I have a list of babysitters that I guard zealously and add to whenever possible. If I meet someone whose kids are prime babysitting age, I immediately pop the question to see if they’d be interested in future employment and make sure to give them a call within a couple of weeks to cement our relationship. After all, these babysitters are the key to our freedom as a couple. With no grandparents or extended family nearby, there is no way for me and my husband to leave the house sans enfants unless we pay someone to watch them, and having access to that freedom is very important to both of us.
You probably have seen the recent headlines about Giuliana Rancic’s now infamous comment on putting her marriage ahead of her child. There was vicious backlash against her for saying that, and not surprisingly. We live in a child-centric society where parents are expected to put their own needs on the back burner and be at their child’s beck and call, 24-7. Look at the strongly negative reactions to books such as Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and Bringing Up Bébé. These books challenge North American parents in uncomfortable ways because they show that placing our kids on pedestals may not be as beneficial to the kids and to ourselves as we tend to assume.
I side with Rancic in striving to maintain a parent-centric household. I’m not talking about ignoring my children’s needs or not loving them adequately, because that’s just plain irresponsible. My kids are deeply loved and adored and always taken care of, but they also understand that their parents have needs that must be fulfilled in order to have a happy, healthy, well-balanced family life. Rancic is right when she says, “Kids want happy parents.” While the definition of happiness changes for everyone (and some parents might just be a lot happier staying home), for us personally that means being able to go to the gym regularly, go on dates a few times a month, and get out to parties with our friends. Someday I want my kids to take care of their bodies and be physically active, enjoy a romantic relationship with a partner, and have a dynamic circle of friends, so that’s why I don’t feel guilty one bit for leaving them with a babysitter. I’m simply teaching by example.
If I never entrusted my children to a babysitter and left the house, I’d be worried about sending a message to my kids that I have nothing else to do other than raise them. Yes, that is my full-time job and commitment, and I am incredibly fulfilled by doing so, but I’m also aware that I am an individual with unique needs and interests that existed before the arrival of the children and will continue to exist long after they’ve left home. I can’t put myself on hold for twenty years while they’re young and expect to be an interesting, well-rounded, happy person at the end of those decades. When my kids think about their mother, I want them to think of someone who has stuff to do, has lots of great friends, and is a compelling person to be around. (Admittedly, these characteristics can probably be developed at home without a babysitter, but this is the way that works best for me.)
There are days like yesterday, when Jason and I both got less than five hours of sleep because we were at a friend’s party until late, and then we had to pay a hefty babysitting bill, and then our kids woke up chirpily at the crack of dawn, and it’s impossible to catch up on missing sleep, and the caffeine doesn’t kick in fast enough, but it’s still totally worth it! We had a great night out together. It makes us feel young, excited, and energized. We had some good laughs, interesting conversations, and a few drinks, but the bottom line is that we’re taking care of ourselves as individual adults and not letting ourselves be completely defined by our role as parents. Some may call it irresponsible, but it’s the most responsible way I can think of to ensure the whole family’s happiness.