Toddler-in-Tow…Or Not?

This evening on Motherlode, KJ Dell’Antonia asked her readers if children ever belong at an adult party.  The question was in reference to a situation where one family’s babysitter canceled, so they called the host to ask if they could bring along their 18 month old daughter.  Of the responses she’s received so far, not a single one (aside from mine) even remotely suggested that it might be alright to take a baby to an “adult” event.

As much as I hate labels, we are “attachment” parents.  Chris and I believe that children, most especially babies and young toddlers need to be with their parents, not outside caregivers.  And babies, who are born to be breastfed, by default must spend the bulk of their time with their mothers.  Of course, if you have to work, then you have to work — as we both did until Nora was nine months old.  But, if it can be helped, young children should be in the care of their parents rather than a daycare, babysitter, or even grandma and grandpa.  When Nora was an infant and I was still working, I made up for lost time by co-sleeping and baby-wearing almost constantly when we were together.  I never hired a babysitter so I could go do things without her.  When I wasn’t holding her, Chris was — rarely was she left alone, even to sleep.

Holding that type of parenting mentality meant that when I had to travel for weeks at a time for work, I found a babysitter in California and took Nora along with me.  It also meant that she regularly attended MAT faculty meetings, although more often in the arms of my colleagues than my own!  Now that I’m doing freelance work, Nora is often present at my client meetings, and when I plan classes at which she will be a distraction, I schedule them only on days when Chris will be home to watch her.

In the 27 months since her birth, Chris and I have gone on lots and lots of “family” dates, and all of four dates without Nora.  Even if I have rare moments when I think a “date night” would be nice, Chris, understandably, is not willing to give of the very little time he gets with Nora — especially when we can easily have alone time at home after she goes to bed at 8.

That sort of parenting mentality also means that Nora comes along with us to many events at which she is the only or one of the few children.  This month, it was the December networking event for Petticoat Row, the Theatre Workshop of Nantucket’s cabaret night, and Chris’ work party (for which she was present for only the first hour or so).  No matter where we are with her, we are always prepared to leave at the slightest sign of unrest and are proactive about packing things she needs to get through the event.  But Nora is great — obviously with how much time she spends at The Brotherhood, she is well-versed in restaurant behavior; rarely have we had to think twice about any other venue or location, and normally we receive plenty of compliments on her good behavior.  Certainly, as she gets older, it will be less feasible or appealing to take her everywhere with us, but for now she is still very much “portable.”

Reading the comments on KJ’s post, I was reminded of how there are two very different styles of parenting when it comes to time spent with or without babysitters.  There are the people like Chris and me who have no desire to be without our infant or young child; who try our hardest to never have to hire a babysitter if we can help it.  We don’t plan to go to bars or late parties any more, and we don’t miss them in the slightest.  We believe that our children can and should go with us just about anywhere, but we are also willing to accommodate that belief with a change in our lifestyles.  In contrast, there are parents who plan weekly date nights, send their infants to grandma’s house so they can have a weekend away, and who, rather than rushing home after work, spend an hour or two at the gym first.  Frankly, to me, these look like parents who aren’t willing to change their lifestyle for a baby.

From purely biological and anthropological standpoints, there is something very unnatural about spending nights away from a baby less than a year old.  From a personal parenting perspective, I can’t even fathom the desire.  I have spent one night away from Nora (at 9 months old while Chris and his wonderful family watched her), and I fretted and didn’t really enjoy myself.

I’ve often wondered why this difference exists in parenting styles and whether or not it matters.  While babysitting, it was hard not to contrast Mr. T’s mom, who spent every lunch hour with him, had a hard time leaving in the morning, and who was always here as quickly as possible after work, with another mom of an infant who formula fed, never came during her breaks, and often asked me to watch him longer so she could go to the gym.  How can anyone feel so comfortable spending time away from their four month old that they can easily add an extra hour onto their already too long work day?

