Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Would You Leave Your Child With a Babysitter?

This question comes up repeatedly in attachment parenting forums, and ad nauseaum for those involved with La Leche League. It always seems to spark a debate with some heatedly taking one side or the other. When the question arises it often leaves a parent reeling, and questioning her own decisions.

I have funny feelings when I consider that my choice to leave my kids, for how long, how often and who I leave them with, might just slot me in the “bad Mommy” camp. I know some women who claim to never ever leave their children. I know others who justify their choices out of necessity (I HAD to go back to work; my relationship with my spouse would suffer), or align a choice to use child care, with the age and stage of a baby. It feels odd to me that we feel the need to justify our parenting choices at all, especially in something with such a diverse range of needs and feelings as childcare.

Feeling is what I think that this discussion is all about, and the Mommy guilt (can’t forget about that). We have all heard various facts about “the dangers of daycare”, and the way a child under two who is left without its mother for more that 24 hours mourns her loss like she’s died. We’ve also heard about “stranger danger” and the evil child molester babysitter, coach, or teacher. Hearing these scary stories does make me want to cleave my children tightly to my bosom, but it also makes me wonder about how I can meet our families needs (which sometimes involve using childcare) and raising safe resilient kids.

Part of what drives my choice to leave my kids, is about encouraging resilience. As a parent who is tuned in to my kids, I know when they are ready for new situations, and appreciate that sometimes that involves a little push on my part. So I combine my need for space, with their readiness to encounter new situations via childcare. Another part of this decision making process is about relationships. My children have wonderful relationships with their other caregivers. My son’s former kindergarten teacher takes him to places that I couldn’t haul both my kids to. He also has a closeness with his godmother that couldn’t have been fostered with me around all the time. My kids love these special times with babysitters, most of the time. Sometimes they don’t want me to go, and I go anyways, knowing that they are safe and they will do just fine. That’s where the resilience comes in.

I have heard many parents voice concerns about the care their children receive in the arms of others, and I wonder, in the global scheme of things, the harm that might come from a grandmother who uses candy as rewards, or an Aunt who might give my kids a “time out”. What might my kids lose in terms of these relationships, and what harm might they face when exposed to small amounts of parenting that differs greatly from my own? I think the answer lies in the question itself. What I do is PARENTING, what others do when they have charge of my kids is CAREGIVING. They are inherently different, and I think that this is good.

The “time outs” and candy treats are small potatoes issues that often come up in the childcare choice debate. Then there are the other “BIG scary things” that parents who are wrestling with this decision often consider. I am thinking about Child Molesters here. This is real and this is scary, but it’s not something that we are powerless to do anything about as parents. Yes, we can refuse to leave our children with others, or only families, or do criminal record check of our babysitters. We can also do some simple thing that will go a long way to protecting our children in this and many other situations.

One part of this is to know the real risks associated with certain situations. For example, children are far more likely to be molested by someone who is known to them and the family. It’s not the teenager down the block you need to be scared of, it’s “Uncle Tony”. So how do we protect our kids? Start by educating your children, as soon as they are old enough to talk. Tell them the correct scientific names for their genitals, and those of the opposite sex. In her book Speaking of Sex Meg Hickling talks of convicted paedophiles and their methods for choosing potential victims. Molesters know that kids who know the correct names of their reproductive organs, have a relationship with their caregivers that is open to discussions of sexuality. It’s hard to pull the wool over the eyes of a child who know that a penis is most certainly not an elephant’s trunk.

Intuition and power are two other great tools that we can use and teach our kids to use to keep themselves safe. I am an incest survivor, and as an adult I am shocked to learn that all of my female relatives knew that I was being molested. They had the intuition, what they lacked was the personal power to do anything about it. We all have this intuition; most of us need to spend more time honouring it, and teach our kids to do the same. Then we have to cultivate the power to make choices based on what our intuition tells us. It takes big balls to make decisions that might be questioned by others based on a feeling or a hunch. This is where guilt comes in, when we feel powerless to act in situation where we know there is a better choice.

So I will choose to leave my kids from time to time, and feel that they are same and thriving because of my choices.

By Lee-Ann Grenier


  1. I truly appreciate this post, thanks! I also think, to add to the part about helping our children become the kind of children who will be less likely to be victims of abuse is to let them be masters of their own bodies as much as parently possible from the time they are born and to absolutely respect and honor feelings of discomfort they may feel around certain people. I think many children have an intuition about an unsafe person (the "uh oh" feeling) before many adults do and we must never belittle or dismiss that feeling.

  2. Well said! Thanks for this fresh perspective!

  3. Well put! Thank you! It's so easy to get trapped by mommy guilt. You remindeded me that I know my child and that I'm doing my best to ensure that she's in a safe, healthy environment, even if it's not always with me.

