I grew up in a small town in Maryland. My grandparents lived five minutes away, and my aunts, uncles, and cousins lived in the next town over. Some of my fondest memories include being smushed at the kids’ table between cousins at Thanksgiving and having sleepovers at my grandparents’ house, where we ate our fill of her hidden Snickers bars and played with her old dolls.
When my husband and I moved to San Antonio, we were 26 and 24, respectively, and kids were so far down the road that we never considered what it would be like raising them away from our extended families. In fact, I don’t think the reality of raising kids sans family members within driving distance hit me until my oldest daughter was a week old and my mom was getting ready to fly back to Maryland. But you’re leaving me to do this by myself?! I thought. What do I know about raising a baby?! Thankfully, Skype and FaceTime filled in the blanks: I’d hold a screaming baby up to a webcam and ask my mom why she thought the baby was crying. We see my family more than most transplants, one of the few blessings of having a spouse who travels enough to accrue frequent flier miles. But still, raising my family without the support system that I grew up with is hard.
It’s sad that our families don’t get to see how the kids grow up on a day-to-day basis. They see them a few times a year, but they miss out on the smaller changes, like when my babies started to get hair, and when my first grader went from knowing letters to reading words. It was hardest when the kids were young babies, and we had to re-introduce them to their grandparents and great-grandparents every time we visited.
I miss the luxury of guilt-free babysitting. When I was a girl, my grandparents would fill in in a pinch when my parents had quick appointments or emergencies. Without that, it’s hard to run errands without my kids. I hate paying for a babysitter so I can get a haircut or go to the dentist. Going on overnight trips with my husband requires months of forethought—my mom is flying to San Antonio in January so my husband and I can celebrate our tenth anniversary (which was in August).
I find that holidays are the hardest. We usually manage to visit one coast or another during Christmas break, but Thanksgiving is tough. Those days that I spent crammed between two cousins fighting over mashed potatoes are gone. We are sometimes blessed to spend Thanksgiving with friends, and have on occasion spent Thanksgiving by ourselves at a campground, sharing pumpkin pie with strangers. The first Christmas that my husband and I spent in San Antonio was difficult. We sat around the house eating cookies and watching TV all day by ourselves, and then we both got the stomach flu. (OK, maybe that last part wasn’t due to having family far away. Either way, it was the lamest Christmas ever.)
Despite the challenges, being isolated from family also has its perks. My husband and I have really been able to raise our kids the way we want to, without any outside influence from our parents. We’ve created our own traditions and decided for ourselves what values we want to pass on to our children. Our families are wonderful, but there’s drama in every family tree, and when it comes up, we get to take a pass and remain blissfully uninvolved down here by ourselves. And those Thanksgivings that we spent with friends turned out to be some of the best holidays I’ve ever had. Last year, we cooked our own turkeys, made our own hot toddies, and spent the evening laughing with our best friends on our porch.
Although I may sob hysterically while watching Parenthood and long to be a Braverman, there are other times when I’m glad that my little family is down here in our own San Antonio bubble that smells like margaritas and breakfast tacos. If you have local relatives, I hope you give them a hug every chance you get, and then drop your kids off with them and get your hair done. If you’re a transplant like me, I hope you’ve found friends who are like family, and celebrate making your own traditions this holiday season.