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Sunday, April 03, 2005

Power to the presence

Our world is composed of tiny, isolated islands. Each household, each family is on its own when it comes to raising kids. We don't grow up and move down the street from our parents, cousins, best friends. We grow up, move away, and settle in a sea of unfamiliarity hundreds and thousands of miles away from home.

We are not a village. We are not close-knit communities. We are islands living our lives without networks of family to lean on. We are raising our kids without a supportive community. Yes, I have friends. But even then, we barely feel comfortable asking for help.

This is a follow up to my previous post about missing family and the void that just can't seem to get filled. Toddler in Chief's grandparents are not physically present in his life, but they are a constant presence in his life. Phone messages. Email. Hallmark cards. Even though there are miles separating us, there are constant reminders of them. When we are together, they want to be with him, to play on the floor, read books, take him for walks in the stroller, take days off from work to spend with him, ask to keep him overnight.

This is not true for many people, regardless of how much distance is between them and their relatives. Bethany wrote: "We don't live near our respective families either... but when we go to visit, no on even *thinks* to ask to take the little tyke. In fact, if he gets fussy, Mom is immediately called for assistance. Very frustration and disheartening. Aren't grandparents supposed to rush in to spend time with their grandchildren? Must be something in the water, we have to beg our parents to participate."

How are parents supposed to do it on their own? How can grandparents give up the chance to have a special bond with their grandchildren? Don't they remember what it's like to need someone to lean on? If our families feel uncomfortable fulfilling their natural supportive role, how can we feel comfortable when others to want to help out? Shame on you, deadbeat grandparents. If our families--who nurtured us as children--make it unnatural to help raise our children, how can we expect others to want to nurture our children.

Even when we have friends filling in for distant, supportive family, we still don't feel comfortable helping each other out. For example, Attorney Friend is heading out of town for a friend's birthday next weekend. Instead of asking if we could watch her daughter over night, she hired a babysitter. Childcare Development Friend and I have helped each other out a bit when we've been in a pinch and she still says that she "owes me some hours." I'm not keeping score. We're friends and yet helping each other is uncomfortable and we end up feeling indebted.

If only we could anchor our islands together.

5 comments:

  1. Yep. That is all I can say.

    Except--maybe--that I am a terrible writer. Can't seem to get the words right in comments. And now you have me quoted with ugly grammar! :-)

    Thanks for the support. Really. It is amazing that even living in a community (subdivision) that is labeled *close-knit,* I too don't feel comfortable just asking someone to watch my son for a few hours. At least not without fretting over the call for 1/2 the day. And then purchasing a *gift* as payment for the favor.

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  2. Anonymous8:30 PM

    I know, it's a real, real problem - this not asking for help thing. Because you (and I'm speaking of that general second-person "you" here, as in me, but also others like me as well) always like to think that you would be the type of person who would be there to help, but if no one ever asks you and you never ask, then there is no such thing . . . .

    I can relate to Bethany's comments about the fretting and the "gift" as payment.

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  3. I agree with you...and not. I think part of what you describe comes from what we individually project, perhaps without meaning to. We have all seen what mothers can do to each other (i.e. Mommy Madness et al) Perhaps our reluctance to offer help comes partly from fear of "doing it wrong." And our hesitation in asking for help comes from not quite trusting the people around us as much as we'd like to think we do.

    My late m-i-l was more afraid of upsetting her daughters-in-law than of being criticized for not helping. She didn't understand some of their parenting choices, and felt that her way of holding/feeding/changing/interacting with a baby wouldn't be welcomed. Eventually, with my kids at least, she relaxed, and was very comfortable with them, but that was only after I told her "You're the granny. You're entitled." She never did quite get over that fear with the other grandchildren. It was never like that with my own mother and grandmother.
    I usually reach out and take a crying baby, and my neighbours and I do "share" - just last week I was called to come and look at a rash that a friend had never seen before. (because I have older kids, I'm the "experienced" one) And the kids seem to be back and forth all the time. But there are some friends - and family- where I hesitate, because Mom has been so firm and open about her parenting style, and I'm afraid of making what she will perceive to be a mistake.

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  4. Thanks for the support. Really. It is amazing that even living in a community (subdivision) that is labeled *close-knit,* I too don't feel comfortable just asking someone to watch my son for a few hours. At least not without fretting over the call for 1/2 the day. And then purchasing a *gift* as payment for the favor

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  5. with my kids at least, she relaxed, and was very comfortable with them, but that was only after I told her "You're the granny. You're entitled." She never did quite get over that fear with the other grandchildren. It was never like that with my own mother and grandmother.

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