When your family live in a whole different country, parenting can throw even more challenges your way, as Samantha Dooey-Miles knows well…
Becoming a parent seems like one of the most grown up things you could possibly do. It’s up there with marrying another human, buying property and telling people you refuse to step foot in a nightclub ever again because they are too damn loud. Which makes it odd that it also leads to you suddenly relying on your family more than you have since you were a child. They are the people you can bother for advice on what you need to buy for the baby, can pester without shame for babysitting and check for reassurance that you’re doing a good job on the days you’re not sure if you are. This means that if your family are not close by, you have another hard thing to deal with alongside if what you think is a swaddle is in fact a swaddle. The distance, whatever it is between you and them, is hard but there are ways to cope.
Living in this day and age gets a bad rap with constant political chat and Mel and Sue quitting Bake Off but it has given us Skype, FaceTime, What’sApp or your preferred video call provider I’m not techy enough to have heard of. As long as your WiFi connection is decent, so don’t try and do this in my back bedroom, you and baby can chat with your family pretty much face-to-face. The only differences from reality being the screen and your eyes flicking to the corner box checking your own face out to make sure you look together enough to reassure your mum you’re doing ok. Baby will think it’s all very weird and confusing but as they grow up they’ll get used to it.
Going on holiday with your family, or your in-laws, can sound hellish and like the thing deep lifelong family rifts are made from but this is not the case. Promise. Well, not for everyone. They’re a way to spend a prolonged, fun period of quality time together. Not only that but with grandparents or other family with you the holiday comes with in-built babysitting – hurrah. If your family live continents away a holiday in a location in the middle or that is cheap for both of you to travel to may also ease a financial burden of travel to say, Australia from the UK or vice versa.
Share the burden of travel
I am from Scotland and have lived in London for almost an entire decade. Which is amazing as to look at me you’d think I wasn’t a day past 23. During the seven years where I lived away from home without a child my parents practically never visited me. I was the one booking flights and trains to visit home every six to eight weeks. When the baby came, magically everyone could find capacity to ease the burden of travelling from me and we now share it. Sharing the travelling limits the number of flights where I have to sit in fear I am going to be the owner of the child that irritates the plane with their screaming. For that alone it is worth it.
Teaching your culture to your kid
Closely linked to becoming a parent and missing your family will be missing where you are from. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Newcastle when you’re a Birmingham native or if you have moved from Rome to Romford, there is always going to be something about home that you simply cannot find in the new location. Be it phrases that are used or an entirely different language. It might seem too early to teach baby about where you are from if they’re not even talking yet but in amongst the daily barrage of nonsense you chat to them about, fitting in time to describe what it looks like where you’re from when you’re out on a walk, reading them books in your native tongue, weaning them on baby friendly food from your part of the world will all make you and your child feel connected to the place you are from.
Book in big moments together
On both sides of the equation there will be a sense from time to time that people are missing out on special moments that cannot be recreated or lived again. First steps, first words, first time they throw a tantrum. From the perspective of your family far away from the baby they can feel they are missing watching them grow no matter how good the resolution is on their screen during FaceTime. It can be hard to book in time to spend together because of work commitments and expense and other general life stuff. To a certain extent that cannot be changed but if there are vital moments that will really hurt to miss out on – a big birthday, a wedding, a family reunion – you should endeavour to plan and save for it as soon as you know when it is happening. Ask your family to give you a heads-up as soon as anything is in the planning process and it won’t come as a financial surprise and is less likely to clash with something else you’ve booked in.
I am not for a second saying your own family can easily be replaced. Having said that, use your local friends or in-laws to satisfy roles that you require in your life as a new parent without guilt. Sandra from Baby Ballet is not going to be a replacement for your sister in lots of ways but if you need a companion you can tell absolutely everything to face-to-face and hear an honest response back from then maybe she’s it. Your own family are the only ones who know about your goth stage and the chunky highlights you favoured for longer than was fashionable but you need a support network that is physically close so try and create the next best thing.