Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Babysitters: because we're pacing ourselves for a marathon

Over the last couple of months, one by one at separate times, most of the seven of us "builders" have sent around an "I can't handle much more" email to the group. I just sent mine and then realized how not-novel it was. Mine was the fifth or so in a string of them. All our circumstances have been different in some ways (from Red's first trimester misery to B-mama's mono) and similar in others (return from family "vacation"--to call these trips "vacation" for a mother is a sick misnomer). This is unusual. We're not really a complaining or self-pitying bunch, and I must say that the other six builders have a remarkably high level of forebearance.

I think part of what's going on from my end is I'm settling into the realization that mothering, especially mothering a larger family where new babies arrive regularly, is a marathon. It's not a sprint (I really didn't need to try to cram catechism questions and answers into Bella's mind at age 9 months); it's not an 8K (all three of my children really don't need to learn to swim this summer in 4 weeks if it's going to make us all miserable); it would maybe be a half marathon if we had a nanny and only one child. But I'm going to be run ragged by children for many years--physically exhausted with little ones, then, if understand correctly how this works, the mental and emotional work gets heavier as they age.

I've put into place some essential sanity savers like daily exercise outside before the family wakes up, sacraments and prayer according to a schedule, Diet Dr. Pepper (when the nutrasweet kills me, I can honestly say that it made my life happier during the time I lived), and predictable home routines like laundry and grocery shopping.

But I'm getting the sense that a regular weekly break is an essential component of pacing myself for the marathon. Not a "break" to run errands or clean house kid-free, but a break to do something I choose. I think I know some of the activities that truly recharge me and make me feel free. Otherwise, as the builders have been discussing among ourselves, we really can start to feel trapped and entangled and become more and more frayed until simple cheerfulness requires more energy than we can muster. We don't get a break or have time away ever. I can't complete a thought in my own mind without being interrupted. When I reflect on it like this, hiring regular help seems obvious.

Then again, there are factors that weigh against hiring a babysitter. Where we live, babysitters, even teenagers (we're in a fancy school district where the teens constantly weigh the value of their Ivy-League-bound time), are absurdly expensive, people pay $20/hour for three kids, never less than $15. I feel so guilty about paying that it's hard to enjoy the time out. I keep wondering whether I'm really getting my money's worth out of every paid minute. Also, in the past, I've felt like I had to clean up our apartment and have the kids totally ready for a sitter to arrive, so the whole day became stressful "getting ready" for the sitter. Third, one of my children hasn't outgrown freaking out when I leave, particularly when I leave them with a babysitter. I hate to force this child to have to cope with my departure when it's just for a break for me. Fourth, I'm controlling, and it's difficult for me to give someone else charge over my kids. I don't want to see bad behaviors learned on someone else's watch, especially someone I'm paying.

One other thing, AWOL Mommy made a great point recently in favor of hiring a sitter... it's a hard situation when we're relying on tag-team parenting, like as soon as our husband walks in the door we leave the kids and dash off to take care of responsibilities or even to take a quick break for ourselves. Problems with this are: (1) it can make me resentful that I have to ask for a short amount of time off as a favor, even when my husband gives it to me willingly and (2) more importantly, it takes the place of time that we should be spending together as a couple. Paid help during the week really seems best for the family, because it doesn't cut into valuable time with our husbands, it's simply a break for us from our daily "workday" responsibilities.

How do you pace yourself for the long race ahead, and do sitters fall somewhere in your strategy?


AWOL Mommy said...

To follow up on our tag-team parenting discussion. Another fact of which I have to constantly remind myself is how invaluable it is for our children to witness the way that their parents interact with one another. Spending time together, enjoying one another's company in the presence of the kids at the end of a stressful day is good for everyone. Any amount of control you must sacrifice to a babysitter will be offset by the benefits of kids who witness how much their parents enjoy one another's company.

On another note, I cannot believe those babysitting rates. I need to move to Philly stat.

B-Mama said...

I am realizing more and more than weekly babysitting should be a norm in our household. What prevents me taking the plunge is 1)finding somebody, 2) finding somebody good, 3) worrying about my childrens' behavior for said sitter (they had tantrums the last time we used one). How do you line up help during the week day? Where have you found good ones?--we are relatively new to our parish and are still connecting. It's also on the other side of town. And what rules do you have in place to ensure proper behavior with the sitter?

Elena said...

I often wish that there was a ministry run by older women in our parishes called: Hire-a-Grandma. These women could volunteer or receive payment for helping out the younger crew with their broods. The older women who could handle this know who they are and are frequently delighted to help with childcare as many of them have grandchildren who live far away or have no grandkids at all. I had an 85 year-old retired nurse who lived around the corner from me, staggered to answer the door and lived on Coke and white bread who almost daily offered her childcare services. I never took her up on the offer but we did visit regularly. However, JM's post does encourage me to take advantage of babysitting for some fun time out for me. We use lots of babysitters for dates as we have a fine Catholic College here (Our Lady Seat of Wisdom) that pumps out fabulous babysitters! Our kids love these girls as, I think, they are a lot more fun than me!!