With regards to the particular party KJ referenced, I don’t think there’s enough information to say whether or not I would try to take Nora to it.  But to make a blanket statement that a baby or young toddler should never be at an adult party is just wrong. There of plenty of scenarios I can think of in which a baby or toddler would hardly be noticed, let alone a detriment to a good party.  If one of those scenarios were the case it seems unfair to expect the parent to miss out.  Why there are even situations when it might be beneficial to the child to tag along, such as learning how to behave in certain situations or being exposed to something new.  How can so many adults believe that babies should always be in the care of a babysitter rather than present for a short while at a party in a restaurant?

Comments

  1. Kristi says

    I pretty much take Allie ever where. If she doesn’t belong I don’t go unless she happens to be with a family member or at a sleepover or something.

  2. Kristi says

    Great article Amber! I would like to add that as a latch key child that spent a lot of time alone I have a complex about doing the same thing to Allie. However sometimes I need to give myself a time out to refresh my spirit and gather my thoughts. The best way I’ve found to do this is a long hot bath….not an entire night away with people that would rather be without the little lights of their lives. Anyway keep up the good work! You’re always balanced and spot on :)

  3. Rachel says

    Hmmm… There is a lot more I could say than I will, because I think there are a lot of levels of parent attachment. I rarely go to parties without my kids if they aren’t home with Matt. But I cherish the quality time they spend with their grandmother who sees them most every day and for sleepovers. They have a bond with her that is closer than most. And the caregivers I chose were awesome. I have always rushed home to see my kids even though I work a lot. However- they are thrilled to have a babysitter. I consider myself a stay-at-home mom who works two jobs. Date night has become a priority for us- alone- as the kids got older- because it’s the best thing for our marriage- and family- to keep the romance for the two of us.

  4. Heidi says

    no.i love time away at adult events to enjoy my time and not chasing kids..I love my children but i they dont need to be stuck to me every second of the day..they already both sleep w me at night so..actually spending time away is nice.

  5. Rachel W. says

    I don’t think there’s a one size fits all option for everyone. Some people are very extroverted, love bars/parties, crave more adult time, and are less satisfied with domestic life than others. I don’t think there is any harm in leaving a child with grandparents or a trusted babysitter- as long as the people you leave her with truly care about her and she enjoys being with them. As a child I was never once left with anyone other than family. My mom was very young and single and she spent many nights out partying, but I considered my grandparents my second parents, and I got a lot out of being with them. During the summers when she worked I was with them, but she always came over to have lunch with us. She made it clear how much she loved me and she spent a ton of focused, quality time with me. I was blessed to have people who loved me so much and I got PLENTY of love and attention. And I think that’s the key… making sure that your child gets the love and attention that they need, and that you expressly let them know that they are loved and valued. Sadly, some people don’t value their children enough, and some people do work, hit the gym, go out on weekends, etc and their kids do get lost in the shuffle. Other parents spend more “me” time than you are interested in, but still make their childrens wellbeing a priority. I do agree some parents just are selfish and don’t give nearly enough to their children. But others find a good balance, and it can and should be different for us all.

  6. Amber says

    Rachel D (and Jess, too), I think you are both so lucky to have family nearby. If you can’t be with your children for whatever reason, that is definitely the next best thing. I feel the distance between myself and my family (and what that means for Nora’s relationship with them) even more following our Christmas vacation.

    Rachel, you are absolutely right that the same thing doesn’t work for everyone — the same thing doesn’t even work at every age. Certainly, as Nora grows I am feeling less and less of a need to have her with me constantly. I’m not going to lie — I am thrilled that that she sleeps through the night in her own room and I made the effort to make that happen a long time ago so I could have my own space at night.

    I also don’t want to give the impression that I don’t have a need for “me” time — I most certainly do. It just happens that I’m able to make my “me” time happen from inside my house while she’s sleeping or on days when Chris is home to watch her. Luckily, the work that I do on Papoose and building websites is something that I enjoy so much that I consider it to be “me” time. Perhaps when she’s older, as some of your children are, Chris and I will again be ready for regular date nights (although who knows, because he is already dreading losing his mornings with her when she goes to school…our dates may have to be breakfast dates instead of dinner dates!)

