Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Text/ended Family

Welcome to the May 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting With or Without Extended Family

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how relatives help or hinder their parenting. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

 My sister texted me on Easter morning: “I still wish you would move back here,” and I just sighed.  The Big Sigh.  She knows as well as I do that when you have joint custody, it’s basically like being in geographic jail.  “Thou shalt not move,” decrees the deep disembodied voice of the family court judge from the burning bush. 

I never imagined raising my children far from my Tennessee family.  It just, well, happened.  Or, that is, it just happened that I fell in love with someone whose need not to live in Tennessee was greater than my need to stay there.  And it also seemed that, really, maybe being a two-mom family in Tennessee--where as a childless lesbian couple, we were regularly asked “Can I watch?” if we held hands in public--well, it just seemed that maybe California would be a bit more friendly to our particular nuclear family.

And in that way, it’s been easy to be a few thousand miles away from home.  Our kids have two moms, and no one so much as bats an eyelash.  Hip-hipster-hurrah.  But that wife of mine, the one who needed to flee from Tennessee, unfortunately, also ended up needing to flee from the Tennessean she had married.

So now I’m a single mom.  For four days each week my house resembles a Berenstein Bears illustration we have, of three wild acrobat bears piled on top of one poor squashed bear who is desperately trying to keep his bicycle balanced under the load.  And the choice to live in a queer-friendly community seems like pure folly when you realize that if we gave up that one little thing, we could live on the same farm as actual real live grandparents.  And a bonus aunt (the aforementioned texting sister).  And ponies.  That would be, all on one piece of land, adults in a quantity actually outnumbering the children.  Plus, did I mention the ponies?

“What in the heck was I ever thinking to come here?” I wondered in my late-night exhaustion as, all alone and joyless, I set out the Easter baskets full of over-packaged but organic bunny-shaped fruit gummies and other equally mockable contents?  (Yes, that was me you saw at the grocery checkout with the organic cheesy bunnies, organic bunny grahams, and organic, gluten-free bunny-shaped ginger snaps.) 

The Easter Bunny also left a basket of fair-trade chocolate balls and organic lollipops for the afternoon egg hunt.  (The Easter Bunny learned the hard way that she can’t hide these things ahead of time, as the dog will eat them, with unpleasant results.)  Not too many sweet things, just enough for some secular renewal-of-the-earth springtime fun.  But then, it’s easy for the Easter Bunny to stingily parse out the treats, as, inevitably, there also arrives the package from the bonus aunt, whom the children have nicknamed their “candy mom.”   

Easter is one of the times when it all comes into focus: how great it would be to be closer to home, attending a sunrise service with the liberal Episcopalian grandparents before we all hunted eggs in the giant yard behind their house.  How nice to have an available auntie for egg-hiding and kid-distraction.  And how insane to be riding a runaway train of out-of-control candy consumption, which would probably not confine itself to the holiday. 

While I tend to think there’s a difference between homegrown honeycomb and corn syrup candy, between grass-fed local beef and McDonalds, between organic food from a nearby farm and shrink-wrapped veggies shipped from South America, my scientifically-minded, candy-buying sister tells the kids: “It’s all the same molecules when it breaks down.”  Right before she buys them a fast food meal, which they enjoy immensely. 

This dynamic is tolerable, even strangely welcome as a pressure-release from my tightly controlled food rules (you know: organic, local, fair-labor, harvested by virgins under the full moon, and so on).  Tolerable, since we only see her for a few days each year.  If we lived there, we would actually have to have ongoing regular discussions about not only food, but about fairly deep underlying philosophical differences.  Like, for instance, her wish that my kids could attend day camp at her church, about which she said reassuringly, “Just because you don’t live a God-sanctioned lifestyle doesn’t mean anyone would hold it against the kids.”  Um, okay, well, um, um, um…I don’t even know how to start a conversation about that. (And because I live very far away, I don’t have to!)

But I still miss her, and wish the kids knew her in a deeper way than just as the bearer of ice cream and fast food. 

I suppose it’s easy to romanticize the benefits of having family around, and probably just as easy to take them for granted when you have them.  And the fact of the matter is, I can’t move home, so it doesn’t matter which set of issues I would prefer to have.  What I can do, I do, which in this case was simply to suppress my urge to pretend that the kids’ “candy mom” didn’t send a package of politically/environmentally-incorrect Easter eggs.  (I could have; it arrived when they were at the other house, giving me a perfect opportunity to deliver it straight into the trash bin.)  Instead I added those eggs in with what the Bunny brought, and hoped that in some way, as they hunted among the bushes and flowers, the kids could feel both the love with which I make such carefully conscious choices, and the shipped-from-Tennessee, non-organic love which is, when it breaks down, all the same molecules of DNA. 