Jessica said...

What about switching sitting services with a friend and fellow mother? One evening, after our four small children were in bed, a good friend (and mother of three little ones) came over and stayed at our house while my husband and I got to enjoy a lovely evening out. She had a great, quiet time at our house; she was able to read a book, watch a movie, and relax. We were able to spend some oh-so-valuable time together alone. I'll be doing the same for her soon. I know how difficult it is to find reliable, affordable sitters; it's forced us to get creative, but you're right, the time away is crucial for the mother's (and, consequently, the rest of the family's) sanity!

This Heavenly Life said...

I'm guilty of not taking this time enough. We only have two kids right now, so though I get tired, it's not really bad...I don't feel the effects yet. However, I can believe that a few more kids down the line, I will be run ragged if I don't take time for myself. My biggest problem is control. I don't want other people doing it wrong! Not that they would, but we survive on a pretty strict routine, and it just wears me out to think about describing the whole process to a sitter. Not to mention how crazy it makes me look!

The best thing for me has been early bedtimes. For babies, 6:30 PM was very normal. Toddlers and preschoolers at 7 to 8 at the LATEST. That leaves plenty of time to spend with my husband where we can relax together. Plus, like another commenter above said, I can bring in a sitter and not have to give them anything to do. Literally, they'll just be sitting. Making sure the house doesn't burn down.

Hopefully, our early bedtimes will continue, as they're really our only outlet.

Anonymous said...

I've found some wonderful babysitters over the years. One thing that you can not do is get into the defeatist mentality that there are no good sitters out there. There are. You just have to look, pray and work hard to find one. And when you find the good one, you have to treat them well and be a little flexible with your own childrearing notions. What I mean by that is that sometimes you have to give a little. I had a wonderful sitter named Helen. She came to my house on a standing weekly basis for eight years. She started with a toddler and infant, and she helped me through two more children. At first it used to bother me that she didn't take the kids outside to play. She much preferred to be inside. After some thought, I decided OK, for one morning a week the kids are in the house, maybe watching TV, but every other day, we're outside. That's ok, because the most important thing here is that they are safe and happy. The funny thing is, Helen loved to do yoga and calesthenics with the kids. She taught them how to do push ups and sit ups. To this day, my 14 yr old son still does his Helen push ups every night. So you just never know!

I've also had great luck with younger girls, 12-13 year olds. By the time they enter hs, they are usually not so interested in babysitting anymore. The younger girls have virtually no social life. I have a 12 year old daughter now and she loves babies and there is a sweetness about that age that lends itself to being a mother's helper. They are also much more trainable at that age as well.

Courtney said...

Great topic...what I try to to do is incorporate a combo of options (which I am lukcy enough to be able to do: family help from my mom and MIL, my sister-in-law and I switch off so every other week I get a break for a few hours while she watches my daughter, and then the next week we switch. Finally, my sister-in-law and I share a babysitter (so we each get her for a few hours every other week).

Also, as far as where to find a good babysitter, I know I babysat while in grad school and the family I sat for knew me through a family she felt more comfortable because we had mutual friends/acqaintences. Also, I remember she had her child's teacher babysit sometimes...just another possible option.

As a social worker before having my daughter, a big topic discussed was "Compassion Fatigue" and I think it can apply to parenting as well if we don't get a much needed break sometimes.

Joanne said...

We have had good luck with babysitters who have taken the "Safe Sitter" course at the YMCA. That said, since my oldest is autistic and has a pretty strict bedtime routine, we usually put the kids to bed and then go out, leaving the babysitter to literally sit, as someone else said. Also, my parents are in town six months out of the year and my mother is very good about coming over one night a week to let us go out. I just had a baby two weeks ago so I have been seriously housebound and am going kind of crazy. One thing that helps me is to even go for a short walk after I put one child to bed and my husband puts the other one to bed - although I am not sure what I will do with our third, now!

It is really, really challenging but I think it's worth it, to find a sitter. I am so jealous of friends of mine who just off to the gym in the morning, while their kids are at a mom's day out thing. Because my son is sort of unpredictable, I can't really do things like that. My daughter is 16 months and has very bad separation anxiety, I can't imagine how she would do at a mom's day out thing, but I think at this stage, it wouldn't be pretty. I have grown to enjoy trips to the grocery store, or to Target, as alone time. :)

Right Said Red said...

