Mama Got A Life: Do You Use Your Sitter A Little Too Much?
I’ve had strained relationships with my extended family members for as long as I can remember. After childhoods with trauma that occurred routinely, unhealthy examples of parenting and relationships and a fair share of substance abuse on their siblings’ behalf, my mother and father felt it was best to keep the distance between our family and many of my aunts, uncles and cousins. I still manage to keep in touch with one cousin I managed to salvage a bond with, but honestly most of my extended family are strangers at the least, and at the most Facebook acquaintances who get a “Happy Birthday!” or “Congratulations!” when posting life milestones. I say all this to say that the closest families engage in gossip over Sunday dinner from time to time, so when it comes to folks who only know of me but have no actual relationship with me, gossip often takes the place of healthy communication.
There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t thank God for my support system. My daughter is blessed to have two sets of grandparents who are happy to watch her throughout the week while me and my husband work. My daughter is growing up spending her days cultivating strong relationships with her grands before she hits school age, and they all are saving us a literally a ton of money in childcare. Nights and weekends are spent with my child not just spending time with her but quality time, and honestly I don’t feel like I have to defend my actions as a mother to anyone. But still, people talk, especially when they’re insecure about their own choices. So when a little rumor reared its ugly head about me amongst family members, it hit a nerve.
“She said you always got your baby with your parents,” my cousin shared with me one night whole giving me the lowdown on the latest family drama. Really now? And what exactly am I doing with all this free time when my child is allegedly being damn near raised by my parents? Because the last time I checked I hadn’t seen a movie anywhere other than my living room couch in months and could usually be found researching the newest experience I could treat my daughter to. I haven’t been in a nightclub since I was 25 and even when I do get to do something fun like bowling or shopping my daughter is right there with me. Don’t get me wrong, my “me-time” is very necessary. Happy hour with my girls happens at least once a month as well as date night with my hubby. But I am the person who will take a day off from work simply because I’m missing my kid. So for anyone to imply that motherhood isn’t my top priority is not only untrue it’s insulting.
The whole situation did get me thinking: How much is too much to take advantage of having a sitter? When I taught parenting education to teenage parents a few years back, I distinctly remember students strolling into class bragging to their peers that they had a sitter for every single weekend so they could go out and party. Although I didn’t necessarily think it was the healthiest way to parent, I didn’t judge, especially not having any kids of my own at the time and also understanding that they were teens, and for everyone just because you give birth doesn’t necessarily mean the urge to party, travel and have your freedom disappear.
But let’s not get it twisted, there’s a line between balancing your needs with parenthood and just plain checking out. And the fact is whether you’re at work, school, or Two Dollar Tuesday every single week, healthy parenting involves spending time with your kids and making the most of that time whether you’re singing Nick Toon theme songs at bath time or making a Target run together. Being a working parent is hard, and not everyone has options when it comes to childcare and how reliant they have to be on a sitter.
I’ll never forget the best advice I was given for those days when I’m doubting my kid even remembers my face because I’ve been so busy. During my pregnancy I remember talking to a woman who served as a mentor to me about balancing motherhood, marriage and career. When I asked, “How do you know when you’re not spending enough time with your child and they’re not able to or won’t tell you?” She answered, “You feel it. Any time when you’re missing them or questioning if you haven’t been around enough, it’s probably a sign you need to make time.” Now when I feel like I’m missing my daughter, I make time. Even if it means my “me time” gets postponed. Motherhood is hard, but the decision to take on the task is a silent understanding that from now on you come second. A good vino and vent session with my girls makes me a better mother –a relaxed, balanced and slightly buzzed mother. But a big part of motherhood is the understanding that spending time with your kids can and should be fun for you too. If it gets to a point where you know more about the bartender than your babies, you may need to start balancing your time better.
So how do you know when you’re taking your “me time” a little too far and phoning in your motherhood duties? I asked a few friends how they know when they need to spend more time with their kids. Read their responses below:
“I can tell when my oldest would be like, ‘You always leaving me,’ or ‘You don’t spend any time with me.’ Mind you this more so would come when I wanted ‘me’ time. I work a lot and he can’t tell the difference of mommy working vs. going out to have fun with friends. Also when I wouldn’t know whats going on at daycare and they would tell me ‘Dad’ or ‘Grandmom’ knew about such and such. I started to feel like I was always the last to know what was going on with my kids.”
“I have to depend on my mom alot. My mom does school drop off/pick up because I have to be to work at the same time she has to be at school and I get off after she is finished.”
“The relationship between my mom and daughter is great and my mom is retired and lost both of her parents in the last 4 years so she enjoys her time with her granddaughter. I know we haven’t spent as much time as necessary when my daughter’s behavior gets a little tricky. She starts getting flip with her mouth. Starts not following my mom’s directions and the like. So I know that’s time when she needs my attention and care the most or she just misses me.”
“But I take time out then to have special time with her. Whether it be watching some show she probably has seen 1000 times or allowing her to sleep in my room. I feel guilty many days for just not having enough time with her but we have a great village so that helps.”
“With both my children it was different. My daughter would leave me notes or drawings saying she missed me or had pictures of me like outside the house and the two of them at home. So that made me realize I wasn’t there enough for them especially her, she would get mad and say stuff like, ‘You have to work again!” My son would be withdrawn from me or very short which followed behind some acting out. After he was corrected and I put more time into him we were fine. I had to explain to both them (talking in a language that they understood (Can’t have a adult convo with a 7-year-old brain. Same goes for the 14-year old) that things are set up how it is because it’s only me doing a 2 person job, as much as they wanna be with me I wanna be with them.”
“I make it my purpose to do things with them together and separate so each knows I’m giving us time as a family and time for them to individually spend with me as their mom-friend.”
“Every sitter I had I don’t think they did more than what a sitter should do.”
“Personally with my children they’ll say, ‘Mommy your working too much.’ Feeling as if your disappointing them by saying, ‘I can’t today or I promise next week.’ Things like that, it happens and I think its important for children to see the hustle in their parents. Not just working for money to pay bills but for teaching them about life as they grow.”
“Since my kids are getting older they want to be alone more and more. So when my kids want to be up under me, I take it as a sign that they desire more time with me. For example, my son will randomly ask, ‘Mom, can I sit with you?’, and my daughter will ask if we can play together. But, when they were smaller I’d notice they’d cry more when I left, or find excuses for me to stay home.”
How do you know it’s time to give the babysitter a break and spend more time at home?
Toya Sharee is a Health Resource Specialist who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.