Not everyone has the same level of family support when raising their children. For some older parents, this just may not be as helpful as they would like. For others, some of their families are far away, absent, or just downright dysfunctional.
From trying to juggle work, childcare costs and managing sick days, challenges often arise when your family village just can’t – or won’t – be there
When housewife Emma* moved to a small village on the outskirts of Oxford six months after the birth of her son, she was unaware of how much she had left behind.
“We moved because of my husband’s work and he had been working long hours, but after a few weeks I really started noticing this loss of connection. I was on the phone with my mom most days and my friends were great at keeping in touch via Zoom, but I didn’t realize how much I would miss just delivering the baby or connecting with other moms . I tried all the usual things, went to mother-child groups, but I didn’t find my tribe as such.
If you don’t have the same level of family support, it can feel like you’re a captain without a lighthouse signal. Being able to relax your guard and talk openly with others about some of the day-to-day experiences of being a mother can be isolating.
Ciara* said she found her community online.
“When my son was a baby, I had postnatal depression, so I had a hard time motivating myself to get dressed and go to the clap cell phones groups or coffee mornings. I would just search all the forums. But it was only helpful to a point when strangers offered advice. Later, when he was older, I went back to work and none of my friends were in a way that made me feel disconnected.”
Ciara’s family, originally from Donegal, were not on hand to offer some of the support she saw others bestow.
“I wasn’t upset, but when you see friends have their parents or sisters around to dig you up, it’s easy to feel like it’s not the same. I think when you have kids you need your family around you. It was our decision to leave Donegal but there are times I would consider moving back just so my children could have the same extension of their family community.”
The support offered is not just physical. Raising children without the wisdom of someone who “was there and did that” can be difficult. We often need that one person who will just give us a moment to catch up with ourselves when we’re exhausted or tired.
Jennifer recently became a single mother of two and is considering her options based on that. “I don’t have the retreat of a partner or the child’s father to divide up the day-to-day comings and goings. My own mother came and stayed with us for the last four weeks just so I could do the school run and my daughter could go to GAA training. Life is so busy these days that it’s almost impossible to juggle it without some support. And I don’t have the means to get a childminder. Besides, most of them don’t drive.”
This kind of parental burnout is an added layer of challenges when it comes to raising our children outside of the “village.” I myself had a lot of support from my in-laws and my sisters as I had my children close together. Still, it was exhausting. I can’t imagine attempting this anywhere where I felt isolated or alone. Paying for help is great, but there are times when something comes up that requires the informality of obtaining a family favor.
When you don’t have family support, it all seems like an ordeal. Nothing is easy. Everything takes time to orchestrate. From financial disputes to social activities, keeping it all together is an exercise in expert time management.
And that before you have time for yourself.
When my son and daughter (15 months apart) were 3 and 2 years old, my husband went abroad to work on a project. Aside from the long tiring days, there was no time at all to take care of myself until one day my mother-in-law showed up and told me she was taking the kids to the zoo for the day and I could do whatever I liked. I ended up sleeping five hours and shaving my legs, but it was such a joy to even have a leisurely lunch that day.
Sometimes it’s the little things and small gestures that make the tough parenting years a little bit easier.
Ciara explains how she has now managed to surprise herself with her ingenuity. “I quickly learned my limits and learned to say no to things because I was struggling to make everything work. It means a quieter life in a way, but I also know it’s not forever. I still get a bit frustrated when I don’t have this safety net, but like all parents, we make it work! “