Asking for (hiring?) help

March 10, 2010 at 10:46 am | Posted in little bug, Little O, SAHM, Starbucks | 4 Comments
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I have an unflattering admission: I judge people. Remember how I judged those women sitting around the table at Starbucks? I immediately labeled them stay-at-home moms whiling away their mornings at Pilates and coffee while their kids were at school. Nothing wrong with this, of course, but they made me feel uneasy because while I felt slightly superior that I, a busy and important lawyer, normally had no time for sitting around at coffee* I also really wanted to be one of them. Similarly, when I lived in the city, I’d go to the playground and I’d see nannies chasing after children whose mothers I knew did not work. I can’t believe so-and-so has a full-time nanny, I’d think to myself. Almost like, why have children if you’re not going to work and yet you’re not going to take care of them? But I suspect some of my judgment masked an underlying jealousy.

Judgment isn’t pretty. Ever. And when I judge, I do so because something about the situation makes me uneasy and insecure about my own choices. Perhaps these women had nannies for an extra set of hands, enabling them, as a mother, to focus on one child at a time. Or maybe these mothers knew they were not the most patient of souls, and the nanny helped them be more calm and present. Or perhaps they just spent their days at the gym and shopping, who knows. But I get it now: if you can afford some help with your small children, why not have an extra set of eyes and hands around? An extra lap for reading stories? An extra pair of arms for hugs?

Case in point: Last night, at 6 p.m., I was wrangling Little Bug from the table to the bath, while the baby, who has in general “woken up” and now at five weeks is somewhat colicky at the end of the day, wailed away. I handed the baby to Lisa, our graduate student babysitter, who rocked and bounced him while I washed Buggy’s hair and let her linger in the tub and then got her ready for bed. Lisa then read Buggy a book while I nursed the baby, and then she burped the baby while I read to the toddler. And then it was 6:30, and everyone was relatively calm: I had not snapped at Little Bug nor sent her to time out for restless behavior. I did not spend the earlier part of the day dreading dinner and bathtime. It had been a pretty good day.

And yet, I feel a tinge of guilt. It’s not the expense — I have a very generous maternity leave and am getting paid for several months still, not to mention that the cost of a babysitter a few hours a week is literally a fraction of what we paid our wonderful, full-time nanny. It’s the admission that I can’t do myself without feeling overwhelmed. It’s the realization that I judged so many other women’s choices without knowing their backstories. 

Let’s be honest: if I had all the money in the world, I wouldn’t work and I’d hire a lot of childcare help.

Or would I? As I drove home from Starbucks the other day — solo, because Lisa was at home — I saw a young mother pushing an infant in a stroller and dragging along two other small children, both under 3. I was overcome with guilt and sadness — why wasn’t I out strolling my babies in the spring sun? Was grabbing a chai and writing a few thank-you notes at Starbucks while someone else held my baby the right thing

I know a lot of people reading this will offer support for hiring babysitting help. Indeed, many of my coworkers were surprised that we were not keeping our nanny through my maternity leave. But I’d also love to hear from others who feel as torn and guilty about hiring help as I do — or who perhaps have not hired (for whatever reason) some help while staying at home with children. I keep thinking: my mother did it without babysitters (she might argue that her sanity suffered?); my mother-in-law hired help only when her twins, my husband and his sister, were born — but I should add here that she already had SIX OTHER CHILDREN, the oldest of who at that point was 8 (she might argue that her sanity suffered as well!)

As I write this, Little Buggy is at preschool. Little O is home for two hours with the sitter. I have edited the resumes of my sister and aunt, signed up to be an alumni mentor at my law school, answered a dozen emails, skimmed the Times, and have written this post. Were I not doing this now, I’d be thinking for the rest of the day of getting these little tasks done. And I wouldn’t have had the chance to write. Arguably, this time will make me more focused and present this afternoon. But do I deserve this? Are the other women at Starbucks judging me? 

*This is of course not entirely true because as any regular reader knows, I hit Starbucks with my colleagues all the time.



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  1. I think about this issue all the time and share some of the same pangs of guilt. I stay at home with my two boys (aged 10 months and 2 1/2 years). I recently started to do some freelance writing from home and hired a part-time babysitter to watch the boys while I work. Well, that was the idea, at least. Now I have her come a little bit early and stay a little bit late so I can do some of the things you mentioned: breastfeed in peace, eat a sandwich with two hands, grocery shop with only one of my boys. I spend plenty of time with my kids, as I’m sure you do, and I’ve never been happier. I feel like my life has reached that point of unattainable and magical balance. And yet I feel guilty because I know what other mothers must think: that I’m spoiled, that I am profligate for paying someone to do things I could do with my kids. And I wonder why I am not able to let my own voice, the happy voice, ring more loudly in my ears than the imaginary voices of the women I assume to be judging me.

  2. Question: Would a SAHD feel guilty in any of these situations? My guess not.

    As for me, we will have our nanny through my maternity leave and I already feel guilty ;-). Always good to get a head start.

  3. Fear not, Sara. My nanny is staying on full time and I have zero guilt. She’s going to be taking some classes and doing IVF so I’m glad I can give her a more flexible schedule while I’m on leave. She’s been incredibly dependable and willing to work crazy hours for us.

  4. Don’t we all judge? And the best thing is when our judgements prove totally wrong (as they often do). As for childcare, I do think as you mentioned at the end of the post that childcare enables us to be more present with our children. It is a great luxury to have babysitting but I force myself when I come home from the office to hide (and I have to hide it) my blackberry and leave the computer off and play and hang out with the kids. I used to feel guilty when not at work and could technically be with the kids. I no longer do. So many of our mothers did without childcare but also spanked and did many things we wouldn’t necessarily approve of. Interesting things to think about. My kids are out with my favorite babysitter (aka husband).

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