Happy Parents, Happy Baby

laughing mother & baby
This is my friend Avi & her son. (Not the family in this post, but aren't they CUTE?) Go visit Avi at her blog, www.themamafesto.com!

[hr] I spend three full days each week with a baby who is, to paraphrase a family friend, the kind of baby who makes me want babies. More than I’ve ever wanted one before. I spend so much time smiling back at this fat and happy baby that my cheeks often hurt at the end of the day.

This baby’s schedule is a bit complicated, however, so I get a lot of questions about this family, sometimes impertinent questions. Yes, there are two nannies. Dad takes the baby one day a week. Grandma takes for one afternoon. Yes, mom works 9-6, sometimes more. Here are some of the more annoying things people say:

“Why did she have a baby now if her work takes up so much of her time?”

“I don’t understand why people have kids if they’re just going to put them in childcare all the time.”

“So it wasn’t a planned pregnancy?”

Note that the pronoun is always “she.” As if only one half of a married couple just decided to have a kid, all by herself. As if anyone outside that nuclear family has any idea what really happened around that pregnancy. (I also don’t want to know–I don’t want the set mental images that would come with those answers.)

So, I would like to state for the record that I have rarely seen any family do such a great job finding exactly the combination of childcare solutions to suit them. Since those questions usually contain thinly veiled hostility towards this child’s mother, usually because she works a lot, it’s also important to me to advertise how creativity keeps everybody as happy as any I’ve ever seen.

About today’s featured mom: she who works very hard and, this week, travelled for work for the first time since her son was born. I totally admire this woman’s career and the business she started. I admire the fact that she had an idea that would actually improve this planet, followed through with it, hired employees to help her and committed to promoting the heck out of her business. I admire the persistence that is visible when she’s doing something as basic as asking her own mother for advice about a promotional email. She also happens to be a great mom. A great mom with a great partner who is a great dad. Together, they have assembled a team that is comprised of nannies (two), grandma (one) and, of course, Dad. With some help from a dog and two cats.

The genius of this family’s plan lies in the size of this team–the very thing that I hear criticized most often. I’m thinking of making flyers, so that I don’t have to keep repeating myself:

  1. Why not put the kid in day care? Because she runs her business from an office that is located just yards from her own parents’ home. If a nanny cares for the baby at the grandparents’ home, Baby and Mom can enjoy breastfeeding every two to three hours. You know what’s really awesome to see? Mom and baby taking a few minutes out of a busy day to bond. I just sort of stand back and let them have their moment. It’s so beautiful. That’s not available to moms who put their kids in group childcare; they don’t suffer irreparable damage or anything, but I’m sure lots of those moms would love a setup like the one this mom has! [FYI, the plan is to put the baby in group childcare when he’s older because they understand that socializing with other children is healthy.]
  2. Why hire someone outside the family? This one is obvious to me, but whatever. First, because this is my JOB, I have a lot of training in current thoughts about infant safety, how to put the baby to sleep, infant nutrition, child development, etc. And no matter how much they know, Grandma and Grandpa don’t want to give their entire week over to providing free childcare. I wouldn’t! And Mom doesn’t want to give them free reign. She has thought a lot about what this baby will eat, wear on his adorable little tushie and, especially, how to put him to sleep consistently. She has a lot more control over what her nannies do than she has over what her mom does. If you don’t understand that, you clearly have never seen a mother and daughter argue.  Also, the nannies carefully record our entire days with Baby, so mom gets a detailed record of what happened, when he ate, what we played, time outside–you name it, we write it down. And that’s just more reliable when you’ve paid someone to do it! Grandma does a good job, too, when it’s her turn, but I still think the system works best when the employees do it on most days.
  3. Why are there are two nannies? I am there most days and a student spends time with the baby one day a week. If I get sick, Mom has someone else she can call. (And, for the record, Dad is in charge one whole day a week.) Oh, and if Mom goes out of town, Dad has two different people to call to help while he teaches a night class at a local university.

