In Defense of the Babysitter

Filed under: Childcare, Baby-sitting

No one looks askance at working mothers who arrange childcare for their kids. What else are they supposed to do? Let them run wild "Lord of the Flies" style? But what about the mom who stays home with the children? Should she be allowed to have childcare, too?

Working or not, motherhood is a more than full-time job all on its own. Imagine what it would be like to have six kids, all with different schedules, all with different needs. That's why "Project Runway" star Laura Bennett has three nannies to help run her household.

In a brilliant essay at The Daily Beast, Bennett tartly defends herself in the face of haters who brand her a rich, lazy housewife:

"I could pretend to be some sort of self-aggrandized uber-mom who does it all, but the truth is I couldn't possibly get all my kids to places they need to be, well-fed, relatively clean, with homework completed all by myself without going completely postal. I have great respect for my nannies and I know that job they do is very hard, primarily because I do it, too."

Bennett goes on to talk about the caregivers who transport, feed, nurture, and yes, even love her six kids. And she also admits that her "manny" does things with her sons that she prefers not to do, like watch "man movies" or make potato guns out of PVC pipe.

A mother who admits she pays someone to play with her kids? Because she doesn't want to? Off with her head! While you're at it, you better behead me, too.

I had a cushy corporate gig when my daughter was born, and as soon as I found out I was pregnant, I negotiated a telecommuting arrangement. Conference calls and infants don't mix, so I hired a sweet girl from the local university to watch the baby while I worked. Long story, short: I quit the job -- and kept the babysitter.

I am not rich, nor do I have a posse of children. I have just two, and each of them has had a regular babysitter since birth. Right now I am an almost full-time work-at-home-mom, and the sitter watches the kids while I get precious quiet time to write. That wasn't always the case; when I wasn't working, the sitter came when I went grocery shopping, ran errands, or even got a manicure. I needed that baby-free time to keep my sanity intact.

Time apart is beneficial for both me and my children. I get time to focus on me and my own agenda, without someone clinging to my leg or stinking up the place with dirty pants. My kids get to spend time playing with someone who doesn't have the responsibility of raising them to be good, functioning citizens. Our sitter has the patience play 16 rounds of "Candy Land" because her day with them ends at 1 p.m.

Because frankly, 'round-the-clock parenting can take a serious toll on a girl's patience. At least, this girl's patience.

Not every parent feels that way. Susan Niebur's sons, Andrew, 4, and Matthew, 2, have never had a babysitter.

"For me, it comes down to trust," Niebur says. "I'm not in an area where I grew up, and I don't have any friends with teenage children, nor do I really come in contact regularly with anyone that age. I could hire a stranger, at $20 an hour, but I'm just not that confident in who they'd be."

She and her husband, who live in the metro Washington, D.C. area, "make it work," she adds: "We know that we'll have more time without the kids when they go to school. And then we'll miss these days, so for now we just do things with the kids. The kids learn to behave and be good company in stores and restaurants, and to play quietly when mama needs to work, so that we can play together later."

Marty Long has a similar viewpoint. Why would she hire a sitter for a date night, she says, when being home with 13-month-old Christopher is more enchanting than any candlelight dinner?

"There is nothing that has come up that I would rather do than eat dinner with my family, have our bath time and story ritual, and then nurse and rock my son to sleep," says the Raleigh, N.C. mom. "There hasn't been a movie worth watching or a concert worth attending to make me want to miss that time with him."

Long also says the cost is prohibitive, with babysitting, dinner and a movie adding up: "That gets really expensive, and I think about what all we could do as a whole family with that money."

Long is right, it does add up. A week's worth of babysitting, on top of what we pay for preschool tuition, would probably seem like a princely sum if I shared the numbers with you. It's a line item that gets reviewed each and every time we look at how to reduce our monthly budget.

And every time, I ask my husband to put a price on my sanity. Maybe that makes me selfish. Or maybe it just makes me human. Maybe it makes me like Bennett, who says that 27-7 diaper duty just isn't her bag:

"Experiencing the pain of childbirth does not make me love my children any more, that's why God invented epidurals. Similarly, changing every diaper, cooking every meal, and doing every pick-up and drop-off does not make me love them more either. Choosing not to do so hardly makes me incompetent."

Can I get an amen?

Should SAHMs have regular in-home childcare? Does having a babysitter or nanny make them rich, spoiled brats, or just plain smart?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.