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Midweek Musings: What’s the Perfect Distance from Extended Family?

Last week I had a play date with a friend who also has two kids, except her youngest is only 6 months old and her oldest is nearly 3 – a period of life when a mama can always use some extra help (But that’s kind of all the time isn’t it? A period of time when a mama can especially use extra help?).  She was having one of those pull-your-hair-out/go-cry-in-the-corner kind of days we’ve all had.  And over coffee she was lamenting that none of her extended family lives in-state to help out on a moment’s notice.

We also don’t have any extended family in town, though both my husband’s parents and my own live about 2 hours away (yes, they’re in the same town and yes, my hubby and I were high school sweet hearts – though I rarely tell people because it makes me feel like a big cheese ball).  Naturally the conversation with my friend degenerated a bit (as they tend to do in times of stress) into comparisons of ourselves to other moms we know who do in fact have family in town.  The question became, “What’s the perfect distance for extended family?”. 

We both have friends who regularly leave their kids with their own mothers or MILs in order to work, run errands, or head to the gym – and we’re both a little green with envy over that kind of freedom. Still, I have to say I’m not sure being in the same town as my parents and in-laws would always be perfect either.

Due to grad school, my husband and I spent the first 5 years of our marriage on the other side of the country, somewhat inoculated from our parents.  And in a lot of ways I think it was a really good thing for us, especially at the start of our marriage, to have that space.

Our primary reason for moving back to the west coast once I was pregnant was indeed to be closer to family.  And, although we loved Nashville, we’ve never regretted it.  Our kids adore their grandparents and aunts and love every minute they spend with them. (Although neither aunt lives close now.)  Also, we missed our family being so far away.

For me 2 hours away isn’t bad.  Though I don’t have the luxury of routinely dropping the kids off and popping to the gym, I do know that I have family nearby if I need them. And I have – post-labor and once when I was bedridden for a week with a back injury. Plus I’ve always been a pretty independent spirit (when I’d go away to summer camp as a girl my parents would have to rely on the letters my friends wrote home to find out how I was because it never really occurred to me to write my own letters) and I’ve always been one to value my personal space.

Still, I can’t help but covet a regular date night or the chance to sleep in every once in a while. Plus, there is a mountain pass between us and our parents and we don’t always see them as much as we’d like.

Question of the Day

Do you have extended family in town? Do you wish you did?  What’s the ideal distance for you?

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Tiffany February 27, 2013 at 12:20 am

My husband and I both moved back to our hometown after college/early 20s adventures to be close to family. Years apart, but it is one of the things that brought us together. Even though I was only a ferry ride away from home, it was never the same. So, now we have a 2 year old son and 6 week old daughter. Both of our parents live less than 10 minutes away and my in laws are retired. As a stay at home mom it is perfect to have someone there when I have a dr appt or hair cut. Or now just when I need a little help. We are also really really close w both of our families. At least 3 nights a week are spent at one of their houses. I could see how this would be way too much for some, but we enjoy it.

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Christine February 27, 2013 at 12:37 am

We’re in an entirely different continent to our family – we’re in the US and they’re back home in the UK. There are many times that I wish that we were closer: when I’m up half the night with a cold-filled baby and I need a nap; when my husband broke his tibia; when we just want a date night. But for us, at the moment, our amazing lives here make the distance worth it. But ask me again when we have another baby…

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mpmk February 27, 2013 at 2:34 am

Ha, which goes back to last week’s “midweek musing” ;)

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Keri February 27, 2013 at 12:45 am

Though I do believe that the answer depends on the family, I am blessed with a close family. My father lives with us and my brother and his family (which includes a wonderful SIL and my nieces (13 & 14 yrs old) and nephew (8 yrs old) live across the street and four houses down. I work full-time and often spend 3.5 – 4 hrs in traffic a day and consider myself lucky to have so much help. My father picks my daughter up from daycare 3 times a week and my mother who is 20 miles away often takes her a couple times a month. If my sister in law watches her, I get the most detailed report and she spends every moment she can playing/teaching her. Though sometimes having my father so close is too much, I wouldn’t trade on the time my daughter gets to spend with family for anything.

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mpmk February 27, 2013 at 2:37 am

That’s great that you have all that support Keri. I didn’t mention it above but my sister did live here for the first three years of C’s life and for the first year of S’s. It was amazing to have the help and support and I miss it and her a lot!!

