The other day, my husband’s coworker told him about how his wife was having a hard time finding a babysitter. Well, not finding one, but liking one! It wasn’t that she was intolerant, it was just that she was having a hard time separating from her kids. This reminded me of the struggle I had myself, which looking back seems kind of humorous, so I thought I’d post about it here.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Lots of moms are so overwhelmed by child-raising that even a SNOWMAN seems a suitable candidate when compared to spending another night at home. I definitely felt this way after baby #4. But for many moms who put their hearts and souls into their children, they don’t want just ANY babysitter. They want to get out of the house, but at what cost? When faced with options, they might just as well decide it’s not worth it, they’ll stay at home (again).
Originally, I felt this way. And I practiced it… In four years, I probably left the home about a dozen times. And most of those were when my in-laws came and kicked me and my husband out! (I’m not kidding!). I remember going to three weddings and having my best friends (adults) babysit two of those times. And I remember having my husband’s best friend visit us a couple times, long-distance, and because he always stayed with us for free he babysat a couple times while we ran to Panera. Other than that, I can’t recall ever going out. I never just went out on a date, or got out by myself except after the kids were in bed and I knew my husband could be trusted to house-sit =) When push came to shove, I chose the stress of staying in over the stress of finding a way out.
What was wrong with me?
As I try to analyze it, I see a couple roots:
Even the hiring process just seemed like stress. And I couldn’t deal with more stress! Just thinking of breaking the habit, stirring up the routine, causing the kids separation anxiety, picturing the babysitter pulling her hair, doling out the money, etc. was enough to make me feel depressed. Was it worth it? Now that I’ve had a couple months of regular “date nights,” I have found out that it is. So here are some of the steps I went through.
Part of the problem was finding a babysitter. Gone are the days when you could hire the teenager down the street. If your neighborhood is anything like ours, people don’t talk to each other and you don’t even know if your neighbors have a teenage girl. If they do, you certainly don’t know anything about them, including if they babysit. Many girls don’t. And many aren’t responsible. So do you Craigslist? Put up an ad somewhere? Ask around at church or community place? In my limited experience, asking for a referral was actually the best. Ask a friend who they use and when you call that candidate, if they say no, ask them if they could refer you to one of their friends who also babysits. Chances are, you’ll get someone more reliable than you would just randomly. Make sure they live somewhat near you, though, since you’ll have to be willing to transport back and forth, which can add time or stress to the planning.
Once you have actually located a potential babysitter, you have to check them out. Nowadays you have to be very careful who you let into your home. What if they ignore the kids and watch YouTube all night? Or talk on their cell? What if they IM chat or MySpace it in ways they shouldn’t? What if they watch one of your PG-13 movies around your kindergartener? Gone are the days where most teenagers think about a lot of those things, or have a sensitive conscience about it. Even if they are sensitive, they might be totally unqualified. Babysitting is less standard than when I was growing up and all my friends and I did it. Many girls have never spent time in a nursery or been around friends who have had substantially younger siblings. Many don’t want to take charge or know how to (properly). Some girls I’ve talked to, though lovely, have not really known the difference between a toddler and a preschooler. Or felt comfortable with more than two children at a time. So you have to go over these things. (And finding someone who knows CPR or safety procedures is a real plus.)
Then there is affording it. No longer can you get by with five dollars an hour. Now it has to be above the minimum wage with a good tip. And you’re at a loss because you are already paying to go out! Where we live, $15 an hour is pretty common, with poor people vying for $10 and richer people offering $20/hr. That is a huge commitment! But what are you going to do? Give up your chance to go out, when you worked hard to find the babysitter to begin with? Especially if you like who you hire, you want to keep them happy. Set aside part of your budget for at least one monthly date and skip some treats the prior week if you feel guilty about it.
Then of course there is a big thing of just liking the babysitter and feeling like they can replace you while you’re gone. Mommies tend to feel very particular about how their little ones should be taken care of since they work so hard at getting things just right! You try to keep them from jumping on the couch, from eating junk food, from watching too much TV, and staying up too late. And it is very worrisome to imagine that someone is going to change the rules on you while you’re gone. You don’t want to be a stickler, but you can’t help it! You feel compelled to find someone who can be more like you, rather than less. The only way out of this trap is to focus on the time out you’re going to have and let the joy of the trip replace the control you want at the home. It’s just one night, and it’s good for the kids too. They’ll go back to normal by the next day.
While I didn’t have as much trouble with being “replaced” as a friend of mine, I did have a funny personal worry: that watching my children would be too difficult for a young girl and therefore she might be turned off from motherhood! It sounds so silly now, to say that, but I guess I just felt responsible for making sure the babysitter didn’t have a hard time, which I surely couldn’t promise! I felt like I had to ensure she liked everything. And since I felt so overwhelmed with my own children at the time (and remember, I have four under the age of 5yrs), I was worried that my sitter would surely be overwhelmed… how could I invite her to have this experience? I think I also remembered feeling reluctant to babysit certain children myself, when I was a girl. I’d think, “OH NO, not THAT family!” But I didn’t feel the liberty to tell whomever it was that I didn’t want to sit. Now as the mom who loves her children I thought of how tragic it would be to cause that reaction in another person. I had a distinct fear that in this day and age of feminism, that helping my kids behave would turn her off from wanting to have her own children.
My husband assured me that this wouldn’t necessarily be the case, as long as I got someone who was experienced with little people and bold enough to tell me if they were having a problem =) You really can’t control someone else’s feelings, and they usually don’t feel as bad as you project they might. All my sitters have taken everything in stride, even things I thought were hard! Humbling. I also encourage feedback from my sitters so I can be sure they’re comfortable. And I try to keep my kids behaving as good as possible! 😉
And the last reason I can think of that can cause fear or stress in a mother while finding a babysitter is sort of a sadistic one: you feel like you must be in charge of your own family, even if it causes you pain! This is classic Martyr Syndrome. You sabotage your own self (subconsciously) because you feel guilty, like it means less of you as a person if you want to take a break for awhile. A good friend of mine with three young children felt this way for awhile and she never left the house. She barely showered! It wasn’t just a habit, or that she felt her husband couldn’t handle things. She just felt like she had to suffer and accept her own suffering… like that meant she was a better mom, sacrificing more.
Don’t shake your head in disbelief… most of us have felt something like this at one time or another, even about something else =) It is easy to feel like “this is just your cross to bear” and garner support by playing the victim. After all, as fellow mothers it is our JOB to support each other and to make empathic statements. I totally believe in this. And it is our job to sacrifice for our family and give ourselves kudos for doing so (since no-one else in the house will😉 But don’t make yourself feel better by doing things that would encourage the pity party. There are other ways of feeling better… like getting out!!
And your husband will definitely thank you for it, so do it for him even if not your kids or yourself. 😉