What Raising a Child Without Family Has Taught Me About Parenthood

Bringing up baby without the support of extended family is equal parts challenging and rewarding.
save article
profile picture of Hannah Silverman
Published June 24, 2023
mother and toddler son smiling
Image: Erin Drago

Throughout early history, millions of moms managed parenthood with little more than a breast and a blanket. But what our ancestors didn’t have in research, technology and, well, general comfort, they made up for with something not all of us can claim today: extensive family—people to watch their children, impart wisdom and, in short, just show up.

Today, societies are much more complicated. We’re living geographically further apart from our relatives, and we’re all completely frazzled juggling our own families, thriving careers and domestic responsibilities. With more pressure than ever before, some of us are forced to raise our families alone, whether by choice or as a result of separation, estrangement or location. It’s something few parents talk about, but, for millions of people, raising a child without the support of extended family can create immense challenges. It’s also incredibly validating.

I emigrated from Australia about 10 years ago in one of those cliched scenarios where wanderlust got the better of me. A 12-month jaunt became “just another 12 months” for the next however many years. Suddenly, I found myself engaged and paying my fair share of a mortgage. At first, this didn’t seem remarkable; life was just happening as it inevitably does.

Then our son arrived. (Actually, he showed up eight weeks early, in the midst of a global pandemic.) Those first few months were particularly difficult, as our baby struggled to feed and gain weight. Meanwhile, my partner and I were facing the usual challenges of early parenthood. What’s more, we were doing it completely alone.

This isn’t an unfamiliar story. Across the United States, thousands of families raise children alone or with very little support for a multitude of reasons—and many don’t have a choice but to carry on and figure it out. The fact that I had a choice became my sticking point. Still, I wondered if I was consciously depriving my family by living so far away from loved ones? My networks were tiny because of decisions I had made—but did my son’s need to be too?

Related Video

In light of the pandemic, though, returning to Australia wasn’t an option. We were isolated, out of touch and watching our son’s gorgeous little personality develop without the familial audience he deserved. We were trying to define what family could look like away from home, but it became obvious that there was a void we wanted to fill. We knew we didn’t need an extended family, but we started to desperately want one.

It was the little things that began to matter. Here we were with a baby, teaching newly minted grandparents how to FaceTime in an attempt to create a virtual family as best we could. We didn’t have a babysitter, we couldn’t call family for advice in the same time zone and we were forging friendships with strangers at the playground to cultivate a sense of community. I never thought I’d say this, but in those early days I was starting to see how valuable it would be if anyone—even an uninvited in-law (or, heck, the postman!)—popped in and watched our son while I took a long shower. I wondered: Would having these things create a calmer home? Would I be a better mom with tangible support?

The date nights my mom friends would tell me about started to incite a bit of envy. Sometimes my friends would even go to a spa or spend an afternoon shopping while their parents or siblings were on childcare duty. Hours later, they’d return refreshed and motivated. Meanwhile, my attempt at a spa involved a 15-minute bath with the good body wash while my son napped. I knew it wouldn’t always be like this, but, in these moments, it felt interminable.

Worse than the lack of available support and the lack of me-time, was the lack of overall investment from the people around us. Sure, our friends wanted our little one to thrive—but were they going to change their plans when our son’s school announced dates for his nativity? Would they frame our son’s finger painting masterpieces? I needed to readjust my mindset to realize that while having a personalized fanclub for our son would be wonderful, it wasn’t essential to ensure that he felt loved.

Raising a child without family has taught me that you can be independent and capable as a parent, but simultaneously need and want to surround yourself with others who you can lean on for comfort and support. Recognizing this doesn’t mean you’re not able to cope with the demands of parenthood—it means that a desire for social connection can comfortably coexist with self-sufficiency. Either way, as the brilliantly resilient moms that we are, we can and will adapt. We just need to trust our own decisions and believe in our own abilities—perhaps even more so than parents of children who regularly spend time with grandparents and relatives.

