February 20, 2018

The Nanny Guilt is Real: Why I Hesitated Hiring Help

For the first 22 months of my daughter’s life, I barely left her side. In fact, she was the reason I chose to forgo my burgeoning career as a producer that I’d devoted so much time to and was convinced I’d resume once I “popped her out.” But eventually, I started my blog, began working as a freelancer and became intimately acquainted with the struggles of juggling work and family.

At the same time, my growing daughter became much more active. I spent months trying to entertain a toddler in the middle of a cold, snowy New York winter while also getting some work done. I’d be out with her all day on long walks, at baby classes and play dates, and then after getting her fed, bathed and to bed, I’d have to start working (as if I hadn’t been all day!), often staying up until the early hours of morning. I was exhausted and finally admitted that I needed help.

Giving up control wasn’t easy. Rationalizing it to myself, family and friends was even harder. I was, for all intents and purposes, a stay-at-home mom so why did I need help? Did I not want to be with my baby? Could I not hack it? Could we afford it? Should we afford it? Was I selfish? Was I sure she was safe? What did it say about me as a mother?

I hesitate even broaching the subject of nannies because I know it’s rife with opinions and controversy (as I’ve found so much of motherhood to be). Even as I weighed the pros and cons of hiring help, I fielded backlash from some of my own family members about how luxurious having a nanny must be. Surely, they said, I could work when she napped after all, I only had one child. My “job” (one actually used air quotes) must be really taxing (insert sarcasm here).

Despite my fears and others’ opinions, I knew I needed to place my mental health above all the mom shame. What made me happy was working in addition to my full-time job as a mom. While I was still spending 75 percent of my time with my child, that other 25 percent, whether it was at the computer, the gym or with friends was restorative, even if it made others resentful.

So after many interviews, observations, referrals and “mother’s helper” shifts, I finally left my girl alone with a nanny. This particular professional, well into her 60’s, was way overpaid; we were essentially employing a night nurse to babysit for a few hours, but we thought that’s what “getting the best” entailed. Several subway stops into my first day’s commute, however, I broke into a sweat, realizing we only knew this lady’s first name and phone number, no home address, social security number or emergency contact. I ran home in a fit of tears, convinced my baby would be gone. I found her alive and well in our apartment, of course, right where I’d left her.

The night nurse came highly recommended, but after she invented a conversation I supposedly had with her, I had to confront the fact that she was either senile or a pathological liar. I wasn’t sure which was worse, nor was I willing to wait to find out. It was our first firing; I wish I could say it was our last.

After that, we went the babysitter route, choosing young, energetic, mentally stable and seemingly trustworthy girls. But even that process proved daunting. The first candidate clearly had no interest in children, and during her trial while I was at home watching her, had my toddler in tears because she wouldn’t play with her. What was I to assume would be going on if I wasn’t there?! Others had over-scheduled social calendars and were never available, which made the vetting all the more exhausting and frustrating.

Then we hit the jackpot with several sitters who loved Lilly as if she were their own, and we finally found some faith in the system. They were attentive, hands-on, fun and flexible, and while they didn’t exactly do the dishes or clean up the house, we were really happy with them as was our little girl. Alas, they were temporary, as they had dreams of their own to fulfill: places to move to, companies to tour with and schools to attend. And, so, after losing one babysitter too many, we went back to working with a nanny.

In Nadia, we found the best of both worlds: She was young, energetic and playful, but also a reliable professional. She was with us for over a year, and it was amazing. There was no worrying when Lilly was with her, no lists I had to leave or plans I had to make; everything was taken care of. She’d pack up Lilly’s lunch, organize play dates, bathe my babe and even got her to wear a bow and eat broccoli. She felt like family, like a second mom or sister. Thanks to Nadia, Lilly and I learned to be less codependent, I was able to focus on my work, and my husband came home to a happier wife. It was good for all of us.

So my parting wisdom is this: Whether you work in or out of the home, have childcare or not, work with a nanny or sitter, do what’s best for you and your family, and let all those naysayers go the way of our crazy night nurse!

This article originally appeared on The Bump.