The reality of raising a family away from family


May 6, 2019

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I currently live 700 miles from my family, but I have never felt more at home anywhere else.

It didn’t start out that way, though.

Because of my husband’s job, we had the choice of only two cities in which to live. We started out in Chicago, but once we became pregnant with our second child, the prospect of street parking, 3 entry doors and 3 flights of stairs just to get access to our first-floor apartment with a double stroller, groceries, diaper bag and two kids was enough to make my head explode.

So we packed up and moved to small-town central Illinois.

Once we started making friends here, the first thing I noticed is that it seems like most everyone is a “townie”: born and raised here, maybe went off to college somewhere else (or here, since it is a college town!), settled down and began raising their families amongst their parents—and maybe even grandparents and extended family.

They go home to their parents’ house for dinner every Sunday and have two sets of grandparents to decide between when they need a babysitter—or even an extra set of hands on a trip to Target.

At first this realization hit me hard. I lamented not being able to call my mom whenever I had a doctor’s appointment and needed someone to watch the kids. Or when I was nearing the birth of my second son and stressing about how to decide when my in-laws should come to town to care for our oldest.

The weekends were lonely as my husband and I tried to make friends and discovered that many other young families were busy with family dinners and celebrations. I threw a pity party for myself about how hard it was to have a baby and a toddler without any family around to help, especially when my husband traveled for work.

But the more I reached out to make friends and allowed myself to be vulnerable with the other young moms I met, the more I realized the great blessing of living in a small town where people grow up learning the value of family: they have welcomed us into theirs.

I joined the moms group at my church, began talking with other moms and even found the courage to reach out to some of them to schedule play dates. I exchanged phone numbers with moms I saw at the park, the library, and the gym.

We invited these new friends over to our house for birthday parties and cookouts, even though we didn’t know them well, and didn’t actually have room to fit all the people we had invited into our tiny two-bedroom duplex.

Those practical steps to making new friends were certainly important. But the biggest catalyst for building this kind of community? Accepting help when it was offered, and even flat-out asking for help when we needed it.

I realized the great blessing of living in a small town where people grow up learning the value of family: they have welcomed us into theirs.

Just two months after we moved here, I gave birth to our second child. My oldest was only 19 months, and I knew I needed an extra set of hands, but I wasn’t sure how much help I was going to have.

The leader of the moms group I had joined at my church offered to organize a meal train for us, and moms I had met only one time signed up to deliver meals to us, sustaining us through those agonizing first weeks after our out-of-town family left.

Months later, one friend reached out to me for help watching her kids while she went to the dentist, and I began to realize I could do the same. One of my best friends, who has her own three kids under 3, has now watched my kids in all sorts of circumstances, including all day even through naptime, when I had a surgery and needed my husband with me.

My kids are not able to grow up alongside their actual cousins, but they know what it’s like to have friends who are family.

When we lost a baby to miscarriage this spring, we realized what a family we had built for ourselves and been received into here. We shared the sad news with our friends and community, and just as with the birth of our second child, we experienced an outpouring of love and support that many people never get the blessing to know.

My kids are not able to grow up alongside their actual cousins, but they know what it’s like to have friends who are family.

Our home was a revolving door of flower deliveries, meals dropped off, and offers for childcare. And most of them were unannounced, which you might think is inconsiderate when you are in your pajamas sobbing on the couch—but in the midst of our grief, there was nothing better than not having to answer the question, “what can I do to help?” and instead receiving a text message simply saying: “I just dropped 2 meals off on your porch. We love you and we’re praying for you.”

Perhaps the most surprising thing I have discovered is that asking for (or even just accepting) help actually gives other people permission to do the same. Despite my perception that everyone else had it all together, many of our friends are actually in the same situation as we are: in transition, far from family, and in need of community.

And I’ve found that our friends not only love and care for us, they need our support just as much as we need theirs.

Asking for help actually gives other people permission to do the same.

I put myself out there again and again, and I was received by and helped create a community of moms who, it turns out, were all looking for the same thing: friends who feel like family.

Many of them did have family in town, but they too were still yearning for other young couples who understood what it’s like to raise small kids, maintain balance in all the other areas of life, and try not to lose your mind.

For me, being far away from my own family has been hard, but it has also been an opportunity to create another kind of family that I want my kids to be immersed in as they grow up: the kind that you pray with, hang out with on Saturday afternoon to watch the game, don’t have to clean your house for, and drop everything to help when it is needed most.

Photo by: Chelsea Grace Photography

Comments +

  1. Maria Harrill says:

    Becca! I loved your article, and it’s so true, every word. Thanks for writing it, it’s inspiring.

  2. Maria preble says:

    This speaks to me so much! Thank you for writing it!!

  3. piercycr says:

    I can so relate to this! It’s so nice to meet a fellow Christian Blogger who has a similar story :).

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