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KK February 27, 2013 at 1:01 am

We live within 30 minutes from both my family and my husband’s family (and our families’ family as well). This is both a blessing and a curse. My mom watches our children during the day which saves us a fortune and gives me peace of mind because I know they are with the best. However, it can be difficult to live so close to both families, particularly around holidays, because the expectation is that we will make everything because we are in town. This means having Christmas with both families on Christmas Eve and Christmas. It means getting questioned if we cannot make it for a birthday party. It can be frustrating to give up so much of our immediate family time in order to make all the external gatherings.

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Kelly February 27, 2013 at 1:33 am

We chose to live in Germany when our families are back in the US. Sometimes I’m devastatingly jealous of the people who have family to rely on, but I would have to move back home to be near them. Some days I think I should send my kids back so that they at least know who their grandparents are, but this is where our life is. I chose this path and have to live with it. Luckily, the reasons we are here always overpower those temporary longings. We are absolutely blessed by God to be here doing what we’re doing. (We’re doing church work over here.) I know he’ll see us through the family issues too.

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mpmk February 27, 2013 at 2:33 am

It’s very common these days for parents to have to make choices that are best for their family but take them away from their own parents. I feel for you Kelly, I’m not looking for an “Everybody Loves Raymond” situation but I’d be so sad if my kids didn’t know their grandparents.

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Rachel February 27, 2013 at 2:13 am

Can you do a post on what the perfect frequency is to see/talk with extended family? I have the opposite problem: family who live an hour away but we don’t see them often – sometimes months go by… We have three kids under 5 and I would love a mormimg off or two!

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mpmk February 27, 2013 at 2:31 am

If I’m hearing you right it sounds like you’re disappointed in the amount of effort your family puts into helping you out and seeing the kids? Are you looking for ways to talk to them about it?

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Rachel February 28, 2013 at 7:02 pm

You’re right, I am really disappointed that my reality doesn’t match with what I dreamt of — grandparents being very involved with their grandchildren’s lives.

I’m always curious to know how much people keep in touch with family to know if what I experience is unusual or not and if my expectations are unrealistic. (We don’t have the problem of not getting on with family – when we get together everyone gets on fine, and they adore their grandchildren.)

It seems as though everyone else has too much on their schedules with work and other social events on the weekends so the visits we do get always are short and have a fixed endtime. I’ve brought it up on a number of occasions and they say they will try harder to make time but nothing changes.

I guess I’m just hoping for is a way to get over the disappointment and not let it bug me.

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Rachel February 28, 2013 at 7:02 pm

Ack, can you remove my photo from my comment please?

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mpmk February 28, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Rachel,

I think you have to change your profile to get the photo not to appear?

Rachel February 28, 2013 at 8:05 pm

It’s tied to my email… I should have used a different email I guess.

Gina February 27, 2013 at 11:06 am

I think it depends on the family. I think if we lived close to my mom once a week would be nice – maybe Sunday dinners?
Do you not see them often because they dont come to your house? Because you wont take them to their house? Because no one offers to visit?

Depending on “why” you dont see them the answer could be different.

My sister lives near my mom and its my moms opinion that my sister should bring the kids to her, not vice versa. Not sure why she feels this way but she does. Anyway was just thinking if that could be your issue. Maybe you can make the effort and say “hey mom/MIL I want to bring the kids by on Wed….would that work?” Or say “Hey mom/MIL would you be interested in coming up for the day on Tuesday – I know the kids would love to see you!”

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Rachel February 28, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Oh those are good questions for me to think over. It’s almost always us going to them and it’s almost always left up to us to organize visits or initiate contact (my mom has called me a couple of times in the past 10 years, I think she dislikes the phone rather than it being personal). Finding a time when they are free is really tough they have a *lot* of work commitments, church and social engagements. I think it’d be different if they were retired.

We used to go to their house for the family Friday night dinner, it was wonderful. Then they moved further away and by the time my husband finishes work (we have one car), and I drive over there in rush hour, it’s just before 7 when the kids go to bed and my parents have to take my grandmother home at 7. Frustrating!!!