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon May 8 with all the carnival links.)
  • Dealing With Unsupportive Grandparents — In a guest post at Natural Parents Network, The Pistachio Project tells what to do when your child's grandparents are less than thrilled about your parenting choices.
  • Parenting With Extended Family — Jenny at I'm a full-time mummy shares the pros and cons of parenting with extended family...
  • Parental Support for an AP Mama — Meegs at A New Day talks about the invaluable support of her parents in her journey to be an AP mama.
  • Priceless GrandparentsThat Mama Gretchen reflects on her relationship with her priceless Grammy while sharing ways to help children preserve memories of their own special grandparents.
  • Routines Are Meant To Be Broken — Olga at Around The Birthing Ball urges us to see Extended Family as a crucial and necessary link between what children are used to at home and the world at large.
  • It Helps To Have A Village – Even A Small One — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama discusses how she has flourished as a mother due to the support of her parents.
  • The Orange Week — Erika at Cinco de Mommy lets go of some rules when her family finally visits extended family in San Diego.
  • One Size Doesn't Fit All — Kellie at Our Mindful Life realizes that when it comes to family, some like it bigger and some like it smaller.
  • It Takes a Family — Alicia at What's Next can't imagine raising a child without the help of her family.
  • A new foray into family — As someone who never experienced close extended family, Lauren at Hobo Mama wrestles with how to raise her kids — and herself — to restart that type of community.
  • My Mama Rocks! — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment is one lucky Mama to have the support and presence of her own awesome Mama.
  • Embracing Our Extended Family — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares 7 ideas for nurturing relationships with extended family members.
  • Doing Things Differently — Valerie at Momma in Progress shares how parenting her children far away from extended family improved her confidence in her choices.
  • Snapshots of love — Caroline at stoneageparent describes the joys of sharing her young son's life with her own parents.
  • Parenting with Relies – A mixed bagUrsula Ciller shares some of her viewpoints on the pros and cons of parenting with relatives and extended family.
  • Tante and Uncles — How a great adult sibling relationship begets a great relationship with aunt and uncles from Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy.
  • Tips for Traveling With Twins — Megan at the Boho Mama shares some tips for traveling with infant twins (or two or more babies!).
  • Parenting passed through the generations — Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes talks about the incredible parenting resource that is her found family, and how she hopes to continue the trend.
  • My Family and My Kids — Jorje of Momma Jorje ponders whether she distrusts her family or if she is simply a control freak.
  • Parenting with a Hero — Rachel at Lautaret Bohemiet reminisces about the relationship she shared with her younger brother, and how he now shares that closeness in a relationship with her son.
  • Text/ended Family — Kenna of A Million Tiny Things wishes her family was around for the Easter egg hunt... until she remembers what it's actually like having her family around.
  • Two Kinds of Families — Adrienne at Mommying My Way writes about how her extended family is just as valuable to her mommying as her church family.
  • My 'high-needs' child and 'strangers' — With a 'high-needs' daughter, aNonyMous at Radical Ramblings has had to manage without the help of family or friends, adapting to her daughter's extreme shyness and allowing her to socialise on her own terms.
  • Our Summer Tribe — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger shares a love of her family's summer reunion, her secret to getting the wisdom of the "village" even as she lives 1,000 miles away.
  • My Life Boat {Well, One of Them} — What good is a life boat if you don't get it? Grandparents are a life boat MomeeeZen loves!
  • Dear Children — In an open letter to her children, Laura at Pug in the Kitchen promises to support them as needed in her early days of parenting.
  • Yearning for Tribal Times — Ever had one of those days where everything seems to keep going wrong? Amy at Anktangle recounts one such day and how it inspired her to think about what life must've been like when we lived together in large family units.
  • I don't have a village — Jessica Claire at Crunchy-Chewy Mama wishes she had family nearby but appreciates their support and respect.
  • Trouble With MILs-- Ourselves? — Jaye Anne at Wide Awake Half Asleep explains how her arguments with her mother-in-law may have something to do with herself.
  • A Family Apart — Melissa at Vibrant Wanderings writes about the challenges, and the benefits, of building a family apart from relatives.
  • First Do No Harm — Zoie at TouchstoneZ asks: How do you write about making different parenting choices than your own family experience without criticizing your parents?
  • Military Family SeparationAmy Willa shares her feelings about being separated from extended family during her military family journey.
  • Forging A Village In The Absence Of One — Luschka from Diary of a First Child writes about the importance of creating a support network, a village, when family isn't an option.
  • Respecting My Sister’s Parenting Decisions — Dionna at Code Name: Mama's sister is guest posting on the many roles she has as an aunt. The most important? She is the named guardian, and she takes that role seriously.
  • Multi-Generational Living: An Exercise in Love, Patience, and Co-Parenting — Boomerang Mama at The Other Baby Book shares her experience of moving back in with Mom and Dad for 7 months, and the unexpected connection that followed.
  • A Heartfelt Letter to Family: Yes, We're Weird, but Please Respect Us Anyway — Sheila of A Living Family sincerely expresses ways she would appreciate her extended family’s support for her and her children, despite their “weird” parenting choices.
  • The nuclear family is insane! — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle is grateful for family support, wishes her Mum lived closer, and feels an intentional community would be the ideal way to raise her children.


