Parenting is different for all of us and it’s been fascinating sharing different families’ experiences here on Cardiff Mummy Says as part of the What’s it really like…? series.
This week, Catherine, who writes the blog Battle Mum, talks about what it’s like being a parent and living away from family.
Catherine is originally from Dublin but has been living in the UK for over 10 years, first in Shropshire, now in Tredegar in South Wales.
When we moved to the UK in the early 2000s being away from family was never a big deal for my husband and me. We could hop on a plane back to Ireland whenever we wanted and I generally went home at least three times a year to visit family. We never missed Ireland at all, and didn’t really miss family as they were regular visitors alongside our visits home. However, that all changed when we fell pregnant with our son.
Suddenly I started to miss them. Not having my mum or sisters near me to share my pregnancy was hard. We had to tell our family over the phone and via WhatsApp that we were expecting. We then used both forms of communication to share our updates and progress. And I found that quite hard. I would have loved to have sat my parents down and told them face-to-face they were finally going to become grandparents for the second time after almost 13 years of waiting. But I couldn’t.
Once we found out we were having a boy I asked my mum if she and my father would come over to stay with us around the time our son was due, just for support and for them to be the first people to meet him. This meant a lot to me and thankfully they agreed. They came for Christmas and luckily our son didn’t keep us waiting and arrived two days before he was due the day after New Year’s Day. This meant my parents got to spend a whole week with us and their new grandson before they needed to return to Ireland.
The day they left I cried a river, partly through knowing I was going to miss them, partly through post-pregnancy hormones. But reality also struck both my husband and I that we were now going it alone with a new-born. My parents had been amazing, cooking for us, cleaning the house, walking the dog and we would have to do all of that from there on as well as look after a new-born. The honeymoon period was well and truly over.
Three weeks later my dad returned when my husband had to go to the USA for work. I would never have coped on my own, especially as I had a long road still to go in terms of my recovery. I was so grateful he could come back and so grateful that my mum didn’t need him at home for anything.
Since then there have been numerous times when not having them near has been very hard. Times like our son’s first Christmas. His first birthday. When he learned to crawl and then walk. They missed out on all those special firsts and had to make do with short videos via WhatsApp. Amen for modern technology is all I can say. It was hard on us too that we couldn’t share those moments with them in person.
We made sure our parents didn’t miss our son’s second birthday and having both sets of grandparents with us for that occasion was very special. It was hard on me again saying goodbye to my folks when they set off for their ferry home. My dad became a regular visitor since our son was born and as he is retired (mum not just yet) it’s been lovely to have him here to spend time with his second grandson. But those times are at an end as my parents are retiring to Portugal.
Other times when it has been hard for us have been when my son has taken ill in nursery and my husband has been working away. As I work in Cardiff, almost an hour from where we live in Tredegar, it’s meant a dash back home to collect him. We have no-one to rely on for instances like that and I am thankful there has never been anything more serious with our son than a high temperature. I dread to think if there ever is.
It is also hard when I am ill and my husband is away with work as there is no one to help me out in the evenings with our son. It is up to me to drag myself to collect him and then entertain, feed and bath him before bedtime. This is hard when you have been struck down with flu or a stomach bug. While we have quite good neighbours, we still do not know them well enough for me to rely on them for occasions like these.
My husband and I have also not been out for a date night since he was born. We have no family near us who can babysit. Any time we want to see a film in the cinema we need to take a day off from work to sneak off to the earliest showing and ensure we are back in time to collect our son from nursery. I long for the day when we can actually go out for dinner on our own and talk like adults without having to keep an eye on our son or include him in our conversations. While we love having dinner in a restaurant with him we are limited in where we can go and at what time; bedtime is a constant factor in that decision.
I think not having family near us has affected us as couple as well but there is nothing we can do about it. We rarely get quality time together unless it is after bedtime. But like most parents, by then we are so tired it has become too easy to flop on the sofa in front of the TV with a cuppa before collapsing in bed at a time when our pre-baby selves would have been cracking open a second bottle of wine or only heading out for the evening.
For anyone who is in a similar position I sympathise. It’s hard. But if I was going to give anyone some advice it would be to try to connect as a couple at least once or twice a month. You may not be able to go out on dates but you can still recreate date night at home or even chat together as adults over a later dinner. Once or twice a month, feed the kids, put them to bed and then cook yourselves a nice meal. Something as simple as setting the table as if it were in a restaurant with a lit candle on it can change it from resembling the family meal table to a couple’s quiet rendezvous.
When family do manage to visit or if you get the chance to go to them, make sure you spend some quality time together. I always tried to ensure I had at least one extra day off work while my dad was visiting to ensure we got to see as much of each other as we could. Likewise, when my mum came for weekends. I always find it hard to get quality time with anyone when I’m back in Ireland as there are so many people who want to see us, but I do try to ensure each gets a good few hours with us.
And if you can get away from the family home and out and about for a few hours that can count as quality time, although shopping trips don’t count. One significant day with my father when he was over last year started a whole new tradition in our family, that of dragon hunting. We visited Caerphilly Castle when the dragon as inside and since then we hunt dragons at whatever castle we visit. Our son loves it and we have my dad to thank for that.
I have come to realise that I never truly appreciated my parents until I became one myself and it has made me realise the sacrifices they made for me and made me grateful for everything they ever did for me. I do miss them terribly now that our son is here and wish we were closer to them to share good times with them and make more memories with them before it is too late. I want our son to remember his grandparents but a visit once a year won’t really be enough. Not having a close support network in family is difficult and it is an unfortunate consequence of living away from them that we must accept. The only thing we can do is try to ensure more frequent trips to see one another.
Read the other posts in the What’s it really like…? series here.