One of my girlfriends admitted how hard it was to leave her baby to go work until she embraced a new attitude. If the baby was crying as she walked out the door, instead of feeling guilty and starting her day with extra stress, she thought. “It’s not my problem; the nanny’s got it.” She knew she’d hired a capable caregiver whose style of child-rearing aligned with her own, and she knew the nanny would make sure her daughter was safe and loved during the day. She was off “mom duty” and that allowed her to free up some brain space to focus on her job.
I will never claim to be a perfect mother, but this is one thing I think I do well, too— despite my general love of being in control, I don’t worry about my kids when I’m not the one in charge of them.
But not all moms share this trait. Especially when it comes to being away overnight, I know so many women who stress over lining up every little detail before they leave and then checking in multiple times a day while they’re gone to find out how their kids are doing.
The problem with this set up is that it gives them the illusion of being in control when they’d be better off facing the fact that they’re not— and enjoying that freedom.
I have a few kid-free trips coming up, and I have to be honest, once I’m gone, I’m embracing my off duty status. I don’t have to track what the kids ate or when they pooped. I won’t hear “mom” a million times a day or all the requests that follow it. I won’t have to clean up after anyone but myself.
Since I’m getting a break from the responsibility of watching my kids, it would be unfair of me to dictate from afar how the person who is doing the hard work should handle things. If I trusted them enough to leave my kids with them, then I have to trust their judgment to safely care for my children, even if they don’t do things exactly the way I would.
The number one quality I look for in a babysitter is his or her ability to use good judgment when presented with a new situation— it’s not about how well they follow my specific instructions. They are not me, so I don’t expect their time with my kids to play out as if they were. I offer general guidelines for bedtimes and feeding times, but I don’t provide them with a detailed itinerary, and I don’t expect a detailed account when I return.
Are the children safe and happy when I come back? Perfect. Plus, if I’m enjoying a night out with my husband or some girlfriends, why shouldn’t the kids have a fun night, too? As long as there are no safety concerns (e.g. food allergies), it’s okay to let the rules slide sometimes.
The same applies to grandparents. My parents and my in-laws are willing and able to watch our kids for extended periods of time, and we are lucky to have this support. I also trust that they’ll have my kids’ best interest at heart, so even if they mix up the kids’ schedule or indulge them with treats, I will not criticize the way they watch my kids. I wasn’t in charge; they were.
The person I’ve noticed moms have the hardest time releasing control to is their partner or spouse. It’s as if their partnership affords them a special jurisdiction over this particular adult’s judgment and actions. Even if you are the default caregiver and the parent who runs the show 99% of the time, when you’re not there, your partner is calling the shots— you don’t have a say in how it goes.
Wouldn’t it drive you nuts if you got calls throughout the day questioning the decisions you made about feeding your kids or how you chose to entertain them? Well, it annoys your partners when you do it to them. If you really don’t trust them to safely care for your children, then, unfortunately, you may have bigger family problems to tackle.
Finding a trustworthy caregiver is not easy, but once you have one, let them do their job and enjoy your break while you’re off duty.
Admittedly, the dynamic gets trickier when you have less control over who is actually in charge of your kids — like the time they spend in school. Even though you may have thoroughly vetted a school before registering your child, an environment with multiple teachers and administrators and a lot more kids means plenty of things could happen. And that’s just the way it goes. Your child is now part of a larger community and his or her needs are no more important than another child’s. As long your child’s safety and ability to learn aren’t compromised, get out of the way, let the teachers and staff do their jobs, and support them in their efforts to educate your kid.
The moral of the story: If you can’t trust the person with whom you’re leaving your child, then don’t leave them. If you do trust them, then act like it and release yourself from the guilt and responsibility of always being on duty. Take all of that extra energy and use it to enjoy your newfound freedom. You’ve earned it, and you really do deserve it.