like it’s something from forever. I suppose it is.
    How lucky we all are for the technology that gives us so much contact. Imagine when you could send a letter that wouldn’t arrive for months!

    • melissa says:

      The technology really is great, isn’t it!? It makes it a lot easier to see the positive side of situations like ours. It’s strange for me to think what a relatively short time we’ve been married, too! I suppose that just means we have many more years to look forward to ;)

  • So how close to your family will you be once you move home? Will you be close enough for a car ride? I hope so!! Here is how *not* close my family is: a couple of weekends ago when we were driving home from our trip to see Joni Rae/Jorje/Amy in Springfield, I noticed a sign that said “Warsaw, 5 miles.” I said, “wow, that’s where Grandma and Grandpa live. Huh! Should we stop?” And we didn’t, because one kid was asleep, the other was grumpy, and I just didn’t think they’d want us dropping in unannounced. That makes me sad :(

    • melissa says:

      Aw, Dionna, that would make me sad, too! Our families are all in the southwest and we’ll be in the DC area, so we’ll still be plane riding distance away from everyone, but as compared to Guam it will be so much closer! It costs at least $1500 to buy a ticket here from the mainland, and the flight is about 16 hours plus connections, so it was just almost impossible for anyone to visit more than once – and most people didn’t even get to come once. At least now a visit can be made for less than a month’s pay!

  • Establishing yourselves as a family sounds like a very positive move. Hopefully both sides of the family will be more able to accept your choices in raising kids this way. I think it would be nice to see one of my sisters more (the one that lives eons away) but I generally only see her every one or two years, so she doesn’t get to see her neice often.

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