Dependent

I know they say it takes a village to raise a child. I’m incredibly lucky to have something of a village in that both sets of grandparents live close by. My parents take the kids for longer stints, like 24 hours on a weekend, or for a few days if I’m out of town (in the summer or during a school break). They live farther away and my mom still works so they can’t help as much for middle of the week needs.

Which is okay because my in-laws live in the city. They are both retired and neither has much else going on. Currently, our kids are their only grandchildren and they help us tremendously with both of them. My in-laws pick up my son from school at least once a week, usually to help me because I have a meeting until later and worry I won’t get back to the city in time to get both kids, or I have a later meeting in the city and don’t want to drag my three-year-old with me. They take our daughter for a spend the nights most weekends. They even take the kids when they are sick so my husband and I don’t have to miss work! (Stomach bugs excluded.)

My teaching schedule is incredibly rigid–if I can’t be at school at start time I need to take an hour and find coverage. This makes it really hard on the few occasions when my husband is away, because I can’t take my son to school on those days without seriously disrupting my work day. This is when my in-laws always swoop in and save the day.

This week, while my husband is away, they will be coming over in the mornings to hang out with our son until they bring him to school. They will also be picking him up on Tuesday and Thursday and keeping him until 6:45pm so I can work at the book fair. Without this help, I truly don’t know what I would do.

I worry sometimes that we’re too dependent on my in-laws. I know we could get by without my parents–though our marriage would suffer without that time alone–but I honestly don’t think we could manage without my in-laws. We are dependent on them, and I’m not sure how I feel about it.

“It takes a village…” that is the adage, and yet most families don’t have a village to lean on. They do it alone. They make it work. I suppose without my in-laws we would too. We’d find people we could hire to fill in when needed (like this week). But we don’t have to do that, and it’s awesome, but it also makes me feel like we’re not really managing this parenting thing, not really. If we can’t do it without the help of family are we even doing it at all?

My in-laws talk about retiring for part of the year abroad. The thought terrifies me. Every year that it doesn’t happen I thank my lucky stars. I know that if they do leave we’ll make it work. I know that the older my kids get the more options I’ll have for arranging care. My mom will also retire in a couple years and she will be more than willing to help once that happens.

Perhaps this posts is silly. Why would someone write about feeling too dependent on family?! I know that inter-generational families lived together for these very reasons for a long time, and in many cultures still do, but the US is a fiercely independent nation. We value autonomy and efficiency. There is a subtle, but persistent message that if you’re not doing it all yourself, you probably aren’t as capable as someone who is.

I know that’s not true. I know I am competent. And I know I can be independent, I just don’t have to be. I’m just lucky enough to have parents near by and humble enough to ask for help when I need it. Maybe for that I should be proud.

Whatever else I am, I am immensely grateful. Always. Every day. I am so, so lucky to have healthy, able parents and in-laws nearby who love my kids and cherish their time with them. I can’t imagine doing it without them.

31 Comments

  1. I understand your feelings. Like you, I think most people (Western people at least) probably don’t like the feeling of being dependent on anyone outside your immediate family. I know I don’t. And I think it’s a very understandable attitude, because what if you somehow lose those you are depending on? It would be a very scary and uncontrollable situation. Your situation is ideal in many ways, but I totally understand that it can also be anxiety-provoking.

    I mean, it totally sounds like your in-laws adore your children and are happy to take care of them, but that has nothing to do with the uncomfortable feelings of being dependent.

    But I don’t see this at all related to your ability to manage your children. In my reading, it’s your work situation that dictates the need for help, not your inability to manage. And each and every couple with children needs together time without children. My husband and I take a small (3-4 days) trip every year together (last year we took two!) and my in-laws look after the kids, and while I’m a quite guilt-prone person, I don’t feel guilty about that at all.

    1. Thank you for expressing your understanding. It means a lot.

      It’s funny, I don’t feel guilty at all about the times my parents take them so we can have fun–maybe because I know we’d be okay without that help? But I feel complicated emotions about all the times my inlaws help during the week. Sometimes I think I’m more dependent on them for help than my husband!

      1. I feel the same way. We don’t need to rely on extended family to cope with our day to day schedule, but we do rely on our parents to go to a date or trip, but that somehow feels different – we COULD manage without their help. This is a convenient illusion but in reality, I’m not really sure I could. At least my quality of life would go way down.

        I totally agree with the other commenters that your situation is great for everyone involved and it is probably a good idea to try to look at it from a that perspective. I just also understand your ambivalence about the situation.

  2. You are so lucky! I would love that kind of help. My parents live 1/2 hour away, and they do help from time to time, probably every few weeks. But somehow, my mom always makes me feel like she’s doing me a favor and not like this is something she does to spend time with the kids or because she knows it’s hard. She’s always asking me why I don’t just ask my 17-year-old neighbor instead. As if money were no object. And I think bottom line, she feels bad for me that I have to work and can’t afford household help. Which I don’t think is anything out of the ordinary. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the help she does provide. But your situation sounds awesome. Overnights every weekend! I have one coming up in a month (April vacation), and I’m counting the days!

