Growing up, my parents never once hired a babysitter. If they needed to go out together, for date night or otherwise, my grandmothers or aunts were always the ones to stay with me.
When I was pregnant with our first child, I made the decision to work from home, as my job afforded this flexibility. I considered hiring help, but decided against it when both of our moms said they’d love to be our childcare so that I could work a few days per week. With the help of both sets of parents to watch our very easy baby, I was able to work part-time from home relatively successfully for two years.
When our second child came along, the logistics of family-only childcare became exponentially more complicated.
As an initial matter, my mom, who did the lion’s share of babysitting when I worked, had never actually taken care of two kids at the same time (I’m an only child). I could tell that holding down the fort with two kids running around challenged her (though she’s mostly got the hang of it by now). As a secondary matter, our younger child was colicky and refused milk from a bottle, and our older child stopped napping for good before she turned two. Even during designated work times, I was almost always needed for some task, and someone was almost always whining or screaming.
As the kids got older, they began preschool and after-school activities, which meant more headaches planning my work schedule and our families’ babysitting availability. Often, I’d find myself taking my kids to classes during times I should have been working (you see, my mom doesn’t drive). And as the years passed, I took on more work, volunteered for school trips and PTA fundraisers with time I didn’t have, and quickly realized that I was attempting to cram more into a 24-hour day than those 24 hours actually allowed.
But I still didn’t hire a babysitter.
On days we don’t have a grandparent around, and on days the kids are sick or school is cancelled (which are many), we have no back-up plan. I work with my kids playing on my office floor, or I take work with me into the backyard. Work days often become work nights out of necessity. I am a professional multitasker, though studies have shown that multitasking actually leads to less productivity and more anxiety (no surprise there).
Why haven’t we hired a babysitter? I have no good reason. I suppose I cling to some ridiculous sense of pride that I can manage with just the help of family. If my mom did it, then why can’t I? The short and common-sense answer is that she wasn’t simultaneously managing a career.
No one can do it all, and we aren’t doing ourselves any favors pretending that we can.
I am acutely aware of what I should have done years ago, but hindsight is 20/20. I now realize that my “informed” decision to work from home without childcare was actually just my blissful ignorance of reality. Somehow I made it through, though most days by the skin of my teeth. And now, I am entering the season of parenthood when my children will be at school much of the day, leaving me that time to dedicate, in earnest, to work only. There will still be juggling (we are all professional jugglers once we become parents), but hopefully my hours spent working with a child quite literally at my feet will be, for the most part, over. I don’t like to say I regret my choices, but in this regard, I probably didn’t make the wisest choice.