    Just curious, do any of you employ teenage babysitters? That is one hump I have not been to get over. We did use one once for an hour in New York when we desperately needed someone, but otherwise we rely on family or other moms.

    • Wing says

      My husband and I both work from home. We love being with our kids, even though there are days we need a break. As for sitters, on the days when our schedules require a sitter for a few hours, we get a teenager to come in. However, we are both home, and on the premises should any emergency arise. It also gives us a little more peace of mind if we need a sitter so we can go to a movie or dinner on rare occasions, knowing the kids are perfectly fine. With two active little boys, some together time that’s before 11pm is nice.

    • Rachel says

      I do have a teenager for a babysitter- but not until recently, when the kids were older. Some can be more responsible than adults- not others. I rarely trust anyone but myself at the beach. The biggest responsibility is knowing what to do in an emergency and acting on it. Tori is a great babysitter for Rex, but at 9 is not old enough to take on that responsibility for longer than a few minutes… I have names of teenagers that are great…

  7. says

    Amber, There’s a lot to consider here without being prejudicial on both sides. Everyone has an opinion–there is no right or wrong. Only a judge can consider that in court. There are many sides to the situation and who’s to say what is better or not for the child? We all have differing opinions. I have been in your situation to an extent. For the example in Motherlode, if it is an adult party, that should be respected. No matter the behavior of the child, don’t go if the sitter has canceled. Why write about it, if parties are unsure? I respect your statements for raising Nora the way you see, however, as you know, not all parents can abide nor should they to the extent you want to raise Nora. Every situation is different and should be respected to the best of the parent’s ability.

  8. Kristi says

    care.com does background checks, but I haven’t actually had anyone other than family member, close friend (1 time) or daycare provider watch her. There are a lot of ladies that I work with who have teenage daughters, so I have their numbers in case I decide I do want to have more of an outside life. Hopefully Derek will move back to Iowa soon so I won’t feel guilty about having my own life. As it is, I work so much and go to school/study when I am home so I cherish our time together. Before I went back to school Allie spent more time away from home, though. Also, sorry if I offended anyone with my earlier posts…it sounds like everyone on here is a very loving mommy!

  9. Alicia says

    Sharon goes everywhere with me/us. If there is a party/event for us to go to and babies/children aren’t invited, then we generally don’t go or just Ahren goes. Logistics with breastfeeding demand this because Sharon won’t take a bottle (or anything artificial for that matter) but that’s not the point or the only reason why she goes everywhere with me/us. I simply believe babies and young children should be with their parents. We baby-wear and bed share and it works for us. We are all well rested and happy and thats what matters.

    We do have one family member who very much wants Sharon to come stay with her….overnight. Sharon’s cousins stay over at this relative’s house overnight very frequently. So I think she has the idea that thats how things will be with Sharon. And I’m sorry, but that is SO not the case. Definitely not while she is under a year old…maybe even two. Ahren’s brother and his wife parent very differently than we do. Very much like what you described in your post. We don’t have any desire to be without Sharon. Ahren’s brother and wife send the boys to stay at our relative’s house one night a weekend on AVERAGE. Sometimes less, but more often its more frequent than that. So she keeps saying things like, “When Sharon comes to stay with me…” and I don’t really say much. She doesn’t have children of her own and it doesn’t seem that she agrees with how we are parenting Sharon (not letting her CIO, bed sharing, attachment parenting in general). Not to mention, Sharon objects when most other people hold her ( See The Attachment Parenting Book by Dr. Sears, Page 163, Profile of a High Needs Baby. Its Sharon to a T). So I am not on board with Sharon spending the night….with anyone at this point.

    All of these things we can revisit later, as Sharon gets older. And I think you have to adapt your parenting as your child/children grow. What works for our family now, may not work for us later.

    Great post, Amber. Now I’m going to go read the Motherlode article you referenced :)

  10. says

    I got here from the Motherlode response itself, after reading your (very measured) response and clicking through to your blog.

