I didn’t leave my son with a babysitter until he was two years old. I had a lot of excuses for this. He’s too young. We’re moving soon. We can’t afford it. Taking care of him is my job. And on and on. And I would say these things, with conviction, to people who’d look at me, with eyebrows raised, and ask me things like, “so you never leave him with anyone?” or “you never do date nights with your husband?”
But, excuses aside, the answer to those questions was “yes.” We never left him with anyone, and we never did date nights. Our extended family lives far away so, except for the first couple months of my son’s life, and a few visits here and there, it was just my husband and me taking care of our son. It wasn’t like I never got time to myself. My husband would often take our son out to the playground on a Sunday afternoon and I would make a cup of tea and sit at my desk and write. This, I reasoned, was working for us just fine. Another excuse.
Because, really, deep down, there was only one reason I hadn’t hired a babysitter. Only one thing keeping me from doing the completely logical thing and hiring someone to help with the childcare since there weren’t family members nearby to do it for free. One thing. And one thing only. Fear.
I was afraid of leaving my baby with somebody else. Not because that somebody else might be a child molester or a secret satanist or something (although I did have those fears). And not because I worried that he’d feel abandoned (though I worried that too). No, in my secret heart of hearts, I worried that my son didn’t need me. That, if I allowed another person to care for him, even for a few hours a week, that my importance as his mother would be negated. That this job that I had devoted my heart, my soul, my life, and my time to could just as easily be done by somebody else.
But this is insane. It’s an understandable and relatable kind of insane. It falls into the category of insane that all kinds of other new-mom worries fall into. But it’s insane nonetheless. There are so many reasons that stay-at-home moms must (if they can afford it at all) have babysitters for their children. But since, as I know all too well, there are just as many excuses for why you can’t or shouldn’t (excuses that you come to believe with your whole heart because they support your secret longings) I will tell you why hiring a babysitter is a necessary thing.
First of all, hiring a babysitter proves that you and your child can survive being apart. Even if your child cries when you leave, even if he clings to you, even if he begs you not to go, he will survive. And so will you. And that’s no small thing. Parenting is all about letting go. Your child’s job is to slowly and painfully pull himself away from you so that, eventually, he is his own, independent being, capable of living without you. You may not like that. In fact, you may hate it. But it’s necessary, and messing with that is harmful. This is the very first baby step in that process. Prove to yourself that you and your child can be apart for an hour or two. If you have that knowledge stored away, then it’ll be so much easier to send him to preschool. Trust me.
Secondly, your child needs other friendly adults in his life. If your extended family, like mine, don’t live nearby, it’s important for your child to feel that there are other people out there who can take care of him, who care about him, and can keep him safe. It’s healthy for him to bond with other adults. And it’s important for your family that if there’s some kind of emergency, there’s someone you and your child already know and trust to step in.
Thirdly, if you’re a stay-at-home mom, having a babysitter is kind to your partner. There are always going to be things that come up where you need someone, other than you, to watch your kid. A doctor’s appointment you can’t drag your kid to. A stomach flu that keeps you in bed. A broken leg. A family emergency. Whatever. If you don’t have someone to call in times like those, the childcare is going to fall to your partner, who is (presumably) working hard, making money so you can stay home with the kids. Allowing him the freedom, as much as you can, to focus on his job during the work day is an important part of a successful relationship in which one parent stays home.
And speaking of relationships, here is the last reason why it’s important to hire a babysitter. You need to spend time with your husband. I know it feels like you do that already. You may even have a couple hours every single night when your kids are asleep. And you probably spend time as a family on weekends. And you may feel that this is enough. It isn’t.
At home, you’re focused on home. There are dishes to do, logistics to discuss, bills to pay, TV shows to watch — you get the idea. Going out with your partner is a way of reminding each other that, first and foremost, you are a couple. You are two adult people who love each other. Your relationship is the bedrock of your family. Refusing to acknowledge it as an entity outside of your role as parents is a mistake. When you go out together, it allows you to inhabit your relationship in a new way, to talk about things other than your children, and to remember that you love each other as people, not just as parents.
I had so many excuses for not hiring a babysitter. But that was all they were. Excuses. If you don’t have extended family who can babysit once in a while, hire someone. It’s important that you do.