First of all, I love my extended family. Hanging out with them is one of my very favorite things to do, and fewer things make me happier than setting my children loose with their cousins. We recently returned from a lengthy visit back home, and I am still basking in the glorious-ness of it all.
However, circumstances--ie, work--have dictated that we live far away from both sides of our family. It is hard, and I admit that I am often a bit envious of friends with family close by...and not just for the (free!) babysitting.
Yet in an effort to be optimistic, I try to turn that twinge of jealousy into something positive. There are plenty of benefits for those of us Memphis transplants.
My parents were the ones who moved away, so I don't know what it's like to see my grandparents on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. What I do know is how exciting it is arrive at their house and enjoy the kind of hospitality only Grandma and Grandpa can provide, a mixture of both comfortable familiarity and special occasion all wrapped into one. I am so happy my kids get to experience that, too.
Quality over Quantity: Since we live a day's drive from one side of the family and a cross-country plane trip from the other, we try to spend at least a week visiting. This ensures that we have plenty of time to get over any travel fatigue and also settle into a bit of a routine. We also stay with family rather than a hotel, so when we
invade visit, we can quickly restore a sense of intimacy. Our girls know that if they wake up early at Grandma's, they go to her room first (Grandma has approved this plan).
Hospitable Hosts: The road goes both ways, so not only do we get to visit our family, but we also have the opportunity to host them. We love hosting and have dreams of opening a bed and breakfast if we ever get to retire. It's so fun to show off our favorite places to our guests, like the park, the big park (Overton), the really big park (Shelby Farms), and the cupcake store (Muddy's), to name a few. It's like a mini-staycation for us as well.
Holidays: Without family in town, we have slightly more control on how we get to spend our holidays. With the exception of the year I was 8+ months pregnant, we have always traveled for Christmas. My family is in the Midwest, and my husband's is in the Northwest, so we alternate between the two. The result is that we can settle in a little more and focus on a smaller group, rather than frantically running around to celebrate seventeen different Christmases. For holidays when it's not feasible to travel, we get to dictate what we want to do--celebrate with friends or just our little family. This freedom is not something I had considered a benefit until I heard a friend with family in town lament all the places they were expected to be over the 4th of July. Since no one expects us to be anywhere, any time we do show up, it's a bonus.
There's No Such Thing as Free Babysitting: This one is tough. It would be so nice to call up Grandma any time we need a sitter for an appointment, a meeting, or a night out. However, since that perk is not available to us, we have resorted to more creative measures. First of all, especially when our babies were small, we just took them everywhere with us. Perhaps not always ideal, it did expose them to new places and things, making them more adaptable as they figured out how to act in a restaurant, in a store, or in a church pew, for example. Another solution to the babysitting conundrum has been our participation in a babysitting co-op. I cannot say enough good things about this group. Basically, in return for "free" babysitting, we agree to watch other people's children. As an added bonus, each sit turns into a playdate for the kids. Everybody wins!
Guilt-Free Time: Speaking of babysitting, another benefit I had not considered is the lack of guilt I feel when I do take advantage of the occasional offer of a family member to babysit. I don't want to imply that those who are lucky enough to have family willing to watch their kids regularly should feel guilty--lots of grandparents beg for the opportunity, which is awesome--I just know that I have a tendency to feel guilty about everything. As another local friend pointed out, the majority of her interactions with her relatives include the business-like nature of dropping off or picking up her kids. She said that she rarely gets to just hang out with her family, something that we take for granted when visiting back home.
Birds of a Feather: Finally, moving to this city has forced us to be more outgoing. We can't rely on our family or life-long friends for our social life, so we have had to make a real effort to seek out community. For this, we have been richly rewarded and have made new life-long friends, especially with other newcomers who are also trying to put down roots. Memphis is a very social place with groups for just about any interest, but I'm not sure how hard we would have tried to meet new people if we could still hang out with our family and high school friends whenever we want.
So, fellow Memphis transplants, take heart. Living far from family has its own benefits...you just have to know where to look