Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Last week my husband I were discussing our plans for the summer, and what to do if a new job didn't come through for me quickly. We have a nanny - an expensive child care option. We can go til August, probably, keeping our nanny, but after that, we'd have to let her go.

I said I thought a lot about staying at home. But our nanny's only job is to take care of our daughter. There are a lot of nannies in our neighborhood, and they all get together daily for walks, playdates, lunches - and just in general have a lot of fun. Working from home, there have been days there have been 6 nannies and 8 kids running around our house. Somedays it's a small group here, other days a larger group there, lunch together after the library's story time, picnics at the park. I call it the Nanny mafia - they are everywhere, and my kids friends are kids with other nannies. She spends 5 hours of every 8 hour day with other kids. (She naps 2 hours, and they spend half an hour at home in the morning and afternoon generally alone). If I stayed home, she'd lose that connection to her friends - we'd make other friends with the stay at home mom crowd. But my job would be so much more than playdates every day. I'd run errands, go grocery shopping, keep the house clean.......

Yes, my husband interrupted me, it would definitely be a downgrade to her existence.

He was kidding in his specific choice of words, but he and I share that sentiment. She would not have as much fun with me at home as she does now.

I feel like I've bitten off more than I can chew by taking on the working versus stay at home debate. I've never been a debater, but a while ago I read someone's blog who said the top lesson in debating is not to engage in a question that forces you to accept your opponent's argument. You'll lose every time.

So I'm not going to answer why have kids if you aren't going to raise them. That accepts that in order to raise your own child you have to be with them all the time. And that's not a true premise. You do not have to be with your kids 24/7 to be raising them. You're still in charge. In fact, despite the rise of professional working women, a recent University of Maryland study found that time spent with children has risen over the past 40 years. Think about it. Women 40 years ago - who stayed home - did not have the same conveniences we have today. So while they were home, they were cooking, cleaning, and doing other things besides spending exclusive time with their kids. Kids were left to own devices more often than today. It's our society today that expects your focus must be on the kids. This report was published in a book last year - Changing Rhythms of American Family Life. It was also heavily reported last year - google Maryland time spent with kids study and find the NY Times story, among others. All good stuff, though annoyingly for old articles the NYT doesn't seem to have the same link to your blog feature, so I can't have the cool links I had planned.

Of course many women don't have a choice when it comes to working. People need two incomes to get by, or single moms need their own incomes.

We could be ok one one income. My salary generally goes to savings, extras, vacations, home repair, a cushion. We don't live extravagantly, but we do live in an expensive urban area, which is where my husband is employable. By cutting back, and not saving much for college or for us, it would certainly be possible. We talked about this when I was on maternity leave. I went through a time when I wasn't sure about going back to work. But the conundrum was that if I didn't work, my husband would have to work harder - more hours - to be more successful. And boy, during those infant days, I needed the break by 5:30 pm. I needed him home to help. So if we both worked, we could both work reasonable hours, ok and stable, if not advancing quickly. If I stayed home, we'd need him to work more, but I'd want him to work less. It just didn't work.

So, one of the hardest periods of my life as a mommy was the week or so leading up to my return to work. I was so stressed out. My daughter and I had a nice routine, and I loved getting her up from her naps and the special smile she had just for me. It broke my heart to think it wouldn't be me - the first thing she saw would no longer be me, but someone else. My sadness lasted exactly until I arrived at my job - and talked to my friends, and went to lunch unencumbered, and gossiped about work, and, yes, actually engaged my brain in something thoughtful and interesting. I never really looked back.

That job, and the one I just lost, offered a fair amount of flexibility. And that's what turned out to be important to me. If my daughter was sick, with only a few exceptions on particular days, I could easily stay home. I had a lot of vacation time, too, so if needed, I could take days off here and there. My husband's job also offers the ability to work flex time, so at levels, we had the ability to have the best of both worlds - flexible, understanding, family friendly jobs that paid fairly well, kept us reasonably satisfied, and left us with some level of balance.

We also jointly decided that we wanted a nanny, not daycare. The bottom line really is everyone has to decide for themselves what works. A nanny is expensive - maybe twice as expensive as daycare for one kid. Given my age, we wanted a second child fairly quickly, and in general a sibling adds $1 an hour to what you pay your nanny, while it doubles daycare costs (roughly, in our area). So with two kids, it's a bit of a wash, though pricey. We were also comfortable with the idea of a nanny. One of my friends said she'd only do a nanny - no way would she put her kid in daycare to catch germs from all the other kids and be forced on a schedule and have 1 caregiver for every 3-5 kids or whatever. Another friend said she'd only consider daycare, no way would she consider just one person, a stranger, alone in her house doing god knows what with her kid every day, plus daycare builds up immunity, etc. From my perspective, daycare wasn't for me - given my flexible job, having to load up kids stuff every day and drop off and pick up at exact times every day of the week seemed rigid. And I wanted the one on one bond with a nanny. After all, I often say, no kid ever suffered from being loved too much. And that's what our nanny is - another person who loves our daughter, and whom our daughter loves.

So now I'm digressing. Penelope Trunk actually answered this question today, in her much more succinct style. On a small number of issues, we have this weird societal expectation that one size fits all. Yet we know that's not the case. Temperaments differ, experiences differ, expectations differ. Some people take to motherhood as a calling. Other people do not. I love being a mom. I love spending time with my daughter. I love having a job, and bringing in family income, and being respected for my work and my efforts. Those aren't mutually exclusive. This is what works for us, now. After a second, maybe. Maybe not. I'd ideally love a decent paying, high level of responsibility, 4 day a week job. Those are few and far between. And while this works now, it might not work in the future. I'd like to work and advance now, and reevaluate once kid(s) are in school. I'd like to be there after school. That's the time that doesn't yet work for me - after we no longer need a nanny, I'd like my child(ren) to be able to come home, chill out, relax, and not be in an aftercare program. To me, my choice, that seems like a lot of time.

My nanny was able to come to work today. I've enjoyed snuggle time with my daughter, time at the Children's Museum, extra cuddle time. And yet, today, when my nanny arrived, I gave a big sigh of relief and escaped to my office to apply for more jobs.

1 comment:

Tash said...

I think what kills me about this whole argument is that you feel the need to defend yourself in the first place. Because you so don't. You're a great mom, and an intelligent, clearly hard-working woman. And your daughter will have a spectacular role model.

I'm a stay-at-home mom and there are days I wish -- and I bet Bella wishes too -- that she had a nanny.

Hang in there. G'luck on the job front, fingers crossed.