No one said this parenting gig was going to be easy, but neither did anyone tell me how difficult it was going to be with no family support near by.
As a single person and then as a couple, I accepted the fact that it was my choice to live abroad and that whatever came my way the only family support I would get was via telephone, video or email.
And then we started a family. With our immediate families in New Zealand and in Pakistan we weren’t of the mindset to move back to either of our home cities, so it was just a case of get on with the show.
We did have some extended family in and around London and UK, but nothing closer than 45 minutes from where we lived, so we never picked up the phone in the middle of the night if we were desperate for help, or one of us was sick (or even both) and we needed some help with the baby. So we muddled through, like zombies some days, but we got through.
Now, where we live just out of Madrid, I have grandparent envy almost on a daily basis. The one thing that is glaringly obvious is how many grandparents I see pushing prams. I’ve never seen so many, and when I speak to friends here, they say it is very normal for grandparents to look after the children, a lot of the time because mothers in Spain only get 16 weeks maternity leave.
Babies and children being lovingly cared for by family on a daily basis while parents are either working or attending to other children, but this scenario is something we personally will never be lucky enough to experience.
And that’s ok, if you have it, then you and your children are so so fortunate.
Worst case scenarios
Well in our case there’s been quite a few, and of course it’s 99% of the time something completely unpredictable that will catch us off guard (and sometimes in the middle of the night). Yes most of those times have inevitably involved a hospital or doctors visit, a couple of times even an ambulance. And then there was a planned, but absolutely necessary operation for me which meant I would be out of action for 6-8 weeks with a 10 month old baby.
When we had Asher, he arrived 3 weeks early, I was having a planned c-section at 39 weeks, but he had other ideas one Friday night when my waters broke at home, Lara in bed asleep, who do you call?? Fortunately we had some amazing friends, who we completely interrupted their precious time out from their kids at a nearby pub. We scooped Lara out of bed, packed a few things for her and basically passed her over to our friends, who kept her for the whole weekend once her brother had arrived the early hours of Saturday morning via emergency c-section. We would have been lost without them.
Living so far away from parents also presents challenges, especially when the tables turn, and the need for you to look after them is a necessity. My last two trips back to New Zealand have been for the sole purpose of attending to my father’s needs, moving him in a retirement village, and more recently into more intensive care. The first time I went was for 10 days without Lara, which was heart wrenching as she was only 16 months old. Hubby had to hold down the fort, combined with some temporary nanny help and nursery.
Just recently I needed to do it again when my father fell ill and we had to move him again. Because I didn’t have much time to plan or think about the various different scenarios, I decided that taking two small children on a 24 hour journey, ON MY OWN, was a challenge I hadn’t accepted yet (or other’s would just say it was downright crazy). There’s a completely whole new blog post right there on travelling long haul, solo with children.
Well, sometimes it’s all about flying by the seat of your pants, going along for the ride, in the hope that you’ll come out the other end without any scratches. As parents with no family around, there is a tonne of winging it, team high fives, and wine involved. Plus there are a few things I have to constantly remind myself of.
Ask for help
I might be stating the obvious here, but a lot of us have that “I can do it on my own” trait, or “I don’t want to inconvenience anyone”, or “I’ll be ok this time” attitude. NEVER be afraid to ask friends for help. This is no time to be proud in parenting. Wherever I’ve gone I’ve made the effort to make mummy friends, who are obviously more sympathetic to your cause, and know how hard it is to juggle full time parenting, never mind not having any support nearby to lean on. You need someone, even if it is just to lean on over a coffee.
Speaking of mummy friends, where are they? I spoke of this in my previous blog post about the daunting task that is making new friends as a mum, you know, speed friends dating for mums?? But in short, join groups, fish out groups on Facebook of mums in the same area as you, go to baby / child classes near you. Put yourself out there, even if you’re not that social, at least try once or twice. Even if you never need to lean on the friends you make, it will make you feel more human and keep your ability to speak adult language going.
Any groups you do find, see if there’s a WhatsApp chat already going, if not make one yourself. Those groups can be full on and heavy on the messages, which you may not always have time to read, but stay in touch from time to time, you may find it more helpful than you realise.
Start up a babysitting club. Don’t overcommit yourself of course to having 20 kids in your house one evening, but if you live in an area close to other mummy friends, this is a great way to share the love.
Get to know your neighbours
This is completely dependant on where you live of course. Having lived in a few different places now, we haven’t always been lucky on this front, but when we have, it has been amazing. You do quite often have to make the first move, but it may be completely worth it.
We had been in Spain 5 months when Asher had a really bad fall. I always liked to think I was a calm, level headed kind of person, but all of a sudden this rush of adrenaline hit, I didn’t speak fluent Spanish, we hadn’t used the hospital system yet, and we didn’t have a car, what the hell was I meant to do. I literally ran screaming next door, thankfully we had got to know these particular neighbours, they spoke English, and they dropped everything to drive us half an hour away to the local hospital, and my hubby met us there. I got to know a couple of other neighbours that night too who had seen me running hysterically out of our house, however I wouldn’t totally recommend this kind of friend making engagement.
Nursery or school
If you’re at this stage with your kids, this is a perfect way to engage and get to know more people, especially when your children hit it off with other kids. Playdates, swimming clubs, parks and outdoor activities. Hosting playdates gives you some street cred and ability to claim back some time later when you want to ask for it.
If you stay in one place for long enough, some of these very early friendships can be life long friendships. Some of my oldest mummy friends now, are those back in NZ and Australia from when we were 5 years old.
Church or local community groups
Obviously this is a very personal choice, but it’s not even about attending church every week to build yourself a support network. Local churches quite often hold playgroups, or coffee mornings. And local community groups, especially if you’re in a foreign country where you might be able to do language exchanges or volunteer if you want to give something back, even better if it’s something you can take the kids with you.
Professional childcare, babysitters or nannies
We have had to do this in absolutely desperate times, when there simply is no other option, and you need to leave the kids with someone. Of course there’s a cost involved, which makes nights out or last minute plans a little expensive, and again, this completely depends on your personal circumstances. But it’s always good to have as backup. Dip into those WhatsApp groups, ask other mummies if they have any good childminding contacts, referred ones are always the best ones, and it’s also a cheaper way than using an agency to find a nanny when you need one.
And when all else fails…..
As cliche as it sounds, you have each other. Parenting puts a whole new level of strain on your relationship, but when you’re a family without family around, YOU’RE IT, and somehow, you all have to keep it together. I don’t have the magic formula, but as well as making the effort to spend time together as a family, make time for yourselves, utilise those friends, even just for a couple of hours to go for a drive without the kids, or a drink locally.
Look after each other and look out for each other.
*Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are entirely of my own and in no way represent the opinions of any entity or other individuals.