If I could give just one piece of advice to new moms, it would be to find a good babysitter. While there are a million “parenting hacks” out there for sleep training or getting your kids to eat broccoli, the best one by far comes in the form of someone you trust to care for your child when you’re not around.
We hired our first babysitter when my son was two months old. I was still on maternity leave and my husband talked me into getting a sitter because he’d been traveling and my sleep deprivation was reaching dangerous levels. I was resistant to the idea at first because, like most new moms, my hormone-fueled, sleep-starved brain couldn’t imagine anyone else caring for my precious baby.
The sitter came the first time in the middle of the day for a couple of hours because I was convinced there was no way anyone else could correctly carry out my seventeen step bedtime process. That first time I didn’t even leave the house. I pretended to take a nap while listening to every noise the baby made and her response. Was my son crying? Was that a choking noise or a laugh? Should I go check in? By the third time, she came I was brave enough to venture down the street to get a smoothie and try to figure out what to do with my hands without a baby around to hold. When I returned, she had my son outside in the backyard, happily cooing on a blanket and wearing a cute little sun hat I’d forgotten we had. My heart sank. I’d spent the morning with him sequestered in the ten square feet of our living room. It was a beautiful day—why hadn’t I thought to take him outside?
As it turns out, I had a lot to learn from our sitter. In her early twenties, she was a full generation younger than me. She’d been working with kids all through high school and college, though, which meant she had approximately one zillion times more experience than me with changing diapers and soothing fussy babies. While I held my son like a fragile, antique vase, she rocked and played with him like a normal, squishy baby. Whereas my heart raced with anxiety when he cried as I tried to figure out how to get him to stop, she shushed him confidently like she knew his secret language.
At first, her experience and confidence made me feel insecure. I assumed that since I’d birthed a child, I should automatically know all the best ways to care for him. The truth is, though, that as new moms, we have no idea what we’re doing—and that’s normal! That would be like expecting to know how to put together an Ikea chair without the thirty-page instruction booklet. Once I admitted that to myself that I had a lot to learn, I began to see the value of having someone around to ask questions and learn from.
I was lucky in that a friend recommended our sitter. Some people get territorial and act like a jealous boyfriend when it comes to their sitters. I get it—good sitters aren’t always easy to come by. Because of this, once I find them, I work hard to keep them. I’m kind. I ask about their families and their lives. I give them birthday cards and Christmas gifts. I pay them well, because even though I know they genuinely love my child, at the end of the day this is a job. I would much rather give up Starbucks or eating out to be able to reward the person caring for my child. I’m always amazed at people who treat their sitters poorly or haggle over a couple of dollars an hour and don’t think that this is going to translate into the care their child receives.
Probably the most important thing for me, though, has been giving our sitter the opportunity to build a relationship with my son through consistent interaction. This means having her babysit regularly, so she isn’t starting from scratch with him each time she comes. Even if it’s just for a couple of hours, we try to budget for having her come once a week. This keeps our son familiar with her, and excited to see her. Nothing makes me feel better about leaving my son for a few hours than seeing the excitement on his face when she walks through the door.
I know there are families who don’t believe in babysitters. I don’t understand this. I don’t mean this in a judgemental way, I mean I truly don’t understand—and I’d like to. While some are lucky enough to not need babysitters because they have family close by, others firmly believe that they are always the best person to care for their child. On the other hand, I believe that my son benefits enormously from spending time with a wide range of people who love him differently than I do and can teach him different things.
These days, I’m reasonably confident in my parenting. My son is about to turn two, but I’m still learning things from our sitter. Though I’m the one in charge, listening to her experience and watching the way she does things always teaches me something. There is a reason they say it takes a village, and I’m grateful she is part of ours.