My husband and I have spent most of our adult lives in and around New Orleans, but we are not natives, and as such, we do not have any family nearby. Raising our own family without the support of extended family is a huge challenge. Logistically, that means we don’t have any access to “free” babysitting provided by grandparents or any help with pick-ups and drop-offs or conflicting extracurricular schedules. We often have to say “no,” simply because we can’t make it work with just the two of us. Beyond the logistics, though, it also means that my kids miss out on some of the things my husband and I took for granted growing up around our own extended families. My kids don’t get to spend a lot of time with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. There are no regular weekend get-togethers or 4th of July cookouts. They will never get to spend a sick day on Grandma’s couch watching The Price is Right and eating popsicles. Time spent with extended family is almost always scheduled around big holidays and summer vacations and usually only occurs once or twice a year.
The distance can make building close relationships challenging, but thankfully, modern technology has helped. Social Media, Facetime, and shared photo libraries have made staying in touch a little bit easier. My heart melted last week when, after my husband stepped out of frame, my 2-year-old niece asked, with great concern, “Where’d Uncle Jeff go?” even though, thanks to the pandemic, they’ve never met in person. But the greatest benefit of technology has been the close relationship my oldest daughter has developed with my mom, despite the more than 1000 miles between them.
During the initial stages of the pandemic, my daughter started Facetiming my mom more frequently, and they would often eat lunch together while they talked. It was something my daughter always looked forward to and something she has continued to do on weekends. When kids finally returned to school in September of 2021, my daughter struggled. Homework was especially challenging, and as any teacher can attest, helping my own child with her homework is nothing like teaching a room full of my students. Almost every afternoon, math homework would dissolve into tears and tantrums, until my daughter started calling my mom for homework help. Sometimes just my mom’s virtual presence was enough to calm my daughter down and help her focus, and even when my daughter would get frustrated, she was always less reactive to my mom than she was to me. My mom just has a way of calming my daughter through a computer screen that I can’t seem to achieve in person.
In fact, it is the very fact that my daughter is less reactive to my mom’s guidance than mine or my husband’s, that my mom, “Memaw,” has become my essential virtual assistant. My daughter struggles with low frustration tolerance and emotional regulation. We try to help her work through her feelings, and she’s gotten quite good at removing herself from a situation when she feels her emotions welling up, but occasionally they still get the best of her, and that’s when she screams that she’s “going to call Memaw!” (insert sound of a slammed door here.) Frequently, these conversations start off with my daughter telling on me to my own mother, but thankfully, my mom has my back and can usually calm her down and help her see our side, even if my daughter still thinks my husband and I are being unfair.
Sometimes, even when my daughter’s behavior has cost her technology privileges, we will allow her to have her tablet to call my mom and talk because we know it will end the tantrum much more quickly. And the impact of my mom’s help has extended beyond her immediate assistance. I will never understand how my daughter’s room gets SO messy every week (I couldn’t make it that messy on purpose), but she knows she’s not allowed to play with friends on Saturday until her room is cleaned. For a while, this resulted in weekly battles similar to those we had had with homework, but then she started calling my mom for help. Of course, my mom couldn’t physically help my daughter clean her room, but she could help her think through how to tackle the mess. Eventually, my daughter needed less help sorting through the piles and just wanted someone to keep her company while she cleaned. Now, it seems the simple act of calling my mom for help is enough to get my daughter in the right mindset to clean her room, even if my mom isn’t available to help.
The fact that my mom lives more than 1000 miles away might mean that she and my kids get to miss out on a lot of things that they would be able to do if we lived closer, but I am so thankful that I still have her reliable virtual support, and that my kids look to her as a pillar of comfort and support.