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Josephine February 27, 2013 at 7:33 am

Our family lives 18-19 hours away (they are 1 hour from each other so when we travel to see them, it’s still a bit of driving on our end!!) I would LOVE to have them closer!! My husband travels for work, and is currently on a 14 day trip-it gets long with 3 kids at home! In the past I’ve said a day trip was the ideal distance, but the more kids I have and the older I get the closer I want to be ;) TODAY….I would “dream” of 2 hours & I WOULD go have dinner at my Parents house on a random school night just because I could! (My 5 year old and I talk about “dreams” like this when my husband travels!!!)

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Jennifer February 27, 2013 at 7:47 am

I have to admit that I am one of those people that have our parents close by. They used to be 10 minutes away but last year we moved to the next town over so they are about 20-30 minutes away now. We do have them babysit quite a bit and they usually ask to babysit. Score! But as for other extended family like Aunts, Uncles, Cousins and our Grandparents well they are all over the place. That’s just the way I like it because on my side of them family everyone gossips about everyone and it drives me crazy! Never a good thing to say.

I am very thankful to have our parents close by because we would never go out anywhere because we dont know or trust anyone else to babysit in our new town.

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Desiree February 27, 2013 at 8:46 am

I have family (grandparents and my dad) 1.5 hours away and 5 minutes away (step-dad) AND about 10 hours away (mum). I have to say that I LOVE the bit of distance between my grandparents and my family. They tend to be a little bit old fashioned (as grandparents generally are, haha) and have very different views than I do. I love them to death but I like to be in control of when visits are happening. It is great living so close with my step-dad though, he loves getting my daughter for sleep overs and taking her out to do special things but isn’t the type to just pop in unexpectedly. However, I hate my mum living so far away. She IS the type to pop in unexpectedly but it has never bothered me when she does it.

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Chris February 27, 2013 at 8:49 am

His parents and one brother are in town. his other brother lives in the next town over. It caused A LOT of problems early on in our marriage. We didn’t get to learn on our own, always having the interference of his family, or one of them living with us. Now expecting baby #2, it has helped in that I have built-in care for when I have doctor’s appointments due to the type of job/hours my MIL has.

My family lives 400 miles away, but let me tell you that they have literally dropped everything before to be here for me, and can be here within hours. No matter the “emergency”, they really are close enough to be a great help (and many times a better help than my ILs).

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Emily February 27, 2013 at 8:50 am

Hub’s parents are 10 minutes away, my parents are 5 hours away. It’s been nice having his folks so close- love the free babysitting and my kids love having so much time with grandparents- plus it’s nice to we can call them for anything.

All is about to change though as his parents are retiring to Vegas (we’re in Massachusetts now). We’re also considering relocating but don’t know if it will be close to my parents (which I’m pushing for) or somewhere else (but not Vegas). Stresses me out thinking about not being near family- not just because of the convenience but because I think its so important for our kids to be close to their grandparents. Hubby, however, is looking forward to possibly not living near anyone.

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Alyssa February 27, 2013 at 8:51 am

My husband and I just moved back to my home state about a year and a half ago when I was pregnant with our second child. We had lived away from relatives for almost a decade and while we loved were we were (DC area) we definitely missed certain aspects of having family nearby. It was been an adjustment being closer to family and we’ve had to make a concerted effort to make sure we maintain our own family independence but it’s been great to see my kids relationship with their grandparents, aunts, and cousins flourish. And it is nice to have an extra set of hands when I need them or the occasional free babysitting!

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Carla February 27, 2013 at 10:48 am

That’s a hard one. We settled in my home town so that we would have my parents help. It is mostly great but also not nearly as much help as I’d imagined and a fair amount of drama too. I am super close with my family but it can sometimes be too much togetherness. Furthermore, I am quite happy my in laws live further away. I think every situation has its pros and cons.

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Gina February 27, 2013 at 11:01 am

Our closest family members live 3 hours away (my mom and sister) – I agree it would be nice to for my kids to see their gma and cousins more regularly but it is what it is …… It would also be nice to have a free babysitter – haha!

But, I love where we live and wouldnt move “back home” ever…..

