Extended Family - Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My husband may have an opportunity to re-locate for work in a few months.

I’m the part-time professional, and could really work just about anywhere. My concern is that where we are now our children have access to grandparents, a couple of aunts and uncles, some great aunts and great uncles, and a half dozen cousins. In addition to our children having to make new friends and adjust to a new school I am worried about how the lack of extended family will affect us. We do a lot together, including counting on family members as babysitters.
Your thoughts?

Rooted

Dear Rooted,

Family members provide an intimate social network when they surround you and your children, fulfilling many needs. How good are YOU at making new friends?

Caring Caregivers
Parenting is a 24-hour, 7-days a week responsibility. When neither father nor mother can be present, however, there needs to be a well-qualified replacement. You’ve been fortunate that there are family members to fill in when you need a sitter. How will you find replacements for these replacements? Some communities have established baby-sitting cooperatives – mostly for children younger than school-age, though. Other avenues to pursue would be immediate neighbors – teens, retirees, parents of new playmates – or to explore and forge relationships through faith-based / ethnic / issues groups as discussed below. Your husband’s job might also be a source of personal referrals for reliable and competent individuals who can become like family. Their qualifications include having a family member or close friend who works with your husband. You are looking for a long-term relationship that grows from some enduring connection. An honorary grandparent, aunt/uncle or older cousin will hold your children close through the years. That’s a lot more than a marginally qualified sitter will do.

Culture / Religion / Ethnicity / Political Leanings
Most families are comprised of individuals who have much in common. They may share cultural bonds shaped by religion, ethnicity, and or politics which influence their shared beliefs and customs. Even if a mix of views and practices is represented, there are likely to be threads that tie the family group together such that overarching values and seasonal traditions can be easily identified. The family itself certainly pulls together to help one another, but may also join hands for volunteer work, charity drives, and other efforts to help people outside the family.
Staying in your present community your children would benefit from the extended family’s constant reinforcement of these values and traditions. If you move, you will need to locate and engage with social structures that will affirm the kinds of cultural teachings you’d like your children to have. This might be through faith-based organizations, heritage associations, or groups addressing specific issues affecting the community, the nation, and or the world. Scouts is one way for children to get the idea that they can make the world a better place. Or you might look for adult service clubs that include members’ children in their service projects.

Family Fun
You probably depend on a full schedule of planned and impromptu activities from your large tight-knit extended family. There may be frequent birthday and anniversary celebrations, and milestone festivities such as graduations. Family members may enjoy leisure-time pursuits with one another, comfortably including children in the mix. When you move there will be a two-part gap to fill in: the people and the activities. There will be people all around, but you’re looking for some your family can enjoy spending time with. Start out just doing activities your family already enjoys – picnics in the park, for example, and be on the lookout for situations that would connect you with other families. Some parks hold family programs (concerts, ranger talks, nature walks) at which a picnic could logically co-occur. Pack along something to share just in case you find a compatible family in attendance! Food is a great ice-breaker between two families with similarly aged children. Be ready to suggest meeting again at the next family program at the park. Hopefully this can lead to a lasting friendship between your families such that you don’t need a program as a reason to meet up for picnicking.

As a compromise, and assuming your husband’s new position comes with a pay increase, think about using your increased financial resources toward the cost of traveling “home” to rejoin everyone for special occasions or just because you miss them. Increased financial resources could also go toward bringing the grands or a segment of the family that includes some cousins to come stay for a while.

There is a lot to consider when contemplating giving up the easily accessed web of relatives you now enjoy.

Dr. Debbie

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