“Researching boarding schools, do you think I can get a 2 for 1 deal?” I hit send, and start figuring out how to make it to bedtime. Our two daughters are precious but the effort to raise them to be confident and strong can be exhausting. More often than not, they are an absolute joy. Other days, they talk back, are defiant, and are well, kind of a pain.
My phone vibrates almost immediately, “Do you think if I send my kids we can get the group rate?” I laugh, and honestly that gives me just the tiny boost I need to stop the yelling and regroup. We make it to bedtime once again.
A recent Pew Research survey reveals that nearly one-in-five parents live more than an hour away from family members. The percentage is higher if the parents live in an urban area, like Houston. My mom and I check in fairly often, via phone, text, and surprisingly Twitter. On more than one occasion I have tweeted, “come get your grandkids.” (Mom, I know you are reading this, it is time for Abuelita camp!) Yet in the day-to-day life of marriage, family, and parenting, it is our chosen family that keeps me from losing my ever-loving mind.
Chosen Family Love Our Kids and They Like Them
There is no way around it but the world is scary. We spend our days teaching our kids how to navigate it safely yet confidently. Our nights are spent wondering if, in our jobs as parents and caregivers, we have done enough. Now we have one less day before they launch into the world. A key component in this is allowing our children to be in a community with other adults who love them and are rooting for them. Our girls have many chosen aunts, uncles, and other grownups who adore them. Sure, some are our friends from before we had kids and are in the middle of raising littles just like us. Most of them? They range from young adults navigating their early 20s to retirees and empty nesters.
Children need to know they can have safe havens other than their parents and caregivers. This is not an effort to pass on the work of raising children, but rather it is an opportunity for our kids to know they have people in their corner. I love watching our girls tackle their favorite people. They talk endlessly about Bluey, violin, Wordle, and dancing. These friends are not humoring our kids or being polite, they are active participants in the conversation. They get silly and ridiculous and just have fun with our girls. Our oldest daughter asks a lot of philosophical questions, usually before my morning coffee. Sometimes I can manage an answer that satisfies her but other times, she knows I can’t and her response is always the same, “Text so and so, they know everything.” One day our girls will be teenagers and young adults. It is our prayer that because our chosen family invested in the small, silly conversations today, the girls will know they can ask any of these people for guidance when they need support.
Recently a fell sent me urgent care. As I hobbled on an old pair of crutches I lost my footing on something left in the hallway and nearly fell again. In one of my least honorable moments as a mother, I told them in that scary calm mom voice, that every single item that brought them joy was going to be thrown in the trash the moment I got home. My girls sat silently in the backseat as my husband drove them to our friends’ house. As I waited for the doctor, I realized how poorly I treated the girls. I texted my friend to explain. Immediately she assured me. Not only had she been told in great detail about my outburst, but she also explained to the girls, that grownups sometimes say things they don’t mean, especially if they are upset. She also reminded the girls that while I wasn’t going to burn everything, they needed to do a better job of helping us keep the house clean. When I got back from the doctor, she poured me a glass of wine, got me comfy on the couch, and before I could say anything she said, “your girls are fine. They know you didn’t mean it. They understand you were upset. If you scared them into keeping their room clean, all the better.” This brings me to my other point.
Chosen Family Invest in You
The last six months have not been great for my husband and me. I have had some health issues and work has been insane for my husband. Maybe it is the post-COVID burnout, but we have not been great, emotionally or mentally. It has been one of those seasons where I want to sell all my stuff and move into a tiny house to let my husband and girls have a better life without me. Thankfully we are on the upswing and it is only because of our family and friends that have gotten us through it. In the beginning, we shared our struggles with only a couple of people. Their response was not, ‘let me know if you need anything.’ Instead, it was, ‘this is what we are doing to help.’ One friend scheduled playdates so she and I could visit. She told my husband to send me to her house after bedtime so we can really talk. The others rallied troops to get us a house cleaner and childcare. They regularly checked in and refused to accept the generic, “I’m fine,” text message.
The day of my Houston Moms headshots was the first time I wore heels in over two years, much less had full hair and make-up done. I met a girlfriend for lunch and she said, “I am taking your children tonight. You and your husband must go to dinner. Yes, even on a school night.” It was our first date in months and our most honest conversation for who knows how long.
My husband and I are just like other parents. We love our kids, we love each other and life is busy. There is work, carpool, baseball games, volunteering, dinner, and bath time. It is easy to ignore the nagging feeling something isn’t right or worse drown under the weight of the stress that life throws at us. God bless therapy, babysitters, and most importantly our chosen family who refuse to let us face the hard parts alone! May we, also, never shy away from walking next to our chosen family in their own messy bits of life.