    So I was a bit surprised to see the stark dichotomy that you’ve raised here, that there are only two types of parents–one type that would never dream of leaving their child, whether for work or play (you), and one type that’s so eager to dismiss their child that they eagerly hire sitters to watch them all the time. That’s an outrageous claim, and you’ve left no room for any mediating styles between.

    I have a son who is almost two. I breastfed until he was 13 months. I worked part-time, when he had a nanny, until I decided to stay at home and write my dissertation while taking care of him. My husband is a surgical resident, so he’s rarely home. As far as childcare…I’m it. My little man is my constant companion. He’s gone camping with me at a friend’s weekend barbecue, been to 10+ states and Mexico on trips with us, and attended a myriad of house parties and restaurant gatherings.

    But I have also had to leave him at home–both for work and social reasons–and your insinuation that I am a negligent parent “who isn’t willing to change [my] lifestyle for a baby” is ridiculous. My son has two trusted babysitters, and we use them when we have to attend work parties, important social events for friends (like housewarmings and birthdays, not just random happy hours), as well as for the very occasional time to ourselves. We have had–maybe–one date night every three months since our son was born. Considering my husband’s 100+ hour work weeks, that’s a luxury. We always choose nights when he was going to be coming home after our son’s bedtime anyway, at which point I put my son to sleep, hand the remote to my sitter, and leave to go have dinner with my husband. My son never even knows I’m not in the house–if he does wake up, it’s to his very beloved sitter who has has known since he was 3-months-old. And the only time I ever “sent my child to his grandparents house so I could have a weekend away” was hardly fun or romantic–it was to attend a high-profile academic conference where I was giving a paper, and where the presence of a child at any of the events would have been questioned. I hated being away from him–but I loved every moment of intellectual stimulation at that conference.

    I am glad that you have the opportunity to raise your daughter in a way that seems to organic and natural to you, and it’s obvious that you are proud of your efforts. However, you need to realize that this issue is NOT black or white. When I first read your comment on Motherlode, I was in total agreement with you–I have always been “that mom who brings her kid everywhere,” too. But, when I read your lengthier explanation here, I couldn’t help but feel rebuffed and judged by your tone and insinuations about how I choose to–and have to, because of life circumstance–raise my child.

    Be careful. Lumping every parent who isn’t exactly like you into the “bad” category isn’t the answer, either.

    • Amber says

      Hi BiblioMOMia, Thanks for visiting my blog and your very thoughtful response.

      I’m sorry if I gave the impression that there are only two types of parents — I do believe that there are spaces in-between, but for my purposes here, I wanted to contrast people who choose to spend lots of time away from their infants with people who do not. I’m not really talking about children much older than the toddler years, and I’m not at all talking about situations that necessitate time away. I, myself, worked full-time from when Nora was 8 weeks old until she was 9 months old — because at the time I was the primary support for our family — during which time she was in the care of a babysitter (a stay-at-home mom). I also mentioned the night I spent away from her at 9 months, which was due to a social situation; I was the maid of honor in a friend’s wedding and that was the night that I hosted her bachelorette party. You are right, there are important social situations and work requirements that sometimes require time away from our children. It was my intent, and I’m sorry if I did so poorly, to convey that these instances aren’t the same as someone who, as you said, uses babysitters just to go to random happy hours or leaves a two month old with grandma for four days to have a fun weekend away.

      The big difference as I see here is intent and desire. There are parents who desire to be with their children as much as possible and there are parents who just plain don’t. There may be life situations that make always being with our babies impossible, but the bottom line is the desire. And I don’t think it’s “bad” if you want time away from a little baby, I just said I don’t understand it. (That said, I do understand needing time away as they grow older, which is something that maybe wasn’t clear enough in my original post and which I attempted to clarify in an earlier comment. I just always plan to take my time away when Chris is home, which enables Nora to spend one-on-one time with her dad rather than a babysitter.)

      From everything you said, you certainly belong in the first category of parents and it sounds like you are a wonderful mom. I’m sorry that you felt judged; it’s never my intention to make others feel that way.

      Best,
      Amber

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