I still remember the day I moved to New York City with my now husband — the excitement and total lack of fear. This was it: my high school dream come true with the man I hoped to someday marry. It was everything I imagined it would be; late nights, long mornings in bed and countless brunches.
Then I got pregnant, and that’s when it began to sink in: I was a long way from my friends and family. They wouldn’t be part of my growing belly, the excitement of decorating the nursery and shopping for baby.
One of the most magical things about pregnancy and motherhood is that women are so kind to one another. You are, after all, going through the same things, so there’s an immediate connection. But I’m very shy, and putting myself out there to meet and connect with other moms and moms-to-be was no easy task.
And I knew when my daughter, Ady, was born, it was going to be much harder without family around. Sure, I could have moved back to the UK, but New York was my home, and I could never pretend it wasn’t. So instead of planning a London exodus, I did everything I could to build a support system.
Midway through my pregnancy, a friend told me about one of the many local moms groups in New York City. I eventually fell into a group of women who were due to give birth around the same time as me. I can’t tell you how invaluable this was. We went through each trimester together, understood each other’s feeling and could ask each other questions about our changing bodies, hormones and more.
When Ady was born, my Friday meeting with the friends I had made through mom groups was one of the highlights of my week. It was amazing to have adult conversations, share any concerns I had as a new mom and just generally feel an overwhelming amount of support.
They also stepped in to help out when my family couldn’t. It was hard at first; with family, we tend to have a lot less guilt (virtually none) about inconveniencing them. If I were in London, I wouldn’t hesitate to call my mom and say, “I’m so sick, I cannot cope today, please, can you come help me?” But with friends, we feel as if we are putting them out or asking too much.
You would be surprised at how untrue this is. My friend and I recently sat down and made a promise to one another that if we were ever in a situation where we needed help, we would not think twice about asking. I feel a lot happier knowing that in any unfortunate situation — from being locked out to a dreaded medical emergency — I have someone to lean on.
Having childcare has also been an important part of my support system. I have had the same nanny since Ady was 4 months old (she is nearly 4 now!), and she has become a part of our family. I feel incredibly lucky to have her and can so clearly see the love that she and Ady have for one another. Having her in our lives diminishes my mom guilt dramatically and keeps me sane. Plus, it brings comfort to know that Ady feels just as happy with another person.
I understand that not everyone wants or can have a nanny, but it’s key to at least find a great roster of sitters that your children can get to know. Parents need the ability to look after themselves – after all, looking after yourself allows you to look after others.
Now, 4 years into raising my daughter far away from family, I’ve learned that family can actually be a broad word for those you surround yourself with. And I’m grateful for the people who have become part of our “family” and who have made parenting abroad so much easier.
About the Author: Lauren Mansell is the CEO and Founder of Hello Sitter, on-demand childcare app that enables NYC parents to quickly and easily book fully vetted, carefully curated and highly experienced sitters. Lauren was inspired to start Hello Sitter from her own experience sourcing childcare in New York, and is deeply involved in every aspect of the company–from fielding customer service inquiries to writing the company blog to using the app to book sitters for her daughter Ady. She is a firm believer in the importance of me-time and spontaneity for parents and families, and aims to bring flexibility and comfort to parents across New York City with Hello Sitter.