Why I Love Our Small Family: Our extended family isn’t nearby, but that’s okay. Here’s why:
I grew up in small town northern Michigan, where it seemed like we were either related to, or close family friends with, everyone. Even though our family unit was only 4 — my mom, dad, sister and me — we had enough grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and shirttail cousins to ensure our house was always filled with family. I loved growing up this way, having family members as babysitters, cousins as some of my best friends, and spending the night at my grandma’s house but knowing my parents could come pick me up in 10 minutes if needed.
So when I picked up and moved to Texas, literally on the other side of the country from my family, I did so knowing that my family experience, and that of my future children, would be very different. Initially, when my husband and I got married, we were living in the same town as his parents and siblings, but within a year we had moved away from South Texas and to Austin for job opportunities and school. We moved to a city where we not only didn’t have any relatives, but also didn’t know anyone.
We had to become our own (small) family.
Our first year here in Austin was HARD. I had a part time job lined up when we got here, and my husband spent the first month searching, applying, and interviewing. He found a job; mine ended with summer arriving. I applied for PT school, he worked long days. We supported each other in a way we may not have needed to, if we had family nearby.
When I lived near my parents, I called my dad every time I had a car issue, or a question about taxes, or my bills. Moving to a new city away from family, I really learned to depend on my husband in a way I might not have otherwise. Living near my husband’s family, we might have depended on them more for meals, as my mother-in-law is a much better cook than I am. But I learned to cook. I learned to make some of the things my husband missed from home, but also introduced him to new foods. I started taking more initiative in meal planning and cooking.
We became more self-sufficient as a family because we had to.
We’ve also had a chance to create our own traditions. My childhood memories include elaborate decorations and traditions for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter; my husband’s do not. Rather than choosing one of our respective sets of traditions, we’ve intentionally discussed the way we would celebrate holidays. We’ve started our own traditions rather than doing the easy thing of sticking to one of our family’s methods just because we were near them.
When our little one came along, we had the opportunity to decide new things about how we would raise her. And while I absolutely needed some advice from our parents, it has been wonderful to be able to make the majority of our decisions about things like breastfeeding, diapering, childcare, when to introduce foods, without feeling watched or critiqued (because that’s what I unfortunately default to feeling when I get too much advice from anyone). We’ve also had to rely on each other more than if we had family nearby, because (and mom, when you read this, you know I’m telling the truth) grandparents living within an hour would mean at least one day a week at their house. Instead, whenever one of us has an event for work, or church (or Austin Mom’s), we work together and communicate even more than if we had other options.
And really, we have created family here. We are partners (another word for members) at the Austin Stone Community Church, where the people we serve alongside and sit next to in service have become those we go to for help, advice, meals when we got home from the hospital with our daughter, and so much more. I turn to the moms I work with for questions about the rash that randomly showed up on our little one’s neck and what to do when she started biting me now that she has 2 teeth. We had 3 baby showers here in Austin alone because we have so many friends-who-are-now-family.
Even though I have desperately missed being able to drive down the road to see my parents, my sister, or my cousins; even though I wasn’t there when my grandmother passed away; and even though we’ve had to miss out on some of our niece’s milestones, I genuinely love the closeness this has fostered between my husband and me, the relationships we’ve formed with friends at church and work (who have become our family).
To our family who aren’t nearby: please don’t misunderstand; we miss you terribly when we have to go extended periods without seeing you.
How have you dealt with being a small family or not having family nearby? Or, if you have lots of family nearby, do you ever wish you didn’t? Leave a comment below!