The point: There is NO RIGHT ANSWER when it comes to childcare. Mom staying at home is not always the right answer. Dad staying at home is not always the right answer. Take this family’s effort to heart: they looked at their priorities–not just what Baby “needs” but what Mom and Dad need, too. Everybody in this family is happy whenever I see them! Mom and Dad love their jobs. They are passionate about what they do. They are so passionate about being parents. They miss Baby when they’re gone, which means that they give him their full attention when they come back. Baby loves his playmates. And, in case you missed it the first time, I’ll repeat this: I spend so much time smiling back at this baby that my cheeks actually hurt.

It doesn’t bother me that people in general are especially curious when it comes to families. It’s the one thing everybody has in common, so we’re obviously interested in how other people’s families work. It definitely bothers me that so many people are so quick to judge, as though a woman becomes public property the minute she conceives a child. Example: complete strangers fascinated by a pregnant women often feel compelled touch her belly. Is there any other time when people feel comfortable asking if they can touch a woman’s body? Or worse, they might not ask and just put a hand on her! And why is it ok for strangers to ask me when I’m going to have kids? To give me advice about when to have kids? How many kids to have? What gender to wish for? They never ask Nathan!

I know that it’s going to be hard to brush off this kind of criticism when I am a mother. But I really hope that I can learn to look at our choices and ask: are we happy? If everyone is happy, more or less, then we are doing just fine. If I stay home, I will eventually cry about money and wonder if I should have worked full-time. If I work full-time, I will cry about missing a milestone and wonder if I should have stayed home. I hope that I remember to ask, “Am I happy?” Because chances if I am happy in my day-to-day life, my kid(s) have a much better chance of being happy themselves.

2 Comments

  1. Luana said:

    I’ve caught up on your blog + site :) and i look forward to your posts. i think you should forward this to any families with whom you’ll interview in the future. i suspect most parents would be impressed and relieved to see how much thought you put into being a nanny and how much you actually enjoy it.

    i’ve told you that i think one of the more difficult things about becoming a parent is how much “advice” and opinions you have to sift through about your own family, your child-rearing, etc. we all judge everyone else’s choices because we’re all trying to convince ourselves that what we choose to do is best and will produce the happiest kids. in reality, the perfect make-up for child care is just not possible all the time, for anyone. finding the perfect balance between working/not working, having help from outside the family or not, involving other family members or not, is logistically imperfect for most families i know.

    i think questioning why a parent should work (and the consequences of that) is ridiculous. there are many more things that children will need from us in their lives than just our attention and time. a child will obviously benefit from his or her parents being able to simply afford the things he or she will need in their life. in order to do that, most of us have to work. like you said, children benefit from seeing their parents do work they enjoy, from having some creative outlet in their lives, and from learning the value of earning things in life, material or not. whatever that looks like, i think it’s important to share it with our kids.

    i agree fully with you that the perception is that parents, and especially the child, become “public property” when the child is conceived. you know what annoys me to no end? when people say that it takes a village to raise a child. it really doesn’t. a village WILL raise a child, through its interactions, social conventions, and natural fingerprint it will put on any child raised in any kind of community. of course that will happen. but it doesn’t TAKE a village; it takes the parent(s) of that child and no one else. all the decisions should belong to the parents, provided they are reasonably healthy enough to parent safely. unless advice is solicited, i don’t think there’s any reason for it to be given.

    September 18, 2011
    Reply
    • Anne-Marie said:

      I love your take on the “village” crap. I would clarify, though, that parents seem to benefit from the HELP of many people, as long as IT IS THE HELP THEY ASK FOR. In-laws and other well-meaning relatives should always remember that they are there to help, not to actually raise the kid with his parents! If they think that they’re raising your kid with you, it just creates tension. This is why I believe so strongly in government-subsidized childcare, like in Scandinavia, so that everyone could have access to paid help. If you are paying someone, they are much more likely to defer to you. And you can fire them if they don’t. If our culture valued my profession, there would be a lot more babysitters and nannies and childcare centers to choose from! But given the reality of things, I am a big believer in putting as much of the kid budget as possible into paid help. I will be giving up Christmas presents and vacations if it means getting paid help when we have kids.

      September 18, 2011
      Reply

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