  1. I love the way you write. I can feel the tension between wanting to be in two places, and I recognize it in myself.

    I know there is romanticizing involved, though. I always want to visit more, write more, Skype more, be closer … and then when I do, I get annoyed at the things like you mention — the dismissal of my own values and thoughts. If I lived nearby, would I even be myself anymore? Which tradeoff is better? If you were somehow freed from joint-custody jail, would you really choose to move back? (I wonder similar things sometimes.) Anyway, thank you for the thoughts you've sparked.

  2. Such a great post :) And yes, I agree that we can romanticize it - that is exactly why we moved home when I was pregnant with Kieran. It hasn't made much of a difference, but wow - I am so happy that we've found our community of friends!
    I hope you find peace with where you're at for now :)

  3. Why do humans always seem to want that which they cannot have? I live near almost all of my extended family and want so very badly to SKIP TOWN. I want to live on the road or even in a greener place. My husband, however, has a child here. And so we're in geographic jail, just in the reverse of your own. We're stuck WITH my family, but far away from his.

  4. I can really relate with this. I would give anything to be near my sister. We share nearly all of the same ideals and parenting philosophies and I know she would love my kids as much as I do, but it just isn't feasible (because of my husband's job). After reading what you wrote, I just want to pick up and move to where she is! I feel so sad for you that you are trapped there, but maybe you are right that the grass is always greener. My hope is that you can create a family where you are, one that will feed your soul and nourish your spirit and love your children and make you feel at home - REALLY at home - where you are. xo

  5. I'm always eager to see the extended family and then I'm totally relieved when they leave. It's the good mixed with the bad and I'm not really sure if I regret that my children don't have a closer relationship with their relatives OR if I'm thrilled that my children don't have a closer relationship with their relatives. Sigh. Am I a bad person for even writing this?

    1. NO! I think you're just articulating the real true thoughts of most people I know.

  6. Beautiful post, Kenna. I absolutely love how you turn easter candy into a metaphor for long distance familial love. You rock.

  7. Aww that's so sad and beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  8. OMG, Kenna. I just love your writing. You make me laugh and sigh.

  9. I really enjoyed reading your post. But (being a warlord and all) your sister isn't quite technically correct on saying its "all the same molecules." I analysed (in the lab I work - for a bit of fun) both bought cage eggs and organically grown free range eggs from my parents place. The organic eggs had a much higher healthy omega fat composition then the cage eggs. Mmmm, my sister always threatens to feed my baby chocolate and candys..... what is it with sisters??!

    1. I so LOVE that you have the technology to check those "facts!" That said, there is something to letting the love come in, in whatever form it takes...

    2. That's true, it's after all fun for both parties :)

  10. "This dynamic is tolerable, even strangely welcome as a pressure-release from my tightly controlled food rules." I agree with this sentiment 100%. It can be difficult and stressful to pay attention to every single piece of food my children consume around the clock, so I appreciate the help of my family for a week at a time here and there, even if they do insist on feeding my girls juice and those nasty frozen beef patties. Well, maybe NOT the beef patties. We are constrained by my husband's niche career path in where we live, but I often wonder too about whether we'd move back to the politically polarized south even if we could. Thanks for getting the wheels turning.