I love spending time with my kids, and I think that I’m a fairly good parent. Lyn is a pretty good parent, too. I am thrilled to be parenting with her because she has skills that I don’t have. She draws better boundaries with our four-year-old, Leigh. She worries more about safety and keeps me from doing too many stupid things. She’s great at maintaining connections with other parents.
But collectively, even between two good parents, we still have problem areas. We both talk too much (as a result Leigh talks too much as well). We sometimes let our anxieties get in the way of drawing clear and firm boundaries. Like most parents (mothers in particular), we get wrapped up in chores and forget to just relax with our kids.
But we have a secret weapon: other people take care of our kids! We have two wonderful daycare providers who care for Leigh, listen to her, teach her, and help her to recover from bad habits she learns at home. They talk to us about both Leigh’s progress and her problems, and sometimes they see things that we are too close to see. For us, daycare is not a necessary evil resulting from our need to work, but a blessing that gives many gifts to our whole family. Ira will be starting at daycare in the fall, and we are anticipating lots of help with the terrible two’s (which of course start at one) and with the relationship between Ira and Leigh.
My mom also lives within easy walking distance. Leigh spends every Saturday night with her, and this last spring she cared for Ira one day each week. She has a completely different relationship with both of them than we do. She’s the one that first helped Leigh learn to walk longer distances and to ride the subway without being stuck in a stroller. She was the first to read Leigh a chapter book, and she teaches Leigh to find treasures on every walk and to shop for bargains at Goodwill. She’s not Leigh and Ira’s everyday parent, so she’s a little less irritated and a little more relaxed with them. As our kids grow up, she’ll be a person they can talk to when they don’t feel like they can talk to us.
Having this kind of non-parental care is a huge benefit to our kids, but it benefits us as well. We get to have regular time without our children, and even manage to spend some of that time together. When Leigh returns the next day after a night with grandma, I feel lighter — like I can handle another day of mental and emotional wrestling with a preschooler. We also get a chance to let go and to remember that we’re not in control of every aspect of their lives. You can’t be one of those dreaded helicopter parents* if you are relaxing and letting someone else do the care-taking for a while.
* On the topic of “helicopter parents,” can I say how much I appreciate having one more danger to worry about as a parent? In addition to worrying about BPA, sun exposure, toxic sunscreen, infants locking themselves in the fridge, stranger danger, abusive nannys, and attaching everything in my house to the wall, apparently I also have to worry about worrying too much.