For most of my life, living near family was never a priority. We moved around a lot when I was a kid so I grew up less sentimental about childhood homes and without a strong need to live near relatives. Instead, I followed my career across the country from my parents, and never really felt too much of a strain to keep in touch.
That all changed when I became pregnant the first time.
Suddenly, I felt an innate desire to talk to my mom almost every day. I wanted to share every detail of my pregnancy with someone who could not only relate, but also cared about each baby kick or hour of heartburn as much as I did.
When my daughter was born, the pull of the village grew even stronger. Because—true talk? Raising a baby is hard, but doing so without family support is even harder. I can’t help but feel that my friends who have done it with grandparents nearby may have had a slightly easier go of things.
Raising a baby without grandparents nearby is hard because you have less help. The practicality of free babysitting aside, finding any kind of babysitting can be a challenge when you don’t have family to lean on. Leaving my baby with a stranger rattles my nerves. And even close friends aren’t always so readily available to drop everything to spend an hour with my daughters. I feel a twinge of jealousy when my mom friends casually mention leaving their children with their parents so they can run errands, work with more ease or simply take a nap.
Raising a baby without grandparents nearby is hard because you have less emotional support. Don’t get me wrong—my small village of friends is an incredible support system for me. But there’s just something about the people who have known you your whole life—who know that you had the same sassy streak as your toddler when you were her age, or who can pull out a baby photo showing that you had the same cowlick your infant now flaunts. They can give you perspective on the bad phases while reveling in the good ones alongside you. They know your whole history and they have a hand in helping you raise your future.
Raising a baby without grandparents nearby is hard because there’s not as much time to focus on my marriage. My husband and I have a date night probably once every other month—and it’s always when one set of grandparents is visiting.
As our girls get older, I like to think we’ll make it more of a priority, but for now, I find myself hesitant to spend extra money on a sitter or impose on friends to sit with the girls for an evening. Even though I know they probably wouldn’t mind, it’s hard to coordinate schedules and I feel emotionally burdened asking for help all the time. With grandparents, the extra time with their grandchildren never seems like a burden, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t wish we had that time more often.
For now, it doesn’t look like we’ll ever live close to either set of grandparents. But while it can definitely be a challenge, I also know it makes their visits so much sweeter. My toddler waits at the window all morning when she knows they’re coming to stay with us, and it fills my heart watching her play with them from the moment she gets up until she goes to bed (though the grandparents are probably exhausted!).
So we do our best to keep grandparents close in mind, having daily FaceTime calls and sharing photos on social media. And the grandparents do their part, too, visiting every other month or so to be here as much as they can.
Not having a village is very common in American households, unfortunately. According to Motherly’s 2021 State of Motherhood survey, more than half (56%) of mothers surveyed say they lack a non-family “village” they can call on for support. It’s disheartening to know so many mothers need this type of support but don’t have it.
I’ve also learned the importance of embracing the village we do have close by―my girls are lucky enough to have a few honorary “aunties” and “uncles” who do their best to help out when I need an extra hand or two. Living far from grandparents isn’t always easy, but it does come with one very important positive: It makes us appreciate our time together even more.
A version of this story was published May 5, 2021. It has been updated.