  4. Where is the Fierce Papas blog?! It does not exist. They don't seem to be needing one.

  5. Excellent! I'm still working on letting my DD spend time with people other than Grandpa and one or two other close friends and family members. We had a situation last year wherein I discovered that a "trusted" friend has a history of "indecent exposure" and drug abuse, so I've shied away a bit from allowing her to stay with others. Your post helped me a bit. Thanks.

  6. This is BS. I am sick of selfish modern mommies whinning about "me" time and I need my space. Bollucks! Your children need you to put their needs before your own. They are only little a very short time! I feel sorry for your kids. I think this selfish attitude is one big thing wrong with society today.
    Seriously teach them about private parts just in case they get molested?! How about protecting them so they don't have to worry about getting molested in the first place?! OMG! This is SO disturbing! And what about those who are too young to talk or understand??
    I don't "claim" not to leave my child, I DON'T leave her period expect with my mother. I was NEVER left with anyone other than family either and think that's the way it should be. I would also think getting a time out for a child who has never had one could be quite disturbing indeed.

  7. Thank you, Lee-Ann for writing this great piece. As someone who makes regular use of Grandma for childcare, I often find myself in the situation of childcare not fully mirroring my parenting style and your thoughts on this has given me something to ponder.

    As a personal friend of Lee-Ann's, I find Alexa's comment to be quite off base and unnecessarily hurtful. Lee-Ann's children are extremely blessed to have one of the most compassionate and loving parents I have ever met. Her choice to use childcare brings about balance in a life of frequent solo parenting and the intense needs of her children. There is nothing selfish in asking for help and doing what is best for your entire family.

  8. The thing that I'd like to add here, and I'll probably follow it up with a separate blog post is this: the babysitter debate includes, putting your kids in sports, lessons and school too. ALL of these things are forms of childcare or other mothering, IMO.
    I know my kids are only small for a short time, THAT'S WHY THEY ARE WITH ME, in my bed at my breast, in the kitchen,and at work with me. This is also why sometimes I need to not be with them, as much as they often need to not be with me.

  9. *Claps* Well Said Lee-Ann. My children have been in child care most of their short lives. I would LOVE to stay home with them, unfortunately I am unable to stay home with them and provide for them properly.

    I agree that giving children the proper tools and they can avoid getting into situations, or tell someone what happened.

    Alexa, My children actually benefit more from my having 'me time' than me being with them 24 hours a day with out a break. This allows me to recharge my batteries and allow me to be the best parent my kids have.

  10. Interesting perspective. I personally have not left my children for longer than 8 hrs and it has only been with their father, his mother, or my mother...I understand that children will become resilient, and need to understand that different people act differently, (time outs etc.) but I have a really hard time leaving them in the care of someone who parents differently than me. I worked so hard to build that bond, and that self esteem and don't want one off-hand comment to make my child question who he is.
    I have hope that I will feel as you do one day, but at the moment, I just can't. Something I have to work on.

  11. Alexa was a tad harsh in her comment no doubt, however, I can appreciate her opinion as a Mom that is sick of the debate for her own reasons, although I think her phrasing could be a lot less ‘selfish’ in her own right. I am also a tad tired, like you mentioned Lee-Ann, of the “Mom Guilt” that surrounds parenting choices forever making us wonder if we fit the Good or Bad Parent role; afraid of what others should think of us. It’s a bit sad really that we can’t support one another’s choices.

    In keeping with that, I’ll add my two cents. No one else can judge you unless they have walked in your shoes. There are so MANY different scenarios that guide our choices as parents & our solutions to everything. Maybe Mom is suffering from PPD, maybe Mom just needs to rejuvenate, maybe Mom needs to make more income, maybe the child is hyperactive and can use time away, maybe the child is perfectly fine and needs time to explore and learn other dimensions of the world, maybe this or maybe that. If a Mom needs ‘Me’ time or ‘Work’ time or ‘Whatever-you-name-it” time, because if teaching a child proper body names makes you feel like you’ve added a curtain of defense for your child, if keeping your child close to home is your walls of protection, if however you choose to parent your child(ren) is what you know to be best for your child(ren), then go right ahead and do it. You are not to be judged because if I judge you, you can judge me for not giving my kids the right amount of organics, or breastfeeding for one month longer or one month less, or cosleeping or not, or letting my kids eat cereal for supper because I just didn’t feel like making supper.

    If letting your kids explore the world on their own accord by sending them to a caregiver or by letting them ride the subway on their own makes you feel like you are giving your kids something a little extra that you couldn’t by keeping them at home, then feel positive in your choice. If you want to keep them as close as you can for as long as you can, then do so. Either way, there should be no Mom Guilt & no need to call each other “selfish”. Period.

