It’s a proverb first-time parents hear frequently: “It takes a village to raise a child”.
It takes a village
The “tribe” this proverb speaks of is usually family – in particular, grandparents – but whether due to geographical circumstances, estrangement or the sad loss of a parent, some of us are lacking this kind of support.
In my case, my parents live overseas and my in-laws are interstate. My husband’s and my respective siblings are also scattered in various states throughout the country, so we are experiencing first-time parenthood without the helping hand of a family tribe.
While of course, our families visit often, it’s not quite the same as if they were living nearby, and this has presented more than a few challenges (goodbye free childcare!).
Like anything in life though, there are a couple of (albeit small) silver linings to not having grandparents in close range.
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The downsides to grandparent-less parenting
I’ll administer the tough medicine first up – parenting without the grandparents around makes the job just that little bit harder.
Zero babysitting on tap
Grandparents by their very nature are just as obsessed with your little one as you are; no one can top the unmitigated doting, fussing and spoiling that grandparents bestow upon their progeny’s progeny.
For couples whose own parents are just a few suburbs away, the request for regular or last-minute babysitting is usually met with glee.
Sadly, regular babysitting isn’t something my husband and I can take advantage of. However, when the folks are in town and we do get the chance to have some one-on-one time, it’s all the more enjoyable by virtue of the fact it’s so rare!
Jealousy will rear its ugly head
Nearing the close of our first year of parenthood, I remember during a play date with a couple of fellow mums in my mother’s group who looked at me incredulously when I told them my husband and I hadn’t had an evening “date” in over 12 months.
But finding someone to leave your little one with isn’t easy when you’re grandparent-less. As a result, you’ll be more than a little jealous of the parents who do have the benefit of all hands on deck.
Missing the milestones
Hitting those all-important milestones are some of the most endearing parts of early parenthood. I’ll never forget the joy and pride I felt seeing my son take his first tentative steps across the lounge room.
Unless you’re lucky enough that your parents are in town when your little one says their first word or takes their first steps, more than likely those milestones will have to be shared via phone and video, which, it goes without saying, isn’t quite as spectacular as experiencing it in real life.
The upsides to grandparent-less parenting
I won’t sugarcoat it – the upsides definitely don’t outweigh the downsides of grandparent-less parenting … but there are a few that soften the sting of going it alone.
Quality time over quantity
When my parents or in-laws are in town, we see each other nearly every day.
We make our time together count because we know that all too soon they’ll be heading back overseas or interstate, and so they soak up every minute they can with their beloved first and only grandchild.
These visits highlight the importance of quality time over quantity, and makes it all the more special.
FaceTime is sacred
Long distances are obviously now easier to bridge with the help of FaceTime and Skype, and scheduling a twice-weekly call lets our parents see how quickly our son is growing.
It’s also a way for us to maintain the continuity of their relationship with him, ensuring he doesn’t forget their faces or voices when it’s been a few months between visits.
You’ll appreciate your substitute tribe
When your immediate family tribe are half a world away, gathering together your own “substitute” tribe – made up of your closest friends, mothers group and other relatives – who will be there during your parenting journey is paramount.
You’ll quickly realise that people are generous and big-hearted with their time when you just reach out and ask for help.