The qualm of the transplanted parent
Tonight, after having returned from a vacation with my family, I started reflecting on the trials of childrearing when your family support network lives far from your home. At first I thought this would typically be a problem faced by international families and expatriates. And then I realized that actually it was also a problem faced by families have had to live in cities either because of jobs or because of choice (many parents that were raised in the suburbs, countryside or in a small town or village make a conscious decision not to return to this lifestyle for a myriad of reasons). And then, when I thought about it further, I realized that families have been moving more and more as a result of globalization, free trade unions like the European union which have made it easier to work across the continent as a european national, better education choices which have allowed students from IIT in India for example, to run major technology companies in Silicon Valley and Americans to work at multinational corporations or NGOs in Africa and Latin America. All these families share the same problem: of how to raise their children in a city or town that is not close to their own family support network of grandparents, sisters, brothers, cousins, the works…….
These challenges create a number of complex decisions on
1) Whether or not to do daycare for a very young child when both parents are working, hire a nanny or go with an au pair or take a short hiatus from the workforce and stay home for a few years until the child is slightly older.
2) Whether or not couples can go out on a date night without their children, which is very healthy in a marriage
3) How to maintain a foreign language in young children in an environment that speaks predominantly a different language. Do you raise your child bilingual? What if only one parent is able to speak one language or two parents speak different languages
4) If not through language, how else do you provide your child with your family’s cultural norms?
5) How does one handle emergencies where both parents are required (for instance, surgery of one parent or the birth of a new child) and you can’t take your other or only child)
6) How often does one travel home to family (whether its local but several hours drive away or international?
7) How do you handle family visits particularly in the city where apartments tend to be quite small and may not necessarily be comfortable? And where the alternative, is quite expensive?
Having grown up and lived in many of these scenarios, I can provide so many real life examples of the above. To name a few, I was once on a business trip to Chicago from New York, when my colleague received a call saying that her child from daycare had a fever of over 100 degrees and had to leave the daycare immediately. What complicated this situation further, was that her spouse was also traveling and her parents lived a four hour train ride away……..?
Or, how about a scenario of when one parent had to go in for emergency kidney surgery, and needed his spouse by his side….this family does not tend to use nannies, or babysitters. What then?
And then of course, a very common one, your water breaks a few weeks before you are due and then of course, your mom is scheduled to arrive one week later from an international location….what do you do then? Someone will have to be there to watch your first, second or third born child while you are away in hospital so that your spouse can be there for the birth. What about if there are complications and you have so stay in the hospital for a few more days than anticipated?
These are all issues that transplanted families experience – in the coming weeks, I will talk about a few of the issues, so please stay looped in. In this post, here a few takeaways for new and maybe existing families who have recently become transplants:
1) Invest in the social network of your neighborhood. Getting to know your neighbors in a city can be very challenging, most people in big cities tend to be ‘a bit suspicious’ of others….However, it can get easier to meet people through certain vetted settings like schools, daycares, church groups…etc. So, if you are not particularly social, it may be worth going to that potluck or all those birthday party events initially until you build that network.
2) Join the local parents group email distribution. There are several in New York like Big City Moms, or BOCOCCA PARENTS or TRIBECA PARENTS. In London, there is mumsnet. I belong to a few parent groups actually, and one of them in particular, BOCOCA parents, is quite exemplary. I have seen parents post for emergency sitters….i remember a post by a first time parent whose 3-week child suffered had a 103 fever and her spouse was out of the country. Though this parent has spoken to her doctor, she was understandably ‘freaking out”. Through one email, this parent was able to mobilize several volunteers to either bring over Tylenol from the local store, and who also gave a lot of well-wished advice over the situation.
3) Join a new moms group – When I first started having kids, I was so anti the whole ‘mommy and me’ thing with the classes, the meetings, the works. I am however, soo glad that my mom encouraged me to attend a new mom’s group that was literally around the corner from me. In a typical New York fashion, this group included a pediatrician, a therapist (only in new York) and a handful of very anxious parents. When I first sat down, articles were being passed around. . The topic of the day, was sleep. I felt like I was in college in my freshman writing seminar. I think I attended three of the meetings…in addition to sleep we talked about daycare vs. nanny for the working parent, scheduling, colic, and a myriad of other things that I was too preoccupied with my colicky son to listen to. Cut long story short, I met two moms who are amongst my closest friends today from this group. Glad I went !
4) Take a class with your baby or young child. Music classes are really the best for babies…they love it! Stroller strides or the yoga classes for mommy and baby are a great way to meet new moms and babies.
5) Investigate local B&B’s in your city. Many may be a bit more ‘hush hush’ but its worth knowing where they are, so you can keep the grandparents, aunts and uncles coming….If not, just invest in a good Sleep Sofa.
6) Have a back-up plan for school drop offs and pick-ups (alternate with families, and have a couple of phone numbers of parents or babysitters in the class who live nearby that can pick up for you, if you are running 10 minutes late. If you are lucky and I mean, very very lucky, you may be able to find a neighbor who can watch a sleeping toddler or baby while you pick up every day).
7) Find a good nanny (but also get a good back up for her). Transplanted families tend to rely a lot on their nanny because he/she is their support group. Problem is that the nanny can get overworked to say the least, so do have a back up nanny who can do date nights and can come and help every so often
8) Get a group of parents together with similar aged kids whom you can alternate school drop off or pick-ups with or that can also watch your child (or children) every other week on an alternate basis. This gives you a break and is fun for your child too. Make sure that your child doesn’t absolutely hate this arrangement…if they do, then clearly something is not working in your absence.
9) If all fails, and its still quite challenging to meet other parents, start a book club…what a great way to meet people and to also engage in an activity that is relaxing (if you are into it).
Of course there is no guarantee that doing any of this will improve your social network, but at the very least it will keep you plugged into the local goings on….which you must know as a parent. And once you build that network, have a list of three numbers (preferably other parents in the neighborhood) that you can call on in an emergency. Don’t get stressed, get prepared!