    1. I would be really annoyed if my mom involved all sorts of pretext into her helping. She is generally just willing to take them because she likes to have them and knows I really appreciate it.

      My inlaws won’t actually take both my kids at the same time (they think it’s too intense! Ha! That can cause some complications. But just having coverage for one kid is very helpful. And yes, the weekly spend the nights with my daughter are AMAZING. Especially when she was REALLY hard to manage, having a 24 hour break from her was so rejuvenating. Now it’s really nice to have Sunday morning with just my son so he gets some one-on-one time, especially since he loves going places and my daughter would generally rather stay home.

      1. Yeah, it is really amazing that she sleeps over there nearly every week. And it’s great that she likes it and goes willingly (I’m assuming she does). Maybe when your son is older and more independent, they will take both of them. 3.5 year olds are still babies in some ways.

  3. I think it is nice that you have an extended family to help. Aside from the helping part, I think it is great that your kids get to have so much time with their grandparents. We live 500+ miles away from the closest family member so my kids don’t get to see their grandparents very often (maybe 3 times a year?). It makes me a little sad that they won’t get to have a tighter relationship with their grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins.
    We’ve always had to go it alone because of the distance. I’m sure if you have to you will figure it out. It may be less ideal then your current set up but it is doable.

  4. Yes you are very lucky. We are a village of two here and it is very difficult. Especially at work where most coworkers with kids do have a village. I have to take off two weeks at a really busy/bad time bc I’m not putting my small kindergartener in a camp for spring break. Others don’t have this problem. I feel like the expectation is that everyone has help so I end up looking like I take off a lot and am always gone. I had to drop everything and pick up my preschooler last month when the power went out (my other child’s elementary school carried on without power.) I brought her to work (yes I’m lucky that for now my manager looks the other way) but she was antsy and it’s hard to get anything done with her there so I ended up having to take the afternoon off, cancelling calls, etc.

    1. That sounds really hard. I never thought about how hard it would be to not have a village when those around you have one, and how it might inadvertently reflect badly on you when you don’t have the support they have.

      The breaks during the school year are hard. My school year and my daughter’s don’t line up very well. She has to go to camps during spring break. This year both my kids had a 4-day week off at Christmas that I didn’t get. Everyone took them for a day (me, my husband, my in-laws, and my parents). My daughter is done with school a full 3.5 weeks before me and will be in camp for that time. There is a big problem in SF this year, because the school district pushed back the start of the school year by a week, but the camps didn’t know about it to schedule for that week, so now all these people have no coverage for the last week of school. It was on the front page of the paper today! I actually have work that week too and am not sure what I’ll do. My mom is working and my inlaws don’t usually agree to take both kids at once… they think it’s too intense. šŸ˜‰

  5. I envy you the closeness you have with your family, in-laws included. My in-laws work and my family lives 12 hours away. My sister leaves a few miles from my parents and I am jealous of all of the grandparent time her kids get that mine are missing out on. It is just me and my husband. No help from anyone. My job takes a hit when the stomach bug or other illness goes through out three children bc my husband cannot take off so it typically falls on me. I don’t complain often but there are a few times that having a grandparent around would be nice.

    1. Yeah, having someone to cover sick days is so amazing. Every year I get 10 days off and every year I use them all on my sick days or my kids sick days, so I never get to bank any for the next year. If I had to take EVERY sick day my kids needed, I’d be losing money by the end of the year. I’m also lucky that it’s usually easy for my husband to take a day, easier than it is for me–I need to go to work and get things ready, which takes various hours. It’s hard missing work as a teacher.

  6. Rather than worrying about a dependence issue, I’d like to encourage you to focus on the perspective of your kids. Having grandparents regularly in their lives is SO good for them! Widening the circle of who they know loves them and who they can count on (beyond their parents) is a gift you’re giving them. My parents divorced when I was one (and thereafter my dad was not really involved) so I spent tons of time with my maternal grandparents (I don’t think my mom could have survived without them). One of my strongest childhood memories (maybe ~age 8?) is of crying to my grandmother about my fear of something happening to my mom/her dying and me having to go live with my dad. She assured me that would never happen and that if anything did happen to my mom I would live with her and my grandpa. I cannot tell you the comfort that gave me!

    1. I do try to remember how great it is they have such strong relationships with their grandparents. My two roommates in college were really close with their grandparents because they were strong, consistent presences in their lives. I was really envious of that. My mom’s parents died when she was young (her mom) and when I was young (her dad) and my dad’s father was very sick until he died when I was 12. So I only had my grandmother and she was pretty preoccupied with my sick grandfather for most of my childhood. Also, we always lived far from her. We’d spend summer with her when I was younger, and that was really nice, but otherwise she was not in our lives. So yes, I am very happy for my kids that they have their grandparents, especially since they don’t have aunts/uncles in their lives (my sister is no involved at all, she just doesn’t really want to be and I respect that, and my husband’s sister adores them but lives far away and only sees them once a year, if that). They also don’t have cousins, so their grandparents are all the extended family they get!