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Dawn February 27, 2013 at 12:18 pm

My husband and I also attended high school together, but we are anything but HS sweethearts. He and his mom moved here when he was a teen, but I have lived here my whole life. After college we both returned to our town and eventually got together. My MIL passed away two years ago and it was such a blessing to be 5 minutes from her (walking) when she was in Hospice care. My parents and my sister live less than a mile away and our son spends lots of time with my parents. My mom picks him up from school twice a week and he has sleepovers once or twice a month. We even considered buying the house next door to my parents when it comes up for sale this year (the owners are like family), but it needs too much work. My parents are not the Barones, so it has been a good fit. I grew up with a very old (78 when I was born) grandmother 4 hours away and a younger set of grandparents halfway across the country, so I felt it was important to be near our parents. Of course, we also travel to Mexico with my folks about once a year, so clearly we like them.

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Casey February 27, 2013 at 1:29 pm

I can’t imagine not having any family close by. I grew up with 2 sets of grandparents as neighbors and saw them all the time. I LOVED it.

We have 1 little one and live w/in 20 mins of my in-laws (parents and siblings) and my sister. My parents live about 2 hours away. As someone above said – when we first got married there was way too much meddling from my in-laws for me. We were constantly getting their opinions pushed on us and it was hard to be independent and make our own decisions. Now, however it’s nice having them close and the help when we need/want it.

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Mom @ Three is Plenty February 27, 2013 at 2:36 pm

We’re anywhere from an hour to 4 hours away from grandpa (we live on the west side of the DC metro area, and he lives on the far north side of Baltimore, and traffic can be more than a nightmare). And about 4 hours away from grandma (not so much traffic between us and grandma). I think it’s a perfect distance. It’s far enough that we don’t have family members dropping in unannounced, but close enough that we can go for a weekend (or even a very long day). It doesn’t hurt that grandma is retired and willing to make the drive to us every once in a while and stay for a long weekend or a week. Grandpa just retired, so we’re expecting to see more of him.

Growing up, I was about 3000 miles from my grandparents, and we only saw them once, maybe twice a year. And when I was in college, I was 8 hours from my parents in undergrad, and 20 minutes in grad school. So I’ve lived with both the too far and too close situations.

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Sarah Gannon February 27, 2013 at 4:20 pm

I think the ideal distance totally depends on the relationships you have with your extended family. I love having my parents two miles away – and honestly wouldn’t mind if they were next door – but I think that’s because they do such a good job of treating us like independent adults, and never giving advice unless we ask for it. My inlaws are two hours away, which in my opinion is a good distance for the relationship I have with them. :-)

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@HilaryFleming February 27, 2013 at 4:57 pm

So we are little crazy and we literally live NEXT DOOR to my in-laws. We had lived all over California and once I had my second child (they are now 3 and 7 months) I was sick of doing the 2 1/2 hour drive to the in-laws once a month. My husband and I talked about him looking for a job closer to family and when one opened up we moved. His parents really stay our of our business and are very easy going which, I’m sure is why it works. It was serendipitous that our in-laws had just bought and renovated the house next door to them. They were planning on selling it but the deal fell through at the exact time we were looking for a place to live. So now we live next door (renting) and I couldn’t be happier. We are going on 6 months in this place and it’s so amazing to have help nearby. I don’t plan on staying in this house forever, but I love having family close by. The only downside is that I don’t make as many friends since most of our social activities are with family. Overall though, It’s seriously awesome–especially with our kids being at such high maintenance stages.

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Ren February 27, 2013 at 6:03 pm

My sisters and parents have been amazing in helping with our 2 newborns. My husband and I both work full-time, travel, etc and my sister is their nanny (along with her 2 kids). I know we are lucky – I am a huge proponent of speaking positively about extended family and they support they can provide.

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Sarai February 27, 2013 at 6:39 pm

I can relate to being green with envy of other’s situations- my mom passed away from cancer and though she never met my daughter, she was a wonderful grandparent to my son and nieces. After her death, we moved our family specifically to be closer to what was left of our family, hoping to cultivate family ties and relationships- but the remaining grandparents have chosen to not really be involved with their grandchildren’s lives, or ours, really. I shouldn’t be surprised; our fathers weren’t particularly attentive, so perhaps our hope was misplaced. Its a bitter pill to swallow, though, since my mom was such a wonderful mother and grandmother. I live in a lovely community where I so often see grandparents going on walks with their grandchildren and my heart aches knowing that my kids will never experience that type of relationship with my mom gone. None of my kids’ remaining grandparents have ever spent time alone with their grandchildren, though they are in good health and fully capable. It’s a disappointment for sure, but I just have to keep focused on being the best mama I can and take comfort in the fact that I know my husband and I will the most AWESOME grandparents EVER!!!! :)

