Awhile back, I talked about my work/child care split with my husband for a reporter writing for Quill magazine, a publication that writes about journalism for journalists. The article was about work/life balance, and I was happy to talk, as working less and enjoying life more is a topic I’m passionate about.
My husband Jeff works full-time as a nurse, which means three 12-hour days. The other days, he is home with us, and those are the days that I work part-time as a freelance journalist. We don’t have a nanny, or daycare provider or even really a regular babysitter, although I have friends that fill in from time to time.
It’s absolutely wonderful that Teddy gets to be with either one of us all the time. We are lucky not to have to pay for child care. I am incredibly lucky as a mom that I have a fully hands-on partner who is fully competent to take care of our son, and not just as the second-tier parent. I never have to worry about how Teddy will be, what he will eat or what he will do because I know Jeff takes care of it. They have their own ways of being together, just like Teddy and I have our own ways of doing things.
After the article came out, and still a few months later, I have gotten lots of comments from friends and colleagues, saying how great our situation is and how lucky we are. And they are absolutely right. I would not change our situation for anything.
But often something funny happens. When it becomes apparent that Teddy is very attached to the two of us, and not used to being with strangers, people raise an eyebrow. Clearly, wanting to be with his parents all the time is unhealthy. Why isn’t he used to going with a babysitter?
Well, because he never does. The wonderful thing about him being with us all the time is that he is with us all the time. That is also the terrible thing. He will go to a babysitter, but it’s harder for him than most. He is not used to being put to bed by someone else. He’s used to his parents being home.
In addition, we have very little time together as a family where everyone is completely off. When my husband comes home from work, it’s late and he’s tired. If we have the time and energy to watch a half hour of TV together, that’s a win. The other days, I am constantly beckoned by the computer to try and get work done. Every other weekend, we have a weekend off together, but if we have visitors or have to go somewhere, we don’t. With a traditional 9 to 5 situation, everyone has the same on and off times, but ours are rare.
Our families often complain that Jeff has to work every other holiday. He was off on Memorial day, but will work Fourth of July. Each year, he works either Christmas or Thanksgiving. I don’t mind this a bit, as I feel that Teddy will remember the everyday stuff with his dad way more than any holiday, but it can be a bummer.
I don’t say this to complain. I love our situation, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. But just to say that every child care situation has pitfalls. Stay-at-home moms can get burnt out. Their partners may feel they are always the number two parent, waiting in the wings like an understudy. Work-at-home moms can feel like the candle is burning at both ends, and they’re constantly trying to find something to entertain their children so they can get something done. Or like my buddy Melanie, they’re doing an interview on their cell phone with the bathroom door locked. I have had those days. Full-time working moms are put through the ringer at work and then expected to come home fresh as a daisy, ready to be patient and loving, and never feeling like they have enough time to get everything done and really enjoy time with the kids.
Awhile ago, I saw this little internet meme about store-bought valentines that has stuck with me.
Now, if you’re wondering if I deleted a paragraph that connected my childcare situation to valentines, I didn’t. There’s a connecting here, I promise.
Just like store-bought valentines, everything we do as a parent requires a choice. A choice to do something one way, which means we will not be doing it another way. Teddy can be extremely clingy in the eyes of other parents because he is used to being with us and only us. That’s a choice we made, and we have to live with the consequences. Could we balance it perfectly so that he loves being with us but never minds being with a babysitter or a stranger? Maybe. Yes? No. I don’t think so. Everything is a choice, and sometimes, we just have to live with the store-bought valentines, knowing that getting to read our kid three extra bedtime books or make a blanket fort or just have some time to snuggle is our prize.
I say all this not really to remind you, but to remind me, as I am constantly trying to make the perfect choice so that there’s no downside. That’s just not life, and it’s really not parenting. For every choice I make in how to raise my child, there will be a possible consequence, real or imagined, significant or paltry. I will have to live with other people’s questions, and moreover, my own questions. My own inner raised eyebrow, as my favorite mom blogger Meg McElwee says.
For me, this means I can’t go to the bathroom alone, but I can sit typing this in my office, hearing my husband and toddler playing together and laughing through the door. That’s a sound that reminds me that I’ve made the right choice, or rather that there’s no perfect right choice, just the ones we can live with.