As for the sitters, I used to have one every week, now I have a grown-up babysitter once every other week, and a mother's helper (she's 12) every week. I can do chores and just get a break when the mother's helper is here. She takes the kids outside. My grown-up sitter gives me time to run errands. Both are great. I highly recommend weekly, regular help, if you can afford it. I think this is particularly important if you have no family around to give you a break. Part of my misery lately is related to Mr. Red taking a paycut at work, and our worries about his job security. We have decided to cut back, and I got rid of some of my help. It has been a real adjustment, and while the first several weeks were ok, I slowly became more grumpy due to the lack of personal time. This lack of personal time is one of the hardest things about motherhood, and I think as type A personalities we all tend to think we can save our family money, and just do it all. Martyr mom is not a fun person to be around.

So my general advice is to think about regular help even it is just a mother's helper (my 12 year old helper is great with the kids, and she only charges $5 per hour, she comes from 3:30--6pm and it only costs me $12.50).

Make it a priority to find a sitter who you can trust, and then schedule a regular time. The hardest part about regular babysitting is getting started! I dragged my feet and Mr. Red literally forced me to start making phone calls. We actually did an interview process ;-)

Julia A said...

We've never had money for sitters, and have only had occasional babysitting from one of my kids' godparents. Some ideas:

1. Don't underestimate the healing power of having just one or two fewer kids around for an afternoon. Pawning a couple off on a friend (and returning the favor another day) can give you some quality time with the others, which is very refreshing!

2. I'm fond of saying that I'm a bad mommy after 9pm. By now, my kids (even my teens!) believe me. Being able to rely on some quiet time each evening is essential to my mental health.

3. Figure out your biggest energy draining situations, and work out ways around them. For me, dealing with squabbling kids in the house is exhausting; I'd rather spend my energy getting them all out somewhere fun (where I can have fun, too). I have friends for whom the opposite is true. YMMV, but sometimes eliminating or reducing just one stress producer can have a big impact.

4. A lot of parenting is about logistics, and it's important to put those stressors into the crossword-puzzle-solving part of your brain instead of the worry center. If you can teach yourself to differentiate between puzzles that need to be solved (how to get things done, how to manage two crying kids at once, etc.) and major problems (health, finances, etc), your overall stress level will drop markedly. This is probably THE most important sanity-producing thing I've figured out in the past five years!

Finally, we never used a mother's helper, but my older girls (and even my older boy) have been very happy to earn $5/hour helping out other moms.

Julia A

Kate E. said...

So I can't compare too much since I only have 1. But we LOVE our babysitters. I babysat a ton as a teen and I guess I just don't have any qualms about leaving my guy with a sitter. We are strict on bedtime and often do the just "sit" babysitting on weekends, at least once a month to go on a proper date.

However, we have a babysitting class offered at our local middle school, they get trained, cpr cert, etc.

I have found that these kids, who are usually 14, are THE BEST. I know 14 sounds young but,
1: They are cheap, like 5-8 bucks an hour
2: They are PARANOID, they aren't old enough to have that burnt out I know everything teen vibe, they call me or their parents if they have any concerns and make a point to ask lots of questions.
3: They are tireless and still like to play and have fun.

My son is now begging for me to "have something to do" so Emily can come over...I might be offended but then again I just got a pedicure.

Now it is spring and all three of my regulars do sports so we haven't had them quite as frequently, but truly I love these kids.

As for tantrums and the like, now is a great time to "break in" a sitter and your kids. Pitch it to them as an awesome treat, the sitter is coming to "build a huge sand castle with you in the sandbox, play hide and seek in the yard, play soccer for hours, ride trikes, etc" any of those things that maybe you don't do all the time with them, but they love. Being outside also seems to make the separation easier.

Start with small outings (an hour or so) and at good times for your family and then once a babysitter become beloved, you are in happy alone mommy time!

Good luck!

Moira said...

I love a lot of the suggestion you have gotten here. It's good stuff.

I just want to add that when it comes to husbands that work long hours, and families who have no money, and lots of (small) children/babies, it is VITAL that you do the "trade-off" sometimes. I don't see it as a choice of babysitter OR having DH pitch in; it should be both, regularly!
For men who work really hard and are exhausted, it is good for them to have the hands-on experience, once or twice a month, of just having to arrive home and step through the door with the mindset that they will not be putting their feet up, but instead will let their wives get a much-needed break! They don't do this most days, just one out of every 15 or 30, so it's not unreasonable!
In my opinion, this actually strengthens the marriage.
Say DH comes home around 4 or 5pm and you go out for a few hours. Maybe you've even left dinner in the crockpot. Or maybe he throws together a pot of spaghetti. He feeds kiddos and puts them to bed. Then, after they're all tucked in, you sneak in. You and DH still have time to visit with each other after you get home, and think of how relaxed and romantic you'd feel! It's a nice image, eh?

