When I was seven months pregnant, my husband and I packed up our life and moved across the country far away from our families and friends. The most relaxing experience for a pregnant lady? Not at all. Necessary so that my husband could further his career? Yes. So, we pulled out the cardboard boxes, and off we went.
We made our way from Massachusetts to the West Coast and began to settle down in our new home. I found wonderful new doctors, organized an adorable little nursery, and a couple of months later, gave birth to a beautiful baby boy.
The first few months with a newborn were a blur, as they are with most new parents. We were fortunate enough to have our parents come and visit us in those early days, but it quickly became clear that we were doing this whole new parenting thing totally on our own, across the country from all of our loved ones. Sweet stories of friends stopping by with food those first couple weeks? Never happened to us. Grandma hanging out every day to hold the baby so mama could shower? Nope.
But we managed and survived and, dare I say, succeeded, just by figuring it out one day at a time – like all other first time parents out there. And we continue to do so.
It’s been over two years since we moved, and I won’t deny that I still find it incredibly difficult at times. But as my baby boy became a toddler, and as we added another beautiful boy to our family, I’ve come to accept, and even embrace, this experience we’re in. Among the ups and downs, I’ve discovered some tips and tricks to raising our family while so far away from our families and friends, so if you’re feeling the drain of distance too, read on for some survival secrets.
1. FaceTime dates
Sounds simple but seriously, FaceTime keeps our family running. My babies may not be able to play with Grandma every weekend, but they can see her every day via FaceTime. Coordinating schedules can be tough, especially with different time zones, so setting up weekly (or daily) recurring FaceTime dates gives both parties something to look forward to and plan on. We laugh on FaceTime, we eat on FaceTime, we show Grandma our latest truck toys and more on FaceTime. It truly allows my babies to bond with our families from one coast to another.
2. Embrace technology
Technology’s benefits go beyond the fabulous FaceTime; there are plenty of other apps out there that help families like ours that are far apart. From Marco Polo (video messages) to Tiny Beans (private photo albums and more), our phones offer countless opportunities to stay connected with loved ones, near and far.
3. Family photo books
I want my sons to recognize the members of our extended families but without frequent in-person interaction, it can be tough to keep all those names and faces straight. So, I created a family book complete with photos and names of all the essential players. We love looking through and naming “Gigi,” “Nana,” “Grandpa,” “Uncle Paul,” and more. It’s become one of our favorite afternoon activities, and you better believe that they know who’s who come the holidays.
4. Start new traditions
When your family is around the corner, it’s easy to fall right into the long held traditions you’ve always done. But without Nana there to enforce those Friday night spaghetti dinners, it’s all the more important to create your own special occasions, big and small. How about Saturday morning scones and coffee at the beach (you may not be living 10 minutes from the ocean forever, so soak it up now!)? Or pizza pajama party every Sunday night to wrap up the weekend? Whatever they may be, claim these traditions as your own and embrace them. This is how memories are made, no matter where you live.
5. Recorded books
One of the best gifts that my sons have ever received is an audiobook recorded by their amazing aunt, my sister. So, when my oldest goes to bed at night, it’s as if Aunt Kat is right there reading to him. I tear up every single time we “listen” to Aunt Kat, and I can’t wait to gift one of these books to all of our close friends with kiddos across the country.
6. Find your new (local) tribe
Finding friends as an adult is more challenging than I ever realized. It takes work, effort, and patience. But the results? So worth it. With my first son, I waited for friends to find me, and it didn’t work out so well. With my second son, I vowed to really try. I’ve joined mother’s clubs, I posted on forums, I reached out to fellow mamas… and slowly but surely, I’m finding some local ladies to meet up at the park with. Yes, they aren’t my girlfriends from college, but they sure do add a bit of sparkle to my everyday life out here.
7. Social media can be your friend
Social media gets a lot of negative press these days, but it can be an amazing channel that encourages, inspires, educates, and, most importantly, connects you with your loved ones far away. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I love logging onto Instagram and seeing the latest pics that my best friends have posted or the newest bit of advice my mom has direct messaged me with. It provides a simple and fun way for me to share frequent photos of my boys with my family and friends and an easy way to keep in touch.
8. Accept travel
Living across the country from everyone we love has forced us to travel with our babies much earlier and much more frequently than we probably would have. We’ve flown back and forth multiple times, and I’m the first one to share my traveling with babies tips and tricks to anyone in need. Travel is a part of our life, so instead of fighting it, my husband and I choose to accept, embrace, and laugh about it. It is rarely easy and never relaxing, but we do it, and I feel stronger and more confident after every time.
I miss our family and friends every single day, but we’re not moving close to them anytime soon, so spending my days down and out isn’t going to do us any good. So, for now, I embrace it all. I choose to look on the bright side, to find the positives in living where we currently do.
This experience has made my husband and I more resilient than ever, it has brought us closer as a couple, and we use that energy as we parent. We can wish to live closer to our families but still embrace and enjoy our life with the distance we have now.
And in the meantime, we’ll be FaceTiming and Instagramming without any apologies. We’ll be traveling and starting new traditions that we’ll carry with us wherever our homes may be in the future. We got this. So do you.