“But won’t you two need more help instead of less? You aren’t moving to Alabama with your parents? I can’t believe you’re moving farther from their grandparents! BUT IT’S COLD THERE!!!”
These are some of the shocked (and very southern) responses we received when my husband accepted a job less than one month after bringing home our twins from the NICU. A job that required us to move from Athens, Georgia to Madison where we would encounter a new climate, new people, and new circumstances. In Athens, we were fewer than 5 hours from my parents and steps away from our girls’ godparents. We would soon be 12+ hours driving (or two flights) from nearly all family and friends. I would also transition from working full-time with no kids to being home alone 8-10 hours a day with two babies. On second thought, maybe those responses weren’t so crazy…
Despite the challenges, we don’t regret our decision. Many people talk about the great parts of living close to family: help at doctor’s appointments, assistance with feedings, attendance at school recitals and soccer games, and—that rarest of Golden Tickets— free babysitters. I admit some jealousy when friends talk about meals being dropped off or kids being picked up, or simply a quick coffee with Mom. But I think people underestimate the many benefits of living away from family. We spend some dinners missing family and lamenting the cost of flights but we spend more time basking in the pride of doing it alone together.
Here are four ways we’ve benefited being away from family:
1. You are fully dependent upon each other. My parents stayed with us for two weeks after our move. With two 3-month old’s, two weeks is enough time to (mostly) set up house, find the grocery store and doctor’s office, and set up an Amazon Mom account…with your incorrect new address. After that it was the four of us. My husband and I leaned on each other more in the following 12 months than I could ever have imagined. And we are stronger because of it. I don’t deny the tears (there were many). I don’t deny the frustrations (I remember giving a full rant once when my poor husband accidentally fell asleep getting diapers from our bedroom). But mostly we have grown in estimation of each other. We expect more from each other and respect each other more because of it. There was no one to call when we all four got the stomach flu and no one but ourselves to congratulate when our daughters finally made the weight chart. Our marriage is stronger because of it.
2. You Find Your Own People. I am an introvert. I struggled making friends in college and graduate school. Moving somewhere new with two babies forces you out of your comfort zone. I was surprised recently when my best Madison friend said, “You’re the most social person I know!” This is not how I view myself, but when I look at my actions over the past 2.5 years, “social” does seem to fit. I have met friends at libraries, parks, doctors offices, exercise classes, and the grocery store to name a few. I have built a support system that knows me now with kids rather than before without kids.
3. You Let Go of (Some of) the Guilt. We both miss our families, but I don’t miss the excess guilt that can accompany close-by relatives. When family is far away there is no expectation to attend every birthday party or dance recital or Sunday night dinner. There is no reason to follow cousins to a certain preschool and no one to know we didn’t attend Christmas mass. There are also fewer intrusions upon our daily parenting. For better or worse.
4. Visits with Family Are All the More Special. We are fortunate that both sets of grandparents are able to visit multiple times a year. Still, we don’t see them for months at a time and may not see extended family for a year or more (thank goodness for text and Facetime!). When family arrives, I revel in their company in ways I didn’t before. We never run out of topics to discuss or new things to share. We love showing off our favorite parks, restaurants, and activities in our new city. I recognize more intensely how everyone is aging and growing and changing and I recommit to focusing on the present. We sit longer over dinners and hug each other tighter. And then, I have time to miss them when they leave.