A dear friend of mine has three children under 5½. And she’s one of the best, most grounded, least edgy moms I know. She’s not the mom with blown out hair and a full Lululemon wardrobe or spotless babies with giant bows stuck to their heads. She’s the one pumping breastmilk in the car as she drives to work. She’s the one with an old couch and living room rug that hides stains, and a friendly, unassuming house, markedly lacking in marble countertops and rooms where kids aren’t welcome. She has awesome, imperfect, sometimes dirty kids, a healthy marriage and a career in education that she loves.
You could say I, a frequently flustered mother of one, am a little in awe. But I am lucky enough to get to learn from my friend.
When I was a new mom, completely blindsided by a baby with colic and nothing seemed as intuitive as expected, I joined a mom’s group. This was something I, a textbook introvert, never would have done, had I had an easy baby or a nanny or French citizenship (complete with all the state-sponsored maternal support American mamas dream of). I needed to be with other human adults, and so I showed up at the home of a total stranger in my Brooklyn neighborhood and bounced my screaming baby on a ball in the corner, apologizing profusely while the other moms chatted and offered me banana bread and wine and didn’t bat an eye.
There were eventually times when my kid could hang at a lower decibel level, and as the babies’ first birthdays started happening, we formed a child care co-op. We knew each other intimately by that point, having shared the struggles and questions that What to Expect The First Year failed to answer satisfactorily, and so who better to trust to watch each others’ kids? Plus, when it was a daytime sit, the kid got a playmate – instant entertainment. When it was a nighttime sit, the mom got to chill on someone else’s couch in a quiet apt while the toddler slept. Not to mention the fact that it was free – we simply traded “points” for hours of sitting – a total boon for those of us without much of a babysitting budget. It was an amazing solution to many problems, and my aforementioned mom friend came up with it.
Now she lives in Tarrytown, New York, but if you don’t have a like-minded buddy nearby to come up with innovative child care solutions, don’t fret. You just have to start thinking outside the box.
Creative approaches to the work/life juggle
• You may have more flexibility than you think with your work schedule. See if it is possible to stay late a few nights a week and leave mid-afternoon for school pick-up during the others. Ideally your partner can do the same. When you have concentrated, uninterrupted time, work is more productive and time with kids is better quality.
• On the flip side, can you break up your work day? Some parents stop work at 5, come home to be with their kids, then put in a few more hours of work after the kids are in bed. Are you a morning person? Get up earlier to work in the dark, quiet dawn before everyone else is up. Your day can start with intention, not reactivity.
• Share the babysitter (or stay-at-home parent) of another neighborhood kid. This can work for date nights or after-school time. It actually helps the sitter out because the kids can entertain each other.
• Join a child care co-op, or start one. Invite other kids from preschool (it’s easiest to keep kids around the same age, so they can play together) or the neighborhood.
• Utilize nearby family members who are willing to help. Yes, this seems obvious, and those of us who are far from our families of origin are super jealous of you. (Mostly.) You with your built-in bonds, and endlessly available retirees who already love your child. But arranging for family care should be done with caution. As needs persist or increase, dynamics can get weird. It’s not as easy to explain your expectations to someone doing you a big favor. Even if you know you’ll be refused, offer to pay something so that resentment doesn’t build.
The most valuable thing you can do if your child care budget is low and standards high is to invest in mom friends. Yes, they’re good for the occasional boozy night out to unwind but, more importantly, these friends have your (and your kids’) back in a unique way. They know well the struggle and they want to help you with yours. Welcome to your village.
Ann Farrar is a mom, freelance writer and health coach from Springfield trying to figure out parenting in New York.