March 21, 2012

Raising a Family When Yours is Far Away

I grew up with a big extended family - the kind where aunts and uncles are your only babysitters and cousins are almost as close as siblings.

I always expected the same kind of upbringing for my own kids, but when, eventually, my husband and I brought our first baby home, it was to a place hundreds of miles from where either of us came from.

And that was tough at first.

Though I know we weren't alone: Almost 100,000 San Joaquin County residents were born outside California, the Census will tell you.

It's something I thought a lot about in putting together a story for this month's edition of Pregnancy & Newborn magazine.

The piece offers advice on how to help your little ones forge strong relationships with long-distance grandmas and grandpas, but it also discusses the importance of building a network of nearby friends - kind of a second family.

Important, and yet it isn't always such a cinch to meet other parents, especially when your kids are very small - so I thought I'd share a few of the places where I've made mama-friends:

1. In classes
Our first day in a mommy-and-me class felt just like the first day of school: Were we dressed right? Did everyone already know each other? But I'm just an anxious personality. Everyone was really nice, and one of the great things about parent-child classes is that they're typically grouped according to the child's age, so you'll already have lots in common with the other moms and dads there. (Is yours teething? Mine too!) Chains like Gymboree and programs like Baby Boot Camp often offer a free trial class. You can also think about options like Kindergym, run through City of Stockton and super-reasonably priced.

2. At the park
Duh. You've already thought of this one, haven't you? Of course you have. But there's a bit of a trick to it, I think. Try smaller, neighborhood parks and look for tot lots. Go consistently at the same time of day and you'll get to know the regulars.

3. Through moms groups
They exist to help parents connect, and they're often free or low-cost. You'll make some friends and, maybe more importantly, have a chance to get your burning parenting questions answered by mentor moms who know which salons give the best first haircuts and where to order the cutest birthday cookies. Try MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) or  La Leche League. Or start your own! In a relatively short time, the Mountain House Mothers Club has become a real powerhouse of a mom's group. Why not follow their example?

4. Where there's music playing
The Afternaps play pretty regularly around town, and it's always such a fun time.

5. Inside the library
My favorite! There's a story hour somewhere in the county almost every day of the week. It's free. It's surprisingly high-energy, and it's full of moms, dads, grandparents and lots and lots of kiddos. If you're lucky, you'll get to see the legendary Suzy Daveluy at Chavez Central Library.
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