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?