Sunday, July 15, 2012

Family and distance

When I was about six months pregnant with my first daughter, I got in huge argument with my father. Because he lived so far away me, he wanted to book plane tickets to visit the baby well in advance, and he decided he was going to come on the day before I was due, and stay for a week.

I was not happy. Since it was my first pregnancy, I fully expected to deliver a week late and he'd miss the whole thing. And then be hanging around me while I was very heavily pregnant, and expecting to go out a lot. Plus I didn't really want my family (other than my husband) around when I was actually in labor.

We argued back and forth. Finally, I lied and said that they'd done an ultrasound and changed my due date to a week later. That convinced him.

I ended up delivering on time, but it actually worked out well having him there a week later, since that was when I was at my most sleep-deprived and grateful for the help.

At the same time, my mother traveled great distance to see her first grandchild for the first time. Unfortunately, she came down with a really nasty cold. I was terrified of having her near my newborn with that cold. I imagined the baby spiking a fever and ending up in the ER, and having to get an LP or something. But my mother was not exactly cool with the fact that she'd spent so much money traveling to see the baby, and now she had to stay away from her. She was angry at me for months over that one. (We still haven't decided who was right.)

I don't think I realized before I had kids how important it is to be near family. Other things that were annoying about living thousands of miles from any family members:

1) They didn't visit often

2) When they visited, the trips lasted for freaking ever until I couldn't take it another minute

3) When there was an emergency, we had no back-up we really trusted

4) No free babysitting

5) When one of us was sick, there was nobody around to give us a break aside from each other.

When I graduated from residency, my number one priority was to move closer to family. Right now, we live less than an hour's drive from my in-laws and much closer to my family too. It's not exactly right around the corner, but boy, does it make a huge difference. This time when I went into labor, I had a family member who came that very day to watch Mel. My parents were able to quickly make travel plans after I gave birth, and still arrived before I was discharged from the hospital.

We have family visiting almost every other weekend, which gives us a much needed break. When one of the kids is sick, I can often call my in-laws to come watch them if I know the night before.

I know other people who live in the same town or even the same house as family members. When I was younger, that would have been unacceptable to me, but now I'm jealous of those people. It's amazing how much of a difference having nearby family can make.


  1. This is a subject of much bitterness in my family. My husband and I would love to have more kids but given our respective family situations we have to pay for any help we get. His relatives are really into babies and would love to help (almost excessively), but they live overseas, and when they visit, tend to stay for over a month (shoot me now). My own parents (there are no other relatives) aren't into being babysitters and have mobility problems.

    Sometimes I want to strangle people who look incredulous when I say how difficult the first couple of months with a newborn have been for us. These people always have multiple relatives within a 60 minute drive who provide free babysitting several times per week. Of course it was easier for them. My baby is almost 6 months old, and my husband and I STILL haven't gone on a "date" (which in our case would probably be a swim or walk sans baby) since she was born.

    So yes, if you have relatives who are into babysitting, DO take advantage of that fact and live near them. If you don't, get ready to pay a lot extra in childcare.

    1. Exactly. When we talk about relocating in the future for jobs, I refuse to move anywhere further than an hour away from a family member until at least one of the kids are teenagers.

  2. Oh Fizzy, you will need them even more when you have teenagers!

    1. Really? I didn't see my grandparents much when I was a teenager.

  3. My parents live about 30 minutes from us; my in-laws live 2500 miles away. However, even though my parents are nearby and enjoy spending time with my son, we find that we actually prefer to pay for childcare most of the time. When you hire someone, you have much more say about what happens while you are away. For example, one night I sent my son to my parents' house for a few hours and packed dinner for him, including some homemade organic asparagus puree, which he loved at the time; Grandma decided asparagus was "too old" for babies and fed him Gerber fruit puree instead. All grandmas I know think it's their right to spoil kids this way. It's fine when it's an occasional thing but not so good when it's happening on a more regular basis. It is even harder with my in-laws: when we have made specific requests, we have been flat-out told, "You can do it your way; I will keep doing it mine." The argument, of course, is that doing it their way has led to hours and hours on a therapist's couch! But is that an argument that we really want to have on an on-going basis?

