Why my years as a nanny have shown me that I'm not ready for kids of my own
They hand me the baby. My arms waver with his weight. He has no wrists, no ankles, just endless baby rolls. Used to being bounced around, he starts to cry almost immediately. I instinctively rock him and he smiles smugly as I get the rhythm down. I smile back. My in-laws gasp as they snap the picture. They will gawk at it for the rest of the family dinner.
I am newly engaged to my boyfriend of 10 years, and I just turned 30. My friends are all having their first or second child, while I’m planning a move out-of-state and a career change. My mind is just not in baby mode.
Right now, I feel that I lack three qualities I need to be the kind of parent I want to be — qualities that I’ve witnessed as crucial to good parenting in my career as a nanny.
I started nannying young. My mom was a babysitter, and I was her assistant. At 10, I changed my first diaper. At 12, my mom left me in charge of all the kids, while she made the lunches. Once I was a full-time nanny in my late teens, I had all the basic skills to do the job. Still, I was surprised by the things I didn’t know, or hadn’t previously considered, about raising a child.
Every summer, my mom had a different group of kids to care for, all varying in age. Once, we had a set of twin girls. Deborah, the second born, was always in trouble, always in timeout. The rule was that timeout could end if you apologized. Deborah sat rigidly in her chair, refusing to apologize and sassing her way into longer timeouts. Her sister was docile, and her parents were sweet and polite. Yet, here she was, 7 years old, a person all her own with a different character. Her parents reprimanded her, but often felt overwhelmed by her tenacity.
Deborah wouldn’t be the first or the last difficult child I would encounter in my career. However, she is the first child that comes to mind when I think about reasons why I’m hesitant to have kids of my own.
She embodies my fear of being an incapable mother.
That, despite my “experience” and my knowledge, there’s no guarantee my child will listen to me — which in turn brings me to my second biggest reason: lack of time. A child like Deborah needs dedication. Juggling careers, social lives, marriage, and children, parents have a lot on their plate. Most have a hard time finding that good balance.
One of my first jobs was as a daycare assistant. Pick up was at 5 p.m., but I often stayed until 7. I would stay late waiting for parents to pick up their kids. Sometimes it was traffic or a work meeting gone too long. Other times, they simply needed a moment to themselves. With a job as important and as stressful as parenting, a moment to one’s self is completely understandable. But, as I sat there waiting for them, my heart went out to their children. Some of them were angry, most were worried, wondering if they had been forgotten. I tried to make it appealing to stay after hours, putting on fun music, offering them snacks — none of it made a difference.
It seemed that to have a career and a family, the sacrifice was always time away from your family.
So, I vowed to accomplish all my career goals in my non-mothering years, then I’d settle down in a steady schedule and dedicate myself to my children. It was a very ambitious goal, that I am nowhere near accomplishing. So unless I stumble upon an established dream career, I will have to settle for anything that’s dependable and flexible.
Chances are neither will happen, and this brings me to my third reason. When one parent was running late for pick up, the other parent would fill in; these were the parents with great team attitudes. Dads who washed dishes, changed diapers, made lunches. Mommies who took days off from work to care for their sick babies, while daddy stayed late at the office. Parents who had each other’s backs. They bravely faced the challenges of parenting equally, with no resentments.
I would love to say that all the parents I’ve worked for were great parenting partners, but I would be lying. I witnessed the ugly side of parenting, a very overwhelming place that brought down the strongest of couples.
I saw arguments over very minimal things: a missed pediatrician’s visit, forgetting to bring the milk home. The stress and constant juggling of responsibilities eventually strained them. They would choose to neglect each other rather than neglect their children, and affectionate and supportive relationships buckled under the enormous weight of parenting.
This is probably my biggest concern, the effect of parenthood on my relationship.
My fiancé and I are both dreamers, artists at heart. Neither one of us would want to give up our current lifestyle. We like coming home to our messy apartment and our crazy dogs, and we like our time to be our time. We’re no good under pressure, and we are lousy at paying our bills on time.
After so many years as a nanny, I feel I’ve done my share of caring for children. I’m very tired already, and I know having a baby of my own would mean a lifetime commitment to childcare. I’m just not ready. If there is one thing I have learned in all my years of working with parents, it’s that once you commit to being a parent, you have to give it your best try. If you are fortunate enough to be able to choose, I think it’s as important to recognize when you’re not ready to be a parent, as when you are.
My fiancé takes his nephew, holds him up in the air and makes silly faces at him. My insides turn, my brain reminds me why we’ve agreed on no babies — but my ears ring with faint baby cries. I repress those feelings. Deep down, I know we are making the right decision.
I know the kind of parent I want to be, versus the parent I am capable of being at the moment.
He hands the little man back to his mommy. She coos to him and relinquishes the warm bottle she was fetching. Everything around them fades away. As she converses with him, her face is peaceful: no career worries, no relationship battles, no time constraints, nothing but her baby. It’s a perfect moment. The authenticity of a mother’s love for her child is so powerful, it can stop a room.
I may not want to be a mother today, but I’m forever in awe of it. There’s no greater magic in this world than a set of little eyes looking up at their mother’s. Wonder and endless possibilities swirling all around them, as she holds his life in her hands.