Solo in the City: Parenting Without Family Nearby


This is a hard post to write. We love our families very much and don’t want anyone to misconstrue our experience as a jab or guilt trip. I imagine many of you reading this have thought about this a lot, but have been hesitant to share with anyone in your family for this reason. So let’s all agree to call this a guilt-free, judgment-free zone. This experience is hard, and it’s okay to acknowledge it.

We have found ourselves in this position due to a variety of reasons. Some of us moved because of job changes or the military. Others just needed a fresh start. Still others have lost parents and are grieving the loss of both their emotional and physical presence. However the situation came to be, we’ve all found ourselves in a similar situation: raising kids in a city without any family nearby.

This life is hard, whether you chose it or not. There are no breaks. No free passes. No backup. All motherhood is hard, but the specific details of this experience are often lost on others. Weekly, I find myself trying to explain why we just can’t to someone. So what is so different about parenting without in-town family help? 

It’s not just the free babysitting.

Though the free babysitting would be a cherry-on-top perk of having family in town, date nights are the furthest thing from our minds. Unexpected situations are when family is missed the most. If one kid is sick, all the siblings get a field trip to the doctor. Has the stomach bug hit your house? You don’t know terror until you’ve driven the whole family with puke buckets to the pharmacy. Sick days must be alternated between parents until everyone is in hot water at work. If mom gets sick, well…commence survival mode. Emergencies, doctor appointments, the A/C goes out — all handled by yourself with kids in tow. Can we do it? Of course! We’re mom beasts. But would a little backup every now and then help? You bet.

It would be wrong not to mention the overwhelming amount of help most of us receive from friends. Our friends are a literal lifeline most days, but they just can’t replace that comfortable feeling of family. Our village of friends have frequently offered to help with my kids, but a common thread I hear among moms without family in town is guilt. Our friends are managing young families of their own, and it’s hard to ask them to take on more kids. Especially if you know they don’t need the favor returned.

We really do miss our families.

In my case, we moved to Knoxville by choice, knowing our families were three and seven hours away. It was, and still is, the right decision for our little family, but it doesn’t mean we don’t miss our families every day. Have you ever taken a peek at the photo storage on a mom’s phone when her family is far away? We are some of the best documenters on earth. I once filled up all of my phone’s storage space and used all of our data in a single month because I was trying to record videos of my kids’ three end-of-year concerts. We’re trying our best, and using every bit of modern technology, to make sure everyone feels connected.

There is a bright side.

The days are long, but mamas, I want you to know that I see you out there. You’re hustling from sun up to sun down doing all the things with kids screaming at your feet. I know you’ve had one date night with your husband in the past year. I know you’ve never actually used your vacation days for a vacation — they’re all spent visiting family. I want you to know that these are the days you’re building a fortress.

The day in, day out, no days off time you’re spending with your kids? You’re creating a bond stronger than steel. Every memory your kids have will include you. You and your spouse have become communication experts. The razor sharp precision needed to make sure everyone’s needs are met is unmatched. Your kids are flexible and knowledgeable, forged in the fire of adult errands they are never spared from. And those visits. Those visits with grandma and grandpa are so sweet. The day-to-day survival is wearisome, but the reunion squeals (from both sides) are sweet music.

Sweet mamas, do what you can. Don’t sweat what you can’t. You’re a hero with a home full of adoring fans. One day you’ll look back and see how every day made you a little stronger and a little wiser. Nobody can do it as well as you.


  1. oh gosh thanks for this so much. it’s so tough; thank goodness their godmother is willing to help whenever I need her. another reason that family cannot help is if you waited to have kids and your parents are just too old to be able to reasonably offer any help by themselves….


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