    And as an additional note regarding molesters: Keeping your child(ren) under your ‘careful’ watch will NOT, NOT, NOT protect your child 100%. No matter where your child spends most of their time, abuse/abductions can happen anywhere. It is completely unfair, unjust, & just plain ignorant to believe that by never letting your child go, they will be 100% safe & they “don't have to worry … in the first place” . That’s turning a blind eye in and of itself. Educating your child about their body, about their boundaries, about trusting YOU, & in turn, YOU listening and believing what they say, how they act and always being TUNED in will help you trust that instinct we all have inside as parents. This has NOTHING to do with where they spend their time as it can happen in home, away from home, or on their way home. True ‘stranger’ abductions are less than a 1% of the 800,000 kids that go missing each year. It can happen and it is completely ignorant to believe that it can’t. Education is key. Pedophiles are pro’s & they know their craft. It’s up to us as parents to educate each other and our kids in as many ways and manners that we can. To not do so is to remain ignorant and powerless.

  12. Thank you for writing a thoughtful post. Your comments about intuition brought back vivid memories of conversations I had with my mom when I was quite little, probably starting at age 4. I remember her telling me that if I was around someone who made me feel scared or icky or something was just not right, to leave immediately. Even if I thought that I might get in trouble with a teacher or some caregiver I was to leave immediately and tell someone I trusted. As I got older she would explain more and more about listening to that gut feeling.

    Those candid and quick conversations evolved to other conversations of trust. As I became a teenager she told me if I was at a party or some other social situation and I suddenly didn't feel safe that I should leave with a trusted friend if possible, and call mom asap. Even if I was somewhere that I was perhaps not supposed to be mom promised to come get me, or get me a cab or whatever needed to happen. That trust between parent and child and that support to always follow my instinct helped keep me safe.

  13. Alexa, it sounds like you have some enormous blessings in your life.

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  15. "We have all heard various facts about “the dangers of daycare”, and the way a child under two who is left without its mother for more that 24 hours mourns her loss like she’s died."

    I read this post a couple of days ago. Working through my days since, this quote keeps coming into my head, asking for a response.

    As the mother of a son who entered the world still, I know about grief. I want my children to learn resilience, but grief is the last tool I would use to teach it. I am not sure where this “fact” about young children grieving for their missing mothers came from – whether it based on a study, casual observation, or just people talking. I do know that my experience as a mother and a childcare provider tells me that, at least to some degree, it is true.

    I believe that very young children need to spend their days in the care of someone who loves them unconditionally – a parent. I believe it is unequivocally a child’s birth-right to bask nearly continuously the love of a parent throughout their early years.

    That is not to say that parents don’t need a break to take care of themselves. As a matter of fact I also believe that the marriage is the center of the family, and that the marital relationship needs to be nurtured to remain strong and provide the best foundation for the children. As a former single mother by choice, I also believe the principles of a strong marriage making for a strong family extends to those who parent alone. The bottom line for me is the center of the family must be strong for the children to thrive.

    So, I don’t think the problem is with parents needing some “me time” once in awhile. The problem is with a culture that does not value the work of parenting. The problem is with an economy that requires the work of two people working full time to provide for the basic needs of a family. The problem is with a national ethos that values “stuff” more than relationship – that tries so hard to convince us that providing our children with all the comforts that capitalism has to offer is more important than being present for them. The problem is with public policy and opinion that ennobles parents working long hours at less than living wages while their children are in the care of strangers, all in the name of “creating a better life.” I believe that what we have come to see as normal parenting is really about commodifying familial relationships and training our children to become ardently dedicated consumers as early as possible. It is about encouraging and reinforcing separateness and undermining the most quintessential of all human traits – our sense of interconnectedness. I believe that the way we conduct our economy, which requires us to send our very young children to be cared for by people who may like them and be skilled at competently meeting their physical needs, but can not possibly offer them parental love, will lead to our undoing.

    What really saddens me is that we as parents take on the guilt of this situation – which we know in our guts is wrong. We squabble among ourselves about who is right, spewing angry insults and blame at each other, while rarely, if ever, addressing the root cause of the problem. “It is just the way it is” can no longer be an acceptable answer. Something has to change, but it never will if we spend our energy playing the blame game with each other.

  16. Minnesota Mom
    Thank-you for your thoughtful comments! They spoke to my heard. The quote " a child under 24 months who is left without the care of it's mother for more than 24 hours, mourns her loss like a death" comes from a conference session presented by Dr. Gordon Neufeld. I know that I've read this in the literature too, probably something done by Marshall Klaus. I'll repost when I find the exact citation.
    Your comments got to the heart of what I was trying to open up for discussion. The reasons that parents choose to leave their children really varies, and seems to be very dependent on the values of the family and the culture as a whole. I applaud your stance on changing the norm so that we can better value our children and families as a whole society.

  17. Arguments like this irk me. Why can't we support ALL mommies? Why can't we ALL be doing it right? Why do we have to pick a team to be on?