My mom has been raising kids for a long time. Having my sister at 17 and me at 32 — with my brother in between at 21 — she certainly has had her fair share of child rearing years.
Reflecting back on my childhood, I couldn’t tell you the last field hockey game of mine she attended or the last time she volunteered to drive our carpool. Even though I was essentially raised as an only child because my siblings were much older, she was very checked out of so much of my life — especially during my teenage years and beyond. While all my friends were receiving care packages from their families during college, I was lucky if I was treated to lunch when I went home for the holidays. From the developmentally appropriate, self-absorbed perception of a teenager, I was often envious of the depth of love that my friends’ parents showed them. Why couldn’t I have that, too?
Fast forward to my adulthood. I’m now 30 years old raising three kids of my own. Though I wouldn’t say that I fully understand where my mom was coming from all those years ago, I am now able to put myself somewhat in her position.
Having us at such different ages and struggling to put food on the table for my older siblings, it was clear that she was experiencing burnout from parenting. My father also passed away when I was a teen, leaving her to raise me as a single mother while trying to keep us afloat in a very expensive town. She had spent so much of my siblings’ youth struggling, and she thought that this time raising me, it would be different. His passing unfortunately brought her back to a dark place and triggered a lot of open wounds for her. Regardless, I was left to navigate my teenage years on my own as she struggled with a lot of her own issues. Subsequently, she has also continued this hands-off approach when it comes to her role as a grandmother.
It’s difficult to be surrounded by friends with involved parents. My mom visits about once a year and often asks if we can hang out or get a pedicure together instead of planning anything with the kids. When I once asked if she’d watch my youngest while I took my middle to preschool, she replied: “Jessica — I didn’t come here to babysit.” When she is around us, she’s often on the couch reading or scrolling through social meda. She isn’t the grandparent who wants to bathe the kids or put them to bed, or who offers to take them so we can have a date night. My in-laws are those grandparents, and they are amazing — but they unfortunately live in New York. This means that we are truly on our own.
It takes a village to raise a child. This phrase is as old as time, and we’ve all heard it at some point or another. What happens, though, when there is no village? What happens when you’re raising children without family, and the only two people you can rely on are yourselves? You’re the mom without a village. My husband and I recently took an overnight trip to San Antonio, thanks to my mother-in-law. We realized it was the first time we had been away from the kids overnight — together — since I was pregnant with our now 19-month-old. When the list of people you can trust to watch your kids can be counted on a single hand, or even a single finger, it makes life a little tougher.
Here’s a confession — I’m also experiencing parent burnout, myself. It’s tough to have these little people need me in every way, each and every day, without much reprieve. It’s draining not having a solid support system or village to lean on when we need them. In some ways, I can identify with the struggles my mom faced when she was experiencing her own burnout, because I’m there.
I used to harbor a lot of resentment towards my mom about the fact that she isn’t a very involved grandparent. It used to make me angry, but then I changed my mindset and realized that I was, in fact, acting entitled. If coming once a year and barely knowing her younger grandchildren is what she wants out of this life, then that is her prerogative. It is not my job to change her mind. My children are amazing little people who are surrounded by so much love.
As a family, we have lived in three states — each time we’ve moved, we have built a community of babysitters, neighbors, and friends who take us under their wings and call us their own. We’re still in the process of building that here in Austin, but it’s slowly happening. Just like so many other things in life, we can’t control other people — only ourselves. Changing my mindset has drastically helped me accept my mom for who she is, even if that is simply as a result of significantly lowing my expectations. I have stopped comparing her to my very involved in-laws, which has made our entire relationship and dynamic much more positive.
Does it still hurt that she’s not a bigger part of my life? Absolutely. Do I wish that I could trust her to watch all three kids so my husband and I could have some occasional alone time? You bet. I would be lying if said that I was indifferent about her level of involvement. Watching my friends’ parents and the active role they hold in their lives and their children’s lives can sometimes trigger occasional resentment and jealousy on my end, even as a grown adult. I don’t even know what it’s like to have a mother who knows and cares about the day-to-day trajectory of my life. Here’s what I do know, though: I vow to be different for my own kids. I will always be their safe place, and I promise them before bed each night that they and their own children will grow up knowing how very loved, cherished, and wanted they are.
To all the moms out there without a village, or who have parents that aren’t involved in the lives of their families — I see you. I know how tough it is sometimes. I know that despite how toxic your parents might be or how much it hurts that they’re not directly involved, a piece of you still craves that relationship. I wish I could give you words of wisdom about how much stronger your marriage will be as a result of only having each other to lean on, because in many ways it will — or tell you that it will get better as your children age, which I have also found to be true.
What I really want you to know, though, is how amazing you are. You know the feeling of that lost piece of your life, and you know that no matter what, you will always be there for your own kids. Here’s a toast to our parents, whether they’re involved in our lives or not. Regardless, we have shaped our own parenting around our experiences being raised by them, either in emulation or as knowing who we don’t want to be. We have our beautiful babies, who have so much love. It seems as if we’re truly the lucky ones, after all.