  7. I often read your blog and think, “wow, I’m so dependent on our nanny – I don’t think I can manage without her the way Noemi does.”

    So, I guess we all interpret a situation differently.

    My parents and mother-in-law live nearby, but all work, to varying degrees. My mother in law is the most helpful, but none of them are particularly willing to inconvenience themselves to watch our kid.

    1. I am so lucky to have grandparents that are not only close by, but also willing to help. I know my mom wants to help a lot more than she can but because of the recession and my dad’s forced-retirement she has had to keep working a lot longer than she intended to. Once she is retired (hopefully the 18-19 school year) she’ll be able to help more too, although she lives about 30-40 minutes away.

  8. BE aware, but not worried. If it happens, you 4 will find a way to manage. Because there will be no other choice.
    What is lovely is that both grandparent groups help out as they are able and you appreciate their help. Grandparents, or anyone who helps, bring a different way of seeing and doing things; this is good and hard also. A balancing act like all of life. It is not easy.
    Glad the book fair will have an answer and that the school can have one.
    Cheers for you … and support.

    1. It is good. And it can be hard. The hard has definitely gotten less hard – both sets of parents respect boundaries a lot better now that the kids are getting older. We’re lucky in that way as well.

  9. Well, as someone who also lives close to her inlaws and who depends on them a ton, I totally don’t feel guilty AT ALL (or like any less of a parent!). I know how much they love spending time with the kids and vice versa, and I hope like heck that some day when I’m a grandparent I’m able to do the same for Stella & Harvey if I have grandkids. Enjoy it, don’t feel less because of it.

    1. My FIL has actually said that he expects us do the same for our kids, as a way of “paying them back” for all they have done. Sounds like a fair trade for me. I hope we can!

  10. Agree with all above that this shouldn’t be something you feel guilty or inadequate about and you should just enjoy it and think of it as doing the grandparents & your children a bit of a favor. Though they may not always say it or act like it, I’m sure your parents & in-laws adore spending time with their grandkids. Not all live close enough and I’m sure they feel lucky about that! And it is so good for the kids to have more people in their lives who love & cherish them. Sure if the grandparents weren’t around, you would hire help and that’s also great, but you happen to have them so take that one perk of living in such a high COL area—-the free babysitting!

    1. Yes, the free babysitting is really nice, especially since here we’d have to pay someone $25/hr to watch our kids! We’d probably never go anywhere. šŸ˜‰

        1. We might get away with $20/hr, but that is definitely the least you can ask of anyone over 18 years old here. I was making $15/hr babysitting here in the 90’s! I think it’s partly COL and partly that there just aren’t a lot of childcare providers here. Even undocumented nannies make that much under the table! At least they do if they have references.

  11. Our parents are all an airplane away currently and we get by but I am very much looking forward to my MIL moving here soon so our back-ups will have back-ups!

    1. It is SO NICE when your back-ups have back-ups, especially when you can trust those back-up implicitly. šŸ˜‰

  12. You are so lucky! (I know you realize this). In our case, all the grandparents live nearby and are retired, but have made it clear that they are not interested in babysitting. Ever. Not even for a hour or two.

    Though, to be fair, they don’t have much interest in seeing the kids at all, so it’s not like they’re missing having a relationship with them.

    Luckily, my husband works from home, so we pretty much never need help.

  13. And, you just hit the nail on the head for one of the main reasons we don’t have children. I knew darn good and well I’d never have help. Any help. My husband is not a kid person, but would have gone along with it, and as they got older would have been great. But, my mom died shortly after we were married. And she was the only one who would have been our village. My dad- well, he isn’t babysitter material. And my husband’s dad died when he was a toddler. His mother wasn’t even interested in him as a child, and died 6 months to the day after mine. And there ends our family. And working full time and having a chronic disease? I knew I couldn’t do it on my own. I really valued my relationship with my maternal grandparents growing up and hoped if I had kids they would have that. Thinking of them having no family beyond my husband and me? Nope. Couldn’t do it. I think your kids are lucky to have those relationships and you’re lucky to have that village. šŸ™‚

  14. I know I’m late to the party (Thanks, Spring Break) but I heavily rely on my parents to pick up my 1st grader from school and my In-Laws to pick up my pre-k 5 year old from school (they attend different schools right now)…and let me tell you, it helps me a lot.
    And the relationship that my kids have with both grandparents is amazing. I see how their other grand kids interact with them and it sort of makes me sad for them – very distant, cold and not as forthcoming with emotions.
    So, take comfort with, if your in-laws weren’t wanting to do it, I’m sure they’d tell you. Like mine told me they didn’t want to watch the kids ALL summer…which is fine…so I need to find some camps. Sigh.
    Anyhow, yep – hoping to do the same with my kids when I’m older, help whatever I can.

  15. I understand what you’re saying. most people with kids do build up a village somehow even if it’s not family that’s close by it’s other parents in similar situations who you can lean on when needed. It’s awesome that you have this support and it sounds like they’re willing and able to provide it and you’re vocally grateful for it. It sounds like a great setup and great that your kids have such a close relationship with their grandparents on both sides.

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