When I was pregnant, my husband and I did everything we could to plan for our growing family. We bought all the supplies and then some, we had the nursery set up well in advance, we read all the parenting books, we interviewed doulas, we made the birth plans. What we didn’t know was that we’d long ago made the decision that would shape our parenting more than anything else, before we ever even thought about getting pregnant. And that was the decision to live far from our families.
The decision wasn’t one big definitive choice. It was just how a smaller series of individual choices worked out.
My husband and I met in our 20s in New York City after we had moved out of our respective hometowns. When we were looking to leave behind life in the big city and start fresh together, kids were not yet on our radar — in fact, we weren’t even engaged yet. When we found a smaller city we loved hundreds of miles away from our families, we were excited to live in a place we chose together that was close to the ocean, affordable, could support our livelihoods, and had a strong sense of community. Of course we would miss our families, but we’d been far from them for a while, and we would still be just a car ride away. Plus, we moved to a vacation destination that would be a nice getaway for them to visit. Before long, we had established a real community in our new state, and had found jobs, started a business, and made lasting friendships. And the rest unfolded from there: we got engaged here, got married here, survived a significant health scare here, and bought our first house here.
And then, we had our first child here. It wasn’t until we became parents that the distance between us and our families took on a whole new meaning. Suddenly those miles stretched between us in a way they hadn’t before. When each of our kids was born, our families traveled bearing coolers full of food and rocked our babies in the early days of parenthood. They traveled to be our village, but then our village had to go home.
It is glaringly obvious now, but before becoming a parent, I had no idea that raising a family far from family would be so hard. We knew we’d miss them, but in the past, it had been easy to FaceTime and plan trips every few months. Once we had children, that became much harder. Traveling several hours away (multiplied with kids in tow) is no easy trip. Every stage presents obstacles. There were feeding and nap schedules, and then school schedules and extracurriculars. It’s not super easy for our families to visit us either. Every visit here or there is deeply worth it, but a large amount of effort for somebody.
There are layers to this. I miss our families for my husband and me, of course, but I also miss our families for our kids. Every time I’m at a playground and see a grandparent with their grandchild, I feel a twinge of sadness. I was lucky to grow up surrounded by my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Both sets of my grandparents lived just one street over from each other; on holidays, we would spend the first part of the night at my mom’s parents and then wander one street over to celebrate at my dad’s parents. We would all have Sunday dinners together, and I have vivid memories of packing my little red suitcase and heading over to my grandparents for the weekend so my parents could get away together, just the two of them.
And then there’s the missed time with cousins. When I was five, my parents bought a fixer-upper camp near my aunt and her family. My childhood summers were spent on the water with my cousins, my mom and her sister’s laughter echoing off the lake. I long for my kids to have that kind of experience with their cousins more often. I long for them to know the joy of being excused from the dinner table to go play while the grownups sit around and talk for hours. I long for them to have a “going to grandma’s” suitcase.
On top of missing out on time spent together, we also miss out on the in-person support. I’ll be honest: I can’t help but feel a pang of jealousy whenever a friend can drop their kid off with their parents for the day. The level of flexibility that sort of village allows is game-changing and something we’ll never know. I often wonder how different our parenting experience would be if our own parents were nearby. What would it be like to call my mom on a Saturday and say, “Want to meet us at the beach?” Or have standing weekly dinners with my in-laws? Or even to be able to call in some backup if we aren’t feeling well. Since it’s hard to find overnight babysitters and it’s a lot to ask friends with their own small children to watch ours overnight, in our decade of parenting, we’ve only been away from our kids for two nights — ever.
Of course, having parents close by doesn’t automatically mean you have this support. Plenty of people have relatives nearby with whom they don’t have this kind of relationship, and that can bring its own kind of heartbreak. But for those lucky enough to have loving, supportive families who also happen to live nearby and can be involved — that’s the dream. Or at least mine, anyway.
The good news is that we have made deep, long-lasting bonds with friends who have become like family. We have a solid group of friends, many of whose kids are roughly the same age as ours, and they are like extended family. Being able to celebrate with them at every birthday party and milestone has made a huge difference, and now we have traditions together that we look forward to every year. And because we don’t get to see our families often, the time we do get to spend with family is even more precious, more intentional.
We love where we live and wouldn’t change where we chose to put down roots. It has given us the opportunity to build a village of our own here and to learn to ask for help from more-than-willing friends. I’ll always wish there were fewer miles between us and our families and that we had been even slightly prepared for how hard it would be. But I know that our families’ love and support transcends geography, and if we have to be far from them, we are fortunate to have found friends who are like family right here.
Rebecca is a writer, poet, and recent Moth storyteller. She got her start writing about architecture in New York, and after many years, moved to Maine where she was the editor of a home design magazine for nearly a decade. In addition to freelancing for several design, architecture, landscape, and travel magazines, including Condé Nast Traveler and Forbes Travel Guide, she also has had her poems featured in Santa Clara Review. She is now a partner at a digital marketing agency, where she continues to tell stories and create content for local and national clients.
Rebecca has her Bachelors of Science in Psychology, which surprisingly does not at all come in handy during bedtime negotiations with two kids. She lives in a 200-year-old home with good bones and a possibly haunted apple tree in the backyard. In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, writing poetry, and keeping up with the mom group text. You can find her on Instagram @thewildprecious @rebeccafalzano