Like JM said in her post, this kind of life can be a marathon, and sometimes our husbands (depending on their temperament, of course, as some are much more naturally inclined to look for ways to help) need that extra nudge and reminder that Mom is working WAY harder than Dad. It is really 24/7 for us, and that's no joke! Anyway, it's not men's fault that they forget this; society tells them that domestic work is not as valuable as salaried work outside the home, so it's only natural that they start to believe it, on some level.

It is also good to release some of that control over household routine, etc. when it comes to your spouse. Let him know you think he is perfectly capable of handling it. And of course, with practice, he will be! It's kind of insulting not to give him a chance, right?

There's my tirade for the evening. :)

katie said...

Hello from a lurker -
My "baby" is 15 now - youngest of 5 - and I can heartily endorse the need for a little time for "just me".
When I had 1 or 2 kids, my girfriend down the street and I would share the expense and the help of a teen to watch our little ones for 2 hours a week on an afternoon. That and trading time off with that friend was essential! As kids got older and multiplied, I made similar arrangements - and cultivated friendhships through church and preschool - and offered to watch that friends child(ren)...she would ALWAYs offer in return and we got a swap going. FInally, although sitters may be very pricey - if you go to your parish school and ask for some referrals, they may give you the names and numbers of girls who want to sit...have them over while you are home and train them. Then leave briefly and return unannounced to check up. AND - do NOT pay them $20 and hour - no 13 year old needs 20...tell them up front you'll pay them 5 or 7 - I've always been upfront with young sitters and they are almost always happy to get money of any sort....and I don't live in the boonies - I'm in Los Angeles. Good luck and don't give up!

Anonymous said...

Moira, I have to respectfully disagree with you about your assertion that "mom is working Way harder than dad". When my children were younger I was definately not working "harder" than my husband who built a business from scratch, managed a payroll, 15 employees, and traveled incessently, not to mention being solely responsible for a huge mortgage and five other mouths to feed. His stress was far more than I could have ever imagined or lived. Yes, I was tired sometimes, but then again, I was smart about napping when the babies were napping and I had them all on a very strict schedule. If I had dumped the children and household responsibilites on my frazzled husband after he walked in the door, I would have been guilty of endangering the welfare of my kids. My husband does not think nor work like a "mom".

I spent 8 years working on a trading floor on Wall Street. I would come home from work and I was so frazzled that I could not talk. I was routinely woken up all hours of the night from calls from London traders. I knew in my heart that I could never combine that kind of stress with raising a family part time. The women who I worked with and had families had full time weekday nannies and weekend nannies. And as horrific as that sounds to some, I can see why that was so.

So it was a privilege for me to be home with my children. It was also a lot easier than my previous employment. The nature of my work at home is different than the nature of my husband's work in the world of business. But it is certainly not "harder".

Moira said...

You are certainly right that in the situation you are describing it would have been an unreasonable burden on your spouse. There is certainly no question of adding to the stress of an overworked spouse, nor of "dumping" all of his wife's work on him.
When it comes to men who have more regular hours, who sleep at night, who get to leave work and actually leave it behind, it is usually not impossible for them to make some adjustments to accomodate an overtired wife and mother who does not get to make her own hours or get a "lunch break" or even a shower.
This is not to say that women who stay home do not feel "privileged," it is a matter of being honest about our human limitations. I don't think SAHMs should feel guilty for needing time off. I am sure you agree that even the Wall Street trader--especially the Wall Street trader--because of the high intensity of the job, needs a break one day a week. Why shouldn't a SAHM get two or four hours a week?
The sense I got from JM's post was not of women who are complaining or resentful of their workload. Instead, I think I am hearing that many feel they have been trying to "do it all" and are becoming overburdened. I am guessing that they also are trying to make things easier on their spouses, not more difficult.

moira said...

I meant to say that I misspoke about the "hard" part of the job. My husband works in an ER and takes care of fevers and heart attacks and car crash victims. His work can mean the difference between life and death for a patient.
But he and I both agree: our work at home is much harder: to get our kids to heaven. I should not have said it is MY job, it's both of ours, together. :)

MargaretJDMom said...

I don't have regular babysitting help but I have used a babysitting coop before with other catholic moms from my parish. It was really organized and a great system considering regular sitters cost at least $10 an hour.

I am just starting to "groom" a rising 8th grader at my son's catholic school. She lives in the next neighborhood over and her mom's a teacher at the here's to hoping it works out!

IN terms of pacing myself...before moving I always had 2 nights out a month...a religious activity- sort of a 2-3 hour retreat of sorts with confession (no mass) and my book club. We read "thinking" books not religious, more literature. It was awesome and I miss it terribly! My husband would sit when he could but otherwise I found someone. He works a ton, so it nver made sense for me to routinely leave him (ala The MOther's Rule of Life).