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It Takes a Village to Raise Happy Kids

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When the farmer and I were first married, we packed up, leaving our family and friends behind and moved to New Jersey to pursue our jobs. The farmer had found an engineering job (there weren’t too many corn, soybean, or wheat fields in Northern New Jersey, and we weren’t about to drive across the country in a combine, anyway), while I pursued a career in banking and then HR consulting, which I wouldn’t have been able to do in Michigan. We lived there for three years before the farmer’s position was transferred back to Michigan.

On the day that the movers came, I found out that I was pregnant with our first child. While the prospect of moving halfway across the country while pregnant was scary, and I had little hope of finding a new job while pregnant or with a new baby, I am so grateful that we made the move. To this day, I thank my lucky stars that we were able to start our little family back “home.”

The farmer and I lived the good life when we lived in New Jersey. We would often take the train into Manhattan to dine out, see Broadway shows, and visit every tourist trap known to man. We ventured down to the Jersey Shore (that was before the days when Snooki took over the town) and toured wineries on the west side of the state. While we thoroughly enjoyed the ability to explore and make the most of our “pre-baby life,” it wouldn’t have been an ideal lifestyle for raising a family. We had no house with a yard for the kids to play in, no wheat fields for my son to run through and “tickle,” and most importantly, no support system to fall back on in case of an emergency.

Back in Michigan, we have family nearby. The kids are raised with the help of their grandparents, aunts and uncles, and even their great-grandparents play a large role in raising them. The kids are always having “play dates” with their cousins (and even some second and third cousins). There’s a sense of community and belonging that we wouldn’t have been able to share with our children if we had continued to live away from “home.”

When we lived in New Jersey, we made friends and formed surrogate families, but I’ve found that I rely on my family so much to help raise my children and I wouldn’t have been able to impose on the friends we had made. I’ve called my grandmother to watch one child while I took the other to the doctor in an emergency, and I’ve had to call my mother-in-law several times when I was stuck in traffic or a snowstorm and couldn’t pick the kids up from daycare before it closed. My sister-in-law and I trade babysitting time if we have a scheduled appointment, and we frequently use the farmer’s younger cousins as babysitters for our date nights.

If there’s anything that I’ve learned since becoming a parent it’s that it takes a village to raise a child. It’s wonderful to be able to use our family as a built-in babysitting network, but the kids are also learning so much from their extended family members. My mother is a retired elementary teacher and is always working with the kids to teach them their letters, handwriting, and coloring techniques, while my mother-in-law, a dental hygienist, teaches the kids about brushing and flossing their teeth and the “dangers of drinking pop” (my son is constantly admonishing the farmer for his “pop a day” drinking habit). My father teaches the kids to waterski, fish, and even play ice hockey, while my father-in-law teaches them about every piece of farm equipment and “what happens when it snows on the corn.” The kids have even been to multiple fire stations to visit relatives on duty, and they parade around the house wearing real hard hats, which are compliments of their uncles.

In addition to teaching the kids valuable life lessons, we encourage our family members to discipline our children when they’re misbehaving. Our parents were able to teach us right from wrong, and I hope that they will help to instill that same value system in our kids. Also, our kids will go to the same school as many of their cousins and other extended family members, and I look forward to having the inside scoop about their friends and activities.

Past generations were raised by entire communities, and while society is becoming more technologically advanced, it seems to be losing some of the “connectedness” and family-focused atmosphere that it once had. I hope to bring that atmosphere back into my children’s lives, and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to live near our family members. When our family travels, we rely on technology such as FaceTime to keep in touch, but it isn’t the same as spending time together face-to-face.

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