    I also find that, because my son, who is 14 months old, is used to being cared for by different sitters (he has a regular nanny during the day, but we use a few different sitters at other times), he is very outgoing and adjusts quickly to new situations. When we are on vacation, for example, we can hire a sitter through a placement service, and he is totally comfortable. I have noticed that my friends whose children are primarily cared for by grandparents lack this flexibility, and as a result, my friends get less time alone with their spouses. Of note, these friends are also much less comfortable with the idea of a non-family-member caring for their child (and seem to think we're crazy for leaving our son with background-checked, experienced childcare professionals), so I suppose the separation anxiety goes both ways.

    For us, childcare is a huge part of our monthly budget, but accepting that fact and using hired help liberally has made us much happier parents with a very happy, secure toddler who knows that there are many, many people who love him. Obviously, not everyone can afford to do things the way we have, but I see paid childcare as an important investment for the health of a family. Heavy reliance on grandparents and other family members isn't always an adequate substitute.

    1. My MIL Completely. Destroyed. any good sleep habits we had instilled in our daughter. For us, paying for childcare has meant that our baby sleeps through the night (like for 12 hour stretches as opposed to waking up every 2 hours) at 5 months. I don't think I need to tell you how worth it that has been.

    2. It probably depends on the grandparents and/or the sitter. Some babysitters won't do what you want them to do, will cancel at the last minute (happened to me a few times), or will leave the house a mess.

  4. During both my pregnancies I was approached by med students, residents, and fellows, all of whom wanted to know "how I was doing it" in regards to childcare. Most wanted to know because they themselves wanted to start families and didn't see how the logistics of medical training and early childcare worked.

    My answer was always the same. It doesn't work. Living near family is HUGE. Or plan to pay a lot for childcare - probably live-in care if you are a resident or your husband's job isn't flexible. This might not be true for everyone in all circumstances, but it was for us. Then I tell them that I lived with my mother-in-law for the first 1.5 years of my daughters life - in a two bedroom apartment. While my husband traveled. My mother-in-law is a lovely person, but this was far from ideal. Our situation is better now that I am a fellow (and my husband doesn't travel as much) , but still, we are planning to move near my family as soon as I am done training.

    Aside from the childcare benefit of living near grandparents, I am also excited that my kids will have a relationship with their grandparents - I didn't grow up near any family and feel like I missed out.

    1. I definitely feel like Mel missed out by not having more grandparents experience during her first couple of years.

  5. This has been huge for me too. In my first marriage we were only an hour away from other family members but we hardly ever saw them becuase my husband didn't get along with my family. I have really seen how difficult it can be because I was a single mother with 3 chidren and I live over 3 hours from 1 sister and the reast were nine hours away. I have not gone on any trips to nearby attractions b/c I can't handle 3 children alone. Going away for conferences required a family member to fly into town and stay for the week. I am remarried now and we have 4 children..more excitingly my sister just gave birth to her first child so my daughters now have a cousin. When it came time to choose a job after fellowship the most importantfactor was proximity to family. In fact I chose the least lucrative offer because it was 2 hours to family and we could easily make a weekend out of it. I have been lucky that my family respects my wishes with regards to my children. But i have also seen the other side with my ex mother in law completely disregarding my wishes. Luckily since she is blind she could never e left alone with the child so i didn't have to worry about her giving my infant daughter water and now at 7 and 3 there isn't too much fatal she can do so I grin and bear it. Oh and I also had the experience about colds and newborns with my mother and law and I think that you are right fizzy. You wouldn't let a friend visit so why should there be an exception. I was so mad that my exhusband brought her to stay at my house (i mean first of all shes your mother and we're not married anymore so she's your problem and second of all, i have a newborn...i don't need another person to take care of). I had to wait on her hand and foot but at least she was too sick to give me any advice neverminds that this was my second child. And just in case ou were wondering 3 out of my 4 children were born during training, the first during intern year and the 3rd and 4th during my fellowship so it is doable. Sorry for the rant


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