Raising kids away from family is hard, but you can do it

By growing our family away from extended family (and their help), we’ve learned that there is nothing more valuable than creating a strong network of friends who are like family.

Raising kids away from family is hard, but you can do it

Living near family can have many connotations—from the warmth of shared experience and everyday support, to the stress of dysfunctional relationships and invasive relatives. Some of us choose to live far away from family, some have no choice and some aren’t able to rely on family even if they are nearby.

Thankfully, no matter why we don’t have family on call, we can develop our chosen family of friends, wherever we are. In the past ten years, my now husband and I have moved more than ten times, including several moves overseas or across the US. Each time one of our first three children was born, we moved either right before or soon after the birth.

Through these years of growing our own family away from extended family and the help they can offer, we have learned that there is nothing more valuable than creating a strong network of friends who are like family. I have some simple advice on what to look for and how to create and nourish the bonds that will support you and your family in turn.

1. Think about what you are looking for.

What does family mean to you? Is it the intimacy, where you can just be yourself? Sharing child care? Warm celebrations at holidays? A sense of belonging?

For me, one important aspect of family that I seek out are other adults who truly care about my kids. I think it is important for children to spend time with adults (other than myself and my husband) who love them and are invested in their lives. This is a support for me too because I can celebrate with them when my child reaches big and little milestones, and they understand the highs and lows of life with my wonderful, exhausting, tiny humans.

2. Be patient.

It takes time to develop close friends and it can take a while to find the friends who will become like family. Be willing to wait for the right relationships to develop, because rushing into being closely involved with another family can bring unexpected challenges as you get to know each other better.

I have found that it takes about six months to develop intimate family friendships, so take your time and let it happen naturally.

3. Get involved.

These fulfilling relationships won’t just come and find you! Whatever your interests are, join a group of like minded people and you will most likely find other moms who are missing the support of family as well.

With little ones, we go through different seasons of busyness and ability to participate, so connect with those who are on a similar wavelength and time frame. Creating routines with other families who can commit to regular get togethers has allowed my kids to know that they can trust the stability of our relationships.

4. Reach out.

Once you have met and connected with some friends, you may find that you have many acquaintances and opportunities to socialize, but not the kind of support we hope for with family. That is when it is time to reach out and create the space for a deeper connection. Eat together. Go camping. Meet at the park on a Saturday morning.

Another important aspect of a family friendship is knowing what is going on in each other’s lives. Text them! Ask how their kid’s karate class is going. Ask about their spouse, in-laws, new baking project, or favorite shows on Netflix...just keep the conversation open and consistent. It is invaluable to have a few friends you can text any time about the highs and lows of life and know that they will do the same.

5. Be vulnerable.

This is the hardest part. Sharing the truth of our shortcomings and struggles is uncomfortable, but it is so important to have people in my day to day life who understand the challenges I experience—whether with my health, my home, my kids’ behavior, or my relationship with my spouse. It can be scary to open up to those who aren’t actually family, but if we want to have an intimate relationship, we need to let others in and be real with them.

Let them see your messy home or tantruming toddler, offer to watch their kids so they can go on a date, ask for advice when you don’t know how to handle something, tell the truth when they ask how you are and be ready to really listen when you ask them.

I have been blessed with a strong network of friends in each of the places I have lived. I miss those who are far away and cherish the bond we still share thanks to social media. I am incredibly thankful for my friends who do live nearby, because they make it possible to have a warm, satisfying family life, without having family on call.

10 must-have registry items that will change your life, mama

The baby gear heavy hitters that should be top of your list

Calling all mamas-to-be! It's a fundamental truth of (impending) motherhood that your prepping-for-baby To Do list can feel a mile long, but really the best way to feel organized is to sort out the most important item at the top of your list: your registry. Sure the items you choose to include will end up running the gamut from nice-to-haves to absolutely essential game-changers, but mamas in the know quickly learn one thing: Not all baby gear is created equal.

So while you can and should pepper your registry with adorable inclusions that aren't necessarily can't-live-withouts (go ahead, add 'em!), you should make sure you're ticking the boxes on those pieces of baby gear that can be absolute life savers once you're in full-blown mama mode. From car seats to bouncers and playmats, your play and travel gear will be some of the most obvious important items on your list, but so can unexpected things, like a super comfy baby carrier and a snooze-inducing white noise machine. So to help you sort through the must-have options, we turned to the holy grail of motherhood that is buybuy BABY and handpicked 10 of the very best essential pieces that will change your life, we promise.

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14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.


Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!


Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.


Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.


Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.


Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.


Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.


Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.


Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.


Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.


Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.


Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.


Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.


Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.


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Talking to kids can come so easily. They have thoughts about everything and stories for miles. They see the world in a completely different light, and could ask enough questions to fill an afternoon.

But sometimes finding the right words for talking to kids can be really, really challenging. When choosing how to respond to the marker on the wall, or the seemingly unending why-can't-I battle, or in simply keeping healthy communication open with kids who don't want to talk, the words don't seem to come so easily.

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