Naturally, my partner and I have started wondering if maintaining this distance is the best thing for our child. This discussion is ongoing. In the meantime, let this be a shout out to the families that lift us, to the neighbors who walk through the door to lend a hand, to the friends we call family and to the brothers and sisters who are on standby for real-time advice.

Living around the corner—or even in the same suburb, country or time zone—as loved ones is an enviable privilege. But if you’re a parent raising a child away from family, know that you are your child’s everything. Never second guess your ability to parent, hard as it may be. All you really need is a breast and blanket to make your child feel the love. Finding connection and feeling supported on this rollercoaster journey is, undoubtedly, important, but knowing your little one is thriving because of you is beyond fulfilling.

About the author: Hannah Silverman is a freelance writer and mom to a toddler, with a second cutie on the way. With a bachelor’s degree in journalism and more than 17 years international media experience, she specializes in crafting parenting and women’s health articles. She is passionate about celebrating all children, normalizing the quirks of parenting life and eradicating mom guilt for good.

save article

Next on Your Reading List

 Ilana Glazer and Michelle Buteau attend "Babes" Special Screening & Reception at The West Hollywood EDITION on May 09, 2024
Babes on Babes: Michelle Buteau and Ilana Glazer on the Daily Wins and Woes of Parenting
By Lauren Barth
stressed and tired mom of 2 children
Are You a ‘Mom in the Trenches?’ Viral TikTok Points to 4 Clues
By Wyndi Kappes
Keshia Knight Pulliam and her two children at home
Keshia Knight Pulliam on Life, Facing Bias and Raising Babies
By Lauren Barth
affirmations for black moms to be
Black Moms Empowering Black Moms With Words of Wisdom
By Ashley Simpo
9 Empowering Products for Brand-New Parents
By Korin Miller
baby with a smash cake
10 Smash Cake Ideas to Help You Celebrate Baby’s First Birthday
By Wyndi Kappes
family with baby standing outside of home
These Are 2024’s Best States to Raise a Family, Report Says
By Wyndi Kappes
toddler playing in his room with toys and teepee
Tips for Purging Your Kids’ Overstuffed Toy Bins
By Lauren Kay
baby playing with mom and dad in nursery room
What to Do if Your Child Has a Preferred Parent
By Blair Sharp
child smiling at thanksgiving dinner
Activities to Help Teach Your Kids to Be Thankful
By Christin Perry
mother kissing her toddler son at home
Coping in Crisis: How to Be a Present Parent During Difficult Times
By The Bump Editors
Cool Gifts for Moms That Deserve a Treat
By Martina Garvey
Khloé Kardashian, Penelope Disick, Kim Kardashian, North West and Kris Jenner attend the "RENAISSANCE WORLD TOUR" at SoFi Stadium on September 04, 2023 in Inglewood, California.
These Are 2023’s Most Influential Celebrity Parents
By Wyndi Kappes
Twin Halloween Costumes-hero
Twinning for the Win: 28 Best Twin Costumes for Halloween
By Korin Miller
Amazon Prime Benefits Hero
Awesome Amazon Prime Benefits Parents Didn't Even Know Existed
By Martina Garvey
mom congress in front of capitol building
The 2023 Mom's Agenda: a Path to More Parent-Friendly Legislation
By Wyndi Kappes
Kristin and Deena from big little feelings
Behind-the-Scenes Parenting With the Pros Behind Big Little Feelings
By Lauren Barth
black family holding hands while walking on sidewalk outside
How Generational Trauma Affects Black Families—and Ways to Work Toward Healing
By A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez
jesse tyler ferguson and family
Jesse Tyler Ferguson on Parenting, Potty Training and Pride
By Natalie Gontcharova
toddler tugging on pregnant mom while she's talking on the phone and holding baby; overstimulated mom
The Reasons Parents Feel Overstimulated—and Tips to Help You Cope
By Lauren Barth
Article removed.
Article removed.
Name added. View Your List