OK, OK, I confess: I absolutely, unabashedly love the days when a woman I barely know enters my home and feeds, diapers, cuddles and entertains my 1-year-old son.
Do I feel guilty about this? Yes. Do I wonder whether I’m doing the right thing? All the time. Do I love spending time with my son? YES! Spending time with Tyler is hands-down the most important and fun and exciting and meaningful thing I’ve ever done — or ever will do — ever. I’m also painfully aware that Tyler will only be young once, and that his young days, weeks and months are going by at such a breakneck pace that he’ll be in his 20s before I even realize what happened.
I know all of this to be true — and I also know that I don’t want to miss out on any part of this experience. But that doesn’t mean I don’t need a break.
Fear, longing drive this mom to work
The break I seek when the nanny comes over is work. Granted, it helps that I love what I do for a living. I’ve been writing and editing for newspapers and online news sites for more than 20 years now, and whenever I’m able to fall into a hole and focus on those tasks, it never feels like work. It feels like fun.
Sometimes I wonder whether I crave my “work breaks” simply because I long to immerse myself in tasks that are comfortable and familiar. For instance, writing a story or a column feels a LOT more comfortable to me than flipping through my American Academy of Pediatrics guidebook with trembling hands and a pit in my stomach because Tyler has a nosebleed and I have no idea how to stop it.
But I also know that something else is driving me to work. And that something else is a deeply ingrained and peculiar form of terror.
Let me explain.
All my life I knew my mom as a stay-at-home mom. She seemed to pride herself on that role, and frankly, I loved having her home with me when I was little. She took me for long walks. She read countless books to me. She played board games and cards with me for hours and hours. She sang silly songs to me. She was FUN.
As I grew older, though, it became apparent that my mom had some pretty serious regrets. I began to understand that she had sacrificed much too much of herself on the altar of motherhood. She gave up interesting work, exciting travel, financial independence and God knows what else when she became a mother. She didn’t have to give all of those things up, mind you, but that’s just how it went. And even though I knew how much she loved me and my younger brother, Eric, it was hard to ignore the palpable level of resentment.
“Never have kids, Laura,” she would say. “Laura, PLEASE promise me that you’ll never have kids.”
“MOMMMMMM!!” I would reply in exasperation. “Aren’t you glad you have me in your life? Aren’t you glad you have Eric?”
“Oh, of course, honey! You’re the best things in my life! You know how much I love you!”
“But then why would you tell me not to have kids?”
“Oh, Laura,” she would say, with the saddest smile on her face. “I’m just trying to be honest with you. Having children ruins your life.”
Taking the plunge
These little chats weighed on me, as you might imagine. So perhaps it won’t come as a huge shock to learn that I waited until I had been with my husband for almost 12 years and I was pushing 40 before I could seriously entertain the idea of trying to start a family. (Nothing like a looming deadline to focus the attentions of a journalist, right?)
When I found out I was pregnant, I was terrified to tell my mother. I toyed with the idea of trying to pretend that the whole thing was an accident, even though it wasn’t. In the end, I tried hard to keep those sorts of details deliberately vague.
“Oh, my,” she said when I finally worked up the nerve to share my big news. “Oh, my.”
That’s all she could manage to say.
A carefully crafted compromise
Of course, my mom eventually warmed to the idea of Tyler’s existence — especially when she sensed how happy I was about the idea of his existence. Now she’s smitten with the little boy who’s perfecting his pronunciation of the word “Nana.”
For the first seven months of Tyler’s life, I pulled way, WAY back on my work life and took a Hiroshima-style financial hit so I could spend time with Tyler round the clock. In fact, I only worked when he was sleeping so he’d never even detect that I did anything other than dote on him.
Then I got the seven-month itch.
“Mom, do you think I should try to work some more than I am?” I asked my mother one day. I fully expected her to lecture me about the importance of spending every possible moment with Tyler, the same way she did with me. I expected a diatribe about how dangerous the world is, how strangers can’t be trusted to care for your child, how Tyler would only be young once, how motherhood was all about selflessness and sacrifice.
Instead, I got this:
“Work! Work, Laura! PLEASE PROMISE ME YOU’LL WORK!!”
Wow. Well, that sure shed some light on things.
So, work is what I decided to do. Just part time for now, though. I love my time with Tyler too much to jump back on the full-time hamster wheel just yet. For that reason, I’ve opted to work as an independent contractor and freelancer so I can have as much flexibility as possible. (Fortunately we have health coverage through my husband’s job, so I’m able to take a route like this for the time being.)
Our nanny comes over two to three days a week, depending on my workweek. She dotes on Tyler and notices minute details about his development and his needs. I’m wildly happy with her. So is Tyler.
A quest for balance
As nanny day approaches, I’m able to detect an almost noticeable spring in my step. My mind races with what I might tackle, and where I might tackle it. (A coffee shop, where I’ll be able to people-watch and overhear adults having adult conversations? The library, where I can almost make myself swoon in the presence of all those books and all that luxurious silence?)
When I see Tyler at the end of his nanny days, I can’t stop squeezing him and tickling him and playing with him. I don’t want to put him down, and I’m sad when he starts acting tired and ready for bed. (Here’s another true confession for you: I don’t always feel so sad about his eye-rubbing and other signs of exhaustion on non-nanny days.)
On the days following Tyler’s final nanny day of the week, I feel almost fanatically grateful for the time I’ll get to spend with him, reading to him and singing to him and taking him on walks and making him laugh.
That’s not to say everything is perfect. I’m often tired — really tired. And no matter how hard I try, I continue to struggle with waves of guilt and conflicted feelings about — well, about pretty much everything.
But still, I think I’ve attained some measure of balance here. I’m really proud of that; I’m not normally good at balance.
And so, YES: I will happily confess that I’m a huge fan of letting a virtual stranger into my home to help me raise my son. I think it’s making me a happier and more well-balanced mother. In the end, I hope it benefits Tyler more than anyone else.
Laura T. Coffey is a regular contributor for TODAYshow.com and msnbc.com. She writes the column