Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Student Mom: Childcare

Yes, I'm a mom, and I'm going to grad school. I write on ongoing series of posts chronicling my experience as a student mom. If it interests you, find the rest of the posts here.

If you had told me ten years ago that someday I would hire a nanny to watch my kids, I would've laughed in your face.

Even if you had told me that five years ago, I still would've been skeptical.

First off, nannies were only for those super rich people, the ones who had summer houses in Europe and sent their kids to private boarding schools and that kind of thing. Sure, my husband makes a decent salary, but we are by no means wealthy (especially not with the depressing weight of student loans still hanging over our heads).

Second, I would've told you that I would never entrust the care and raising of my children to someone else. Weren't nannies for those bad moms who were too busy and too selfish to stay home with their kids?

Without doubt, childcare has been the most stressful, most gut-wrenching, and most guilt-ridden part of this whole experience of going back to grad school. There were so many days during my first semester, when my kid was sick or when the planned babysitter fell through last minute, when I thought to myself, "Oh yeah, this is why young mothers don't do grad school."

For my first semester last year, we used a network of friends and family for babysitting. I have a good friend who lives in our same apartment complex that took my kid two afternoons a week, and then I would drop him off at my sister-in-law's house for my evening class another day. It was stressful to manage the pick-up and drop-off, but I was happy knowing these were friends and family my son was comfortable with and who would care for him like their own children (plus, we couldn't beat the price of the friends and family discount :).

But my sister-in-law moved out of state over the summer, and then we had a baby, and we didn't want to drop two kids on our friends for the 15+ hours of childcare needed each week (easy way to destroy a friendship). So we started looking at other options, the most appealing of which was hiring a nanny.

I won't bore you with the details of our search, the prayers and the fretting and the late-night anxiety I went through thinking about bringing a perfect stranger into my home to take care of the two most precious people in the world to me, especially when we can't afford to pay a lot. I will only tell you the happy ending, because last week I interviewed and hired the perfect nanny. Except for the part where we don't speak the same language (why or why did I minor in French instead of Spanish?), this is the most perfect situation I ever could have dared hope for, and I feel so grateful and blessed that things were able to work out this way.

So next week, I will return to school full time (three days a week, five hours a day), and my boys will be looked after by a nanny.

Now that the stress of finding a nanny has subsided, I've had time to fully reflect about the position I find myself in. I have a nanny. I am voluntarily leaving my children every week. I am paying someone else money we can barely afford so that I can go to school and study literature.

Some days, I really feel like this is all a terrible idea. We are throwing so much money at this thing, this dream of mine to get a master's degree. Money that should be going to get us out of debt or saving for a house. And then I am leaving my children. Leaving them with someone else who will get the afternoon snacks ready and change the diapers and put the baby down for naps and make decisions about how many TV shows to watch. I'm giving up control over those decisions for fifteen hours every week. Why? Why? Why?

The only answer I can give is because for me, for us, this is the right thing to do at the right time. I can't give any more logical explanation, but trust me, I pray about it over and over and every time, I just know it is right. It is okay. I don't know why yet, but some day I will look back and understand.

After meeting with my nanny, I even wondered if I was going to school now just so we could give her a job. She has been out of work for a while, and even though we aren't paying her much, something is more than nothing. While we had been praying to find a good nanny, she had been praying to find work, and here we are answering each other's prayers.

This whole experience is helping to dislodge some perceptions I used to hold about motherhood and childcare -- perceptions that I think would have held me back if I hadn't been pushed so hard to do this. Here's what I'm learning:

  • It takes a village to raise a child. One mother can't do it alone, and it's not shameful to ask others to step in and help with childcare.
  • My children will still turn out just fine if I am not around for every second of their lives. I haven't given up my responsibilities for their well-fare, education, and development just because I leave them for a few hours every week.
  • I like my children more when I get a regular break from them. I have more patience, I am more kind, and I am a better mother when I get back from school.
  • I can still be a good mom and be a good grad student.

Sometimes I feel like there is a lot of judgment, especially in the Mormon community, for mothers who work or go to school, especially when they don't have to. And somehow I sort of absorbed the perception that moms who worked weren't as focused or devoted to their families. It's certainly never been spoken or said to me, but I always feel like I have to defend myself when I tell people I'm going to grad school, and prove that I'm not selfish or not dedicated to motherhood.

Because what I've learned the most from this experience is that first and foremost, I'm still a mom. I still do everything I did before as a mother, only now I squeeze homework in at night and on the weekends. And I let a nanny watch them for the few hours I have to be away. Honestly, sometimes I wondered why my classmates would complain about being stressed and busy when school was all they did. Motherhood was what I did, and school was what I did on the side.

Anyway, this has been a long and rambly post, of interest to possibly no one but myself. All I'm trying to say is that if there is any other mother out there considering school, don't let guilt stop you from outsourcing childcare (money may stop you, but it shouldn't be guilt). You don't stop being a mom just because someone else is keeping your kids alive for a few hours.

And, holy cow! I have a nanny!

1 comment:

  1. I really like this post and can relate in so many ways. I am constantly eaten up with guilt about voluntarily leaving my children. I definitely was one of those passing judgment 5 years ago but now I'm on the receiving end and appreciate being given the benefit of the doubt. I constantly re-evaluate but for now it feels right, and I shouldn't have to convince people that I love my kids.