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Kelly February 27, 2013 at 8:26 pm

I am fortunate to live close to both sides of the our families ~15/25mins but I’m the kind of person that doesn’t ask for them to watch my kids all the time. I personally don’t feel like it is my parents or in laws job to watch my kids and rarely have them watch them, they have their own lives and already raised children. We do see them quite often as a group And it keeps us busy. I love both my parents and in laws but my kids were our decision and I wouldn’t impose on them all the time to watch my kiddos. During the holidays it is crazy but I wouldnt change it.

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Heidi @ Make Ready February 27, 2013 at 9:52 pm

My husband and I are pretty much on our own; his family lives 14 hours away and mine is about 8 hours away. On especially rough days, I sometimes get pretty close to tears thinking about how much easier it would be if we had relatives just down the street. But then I remember everything I love about where we live and the freedom we have given ourselves. If we lived near my family, our social calendar would be overridden with extended family obligations pretty quickly. Any free time I might have gained by moving closer would promptly be gobbled up by these obligations.

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Sarah February 27, 2013 at 10:15 pm

I’d like to live no more than an hour away from my whole family. That way I could have Friday night sleepovers with my niece and nephew – two of the greatest loves of my whole life! <3

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k February 27, 2013 at 11:19 pm

I guess I’m weird. we live less than 45 minutes for my parents &MIL and I wish we lived farther from them. We are nagged constantly about not seeing the grandkids enough or not making family events. And when we do see them we hear about physical ailments or sit in silence. Now exactly how I want to spend my precious time with my husband and kids.

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sarai February 28, 2013 at 8:20 am

I think it really all does depend on your relationships and how personalities blend together, and whether or not everyone’s needs/desires are being met. Kind of like marriages I guess. Some couples just absolutely adore each other’s company; others can’t stand to be in the same room.

I guess what I really want (distance aside) is for everyone to love each other and to enjoy spending time together. I do think that being close makes that a little easier to do.

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Mia February 28, 2013 at 10:25 am

In laws are 9 hours away; my parents are four hours away. I couldn’t stand to be in the same town as my parents. Too much drama! My in-laws I could bear to have 2 or 3 hours away. I’m a very private person, so I’m glad our families aren’t too close. It’d be nice to have extra help, but the trade offs aren’t quite worth it to me.

It’d be nice to have functional extended family — my husband is an only child with no cousins, and my side of the family is a train wreck. So it gets a little lonely sometimes.

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Anna March 2, 2013 at 10:32 am

My in-laws live about 1.5 hours away and I actually wish they lived closer. However, it is nice that they are close enough that we see them about once a month, and they are wonderful about watching the kids for us if we want to take a vacation or go out of town overnight.
My parents live in Florida during most of the year, and have a condo in the town I live in and live up here during the summer. This is good because it gives me the best of both worlds – I get the close family and free babysitting and my kids get a closer relationship with their grandparents. But my mom can be very opinionated and overwhelming at times, so when they leave in the fall I’m ready for them to go and to get some independence back.

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Adriane April 19, 2013 at 4:50 pm

We are over 14 hours from either of our parents right now but that is far closer then the 32 hours we were at the unit before this. We actually like the anonymity of being so far from family. I did not always feel that way especially when our kids were younger (now they are ages 12-3). We see my parents about 3 times a year and they usually come to us. We rarely see my in-laws but that is their choice. It is hard when we miss special events (my brother and his wife just had their first baby). We do wish we were a little closed to home (10 hours would be nice). But all and all we do just fine on our own.

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Cherry May 30, 2013 at 6:05 pm

We are 15-20 minutes away from my in laws and I have to say that it’s either a blessing or something else. It’s nice to have your extended family near enough to leave your kid/s to them when you and your hubby feels like going out on a date once in a while. But everything has its payback. Like us for example, we ask if we can leave our kid to them so we could go out and they said yes, but we have to agree too on some of my MIL’s request. Its okay with us but she also have to understand that my husband’s working and I’m alone taking care of our house and my kid, while she have all of her other children with her. We can compromise on one to two requests but not all..

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