Both as a full-time working mom these days and as a stay-at-home mom (and occasional freelance writer) for three years before that, I’ve never been shy about admitting that I have help with childcare (I came to the understanding quite early on that I am indeed not Someone Who Can Do It All). While some folks are lucky enough to have grandparents ready and willing to pitch in, my husband and I have never had that option—but we have been really lucky to find some incredibly kind women to help care for our children. And so it was from that position of appreciative necessity of those various caregivers that I read Mona Simpson’s piece in the New York Times Magazine yesterday, “Love, Money and Other People’s Children,” accompanied by Michele Asselin’s beautiful portraits of nannies with their charges.
According to the article, about four million babies are born in the U.S. every year, and 55 percent of their moms stay in the work force—which means that someone other than those moms must be caring for those babies (and that this is well beyond an issue of the 1%). And whether we hire someone out of necessity, i.e. we must return to work, or choice, e.g. we do the emotional and financial math and ultimately determine that we want (or maybe need) to hire help to preserve some time for ourselves outside of caring for our children, we still want our children to be loved by that caregiver.
At the heart of Simpson’s piece is the entanglement of love and money in our childcare arrangements. She writes, “We don’t like to mix love with money. We want love to come as a gift that offers as much pleasure and reward to the giver as to ourselves. No one receiving love wishes to break it down to its component parts, of good sense and feasibility, much less to consider that payment may be necessary to inspire the whole project. Even more than we want good love for ourselves, we want it for our children, those vulnerable satellites of our hearts that we send, unsteady, into the world.”
And so while our own love for our children comes naturally (one hopes) from the moment of birth or the first moment we hold them in our arms, regardless of whether we birthed them, the love of a caregiver—specifically, I suppose, a nanny, which implies more time (and connection?) than a babysitter (who is possibly a high schooler or other temporary or occasional help)—is more complicated, given that money is part of the equation. How much we pay them, how much their time away from their own children is worth, how much we know (or choose not to know) about their legal standing or citizenship, and our obligations as employers are all part of this. And then of course there may be the guilt that we feel in having another woman raise our children while we spend our time away from them—regardless of whether we return to work out of necessity or choice. While some families assuage their guilt by treating their nanny especially well—excellent pay, paid time-off, assorted perks and most(?) importantly well-due respect, others seem to be angered by the guilt they feel at the nanny’s perpetual presence and enter a virtual state of denial of their existence, as Simpson notes when nannies find themselves cut out of family photos.
Have you hired childcare on a regular basis? Have you felt guilt over doing so, either because you felt you should magically be able to do it all or because you worried that your children might prefer their caregiver to you?