Our childcare is covered entirely by grandparents. I know, we’re the luckiest. My mom watches Sloane three days a week and my in-laws watch her two days a week. We don’t have to pay for childcare, never have to worry that our daughter isn’t being loved, and trust our caregivers fully. So how could someone as lucky as I am feel anything but fortunate?
In the midst of preparing for my return to work from maternity leave, I struggled with giving up full-time caretaker responsibilities for Sloane. What surprised me even more was that I struggled to cope with the fact that her grandparents would care for her more during the weekdays than I would. Fast forward a year and a half later to present day, and I wouldn’t trade their role in Sloane’s life for the world. Each of her grandparents are absolutely amazing with her, she adores them, and I am eternally grateful for all that they do for our family. Like much of what I’ve experienced with the transition back to work, the anticipation was much more difficult than the reality. But in the build-up, I had a hard time knowing that other family members might know my daughter better, or have a more significant role in her life, than I would.
Based on conversations with many women about returning to work, I think the transition of care to anyone is difficult. Whether it be daycare, nanny, family or friends, each come with their own set of worries and stressors. Personally, I had waited anxiously for most of my life to become a Mom. I knew I wanted to assume that role more than anything. And when I finally had the chance, my experience felt like it was being ripped out of my hands by going back to work. As grateful as I was to have family eager to help us, I also felt jealous that they got to step in and, as I rationalized it, take my place. This spurred in me an insecurity about our care situation, and I struggled with figuring out how to appreciate something I knew I should be beyond grateful for.
I’m lucky to have parents and in-laws who went along with the hoops I made them jump through, also known as my emotional coping mechanisms, as I prepared to return to work. One night, after laying awake in bed, anxiously stressing and unable to sleep, I decided that although our parents had successfully raised numerous children, and were naturals with Sloane, they needed to be certified just like any nanny or daycare staff would. So, I made them all enroll in a 3-hour infant safety class. Like the amazing parents they are, they happily attended without compliant. And then, a few days before my return to work, I invited them over for a full-day Sloane bootcamp. Yes, you heard that right. I had spent days writing a 14-page baby manual, complete with a table of contents, that I aptly titled “Book of Sloane”. I can look back at it now and chuckle, but in the moment, this thing was my lifeline. If I wrote every detail down about Sloane, they’d have to absorb every word and care for her exactly as I did, right? During our full-day bootcamp, I took them through every word in that 14-page manual, and taught them how I wanted them to care for my daughter. Again, they were happy to oblige my demands, and somehow didn’t decide to disown me (obviously because I’m the gateway to their granddaughter!).
Though this may sound like an extreme approach, and I should probably go apologize for what I put them through, it was how I was able to cope with handing over such significant responsibility to anyone who wasn’t me. In a way, I felt like I had to still establish that I was the mom, the one who got to raise her child, and I was trying everything possible to leave my mark when I wasn’t physically present. In that moment, this process helped me cope.
But here’s the silver lining. As I reflect back on that volatile time, I see that so much of what I stressed over before returning to work has transformed into the things I value and appreciate most today. For example, I felt like going back to work meant the end of my time really being Sloane’s mom. In that way, it felt like her grandparents were going to become her new parents, and I’d be a bystander on the sidelines. I’d think to myself, “they already had the chance to raise their own children, and now, they get to raise mine too”. It hurt my heart and my ego. In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Mama is always mama, no matter how many close relationships your children develop in parallel. I truly love how close Sloane is to her grandparents and feel wonderful that they have the opportunity to be so present and active in her life. What I most feared has now become one of the things I most cherish.
I was worried that they’d be better at it than me. And that when we all were together as a family they’d takeover, and I’d be stuck on the sidelines watching everyone else parent my kid. In reality, it’s been humbling to learn that they are in fact better at a lot of things, and that I don’t have to fear not being the expert. Their patience, zest and creativity far surpasses mine. They come up with games I never would have thought of, find activities for her I didn’t know existed, and have ways to easily get her to do things that are normally a battle when mom’s involved. I’m grateful for all that they teach my daughter and for the ways they’ve taught me how to be a better parent.
I was worried that I’d lose control over how I wanted my child raised. That they’d do it their own way and it wouldn’t match my wants or values. In reality, there have been a few situations where things have happened that my husband and I haven’t agreed with. It’s been hard to speak up, because it’s always more sensitive with family involved. But when we have, it’s always well received, respected and acted on. We’ve learned to focus on the big things, and let the small ones slide. And in reality, it’s made me more easygoing and able to overlook the little things in favor of the big picture.
I was worried that they’d care for her in ways that didn’t follow my 14-page manual. And in reality, they did. Because they’re human, and have their own methods and instincts. While the idea of it stressed me out initially, now, I’ve come to value the diverse ways we all take care for her. Truthfully, I think it’s one of the best gifts we’ve given Sloane. She’s adaptable and well-rounded, which I chalk up to the fact that she has so many different people watching her during the week. And I smile thinking about our tiny toddler who knows exactly how to work each one of us to get what she wants. I’ve swallowed my pride, and have started to appreciate all of the different ways we each approach raising our girl.
When I think about all the things I feared or stressed over, I find that many revolve around the impact to my role as mom. It sounds selfish, and in many ways it is. Because while I want the absolute best for Sloane, I also don’t want to compromise my experience as her mother. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that the amount of time I spend with my daughter isn’t what determines the significance of our relationship. It’s my responsibility to fill her life with wonderful people and experiences to nurture and support her as she grows. I am one of those people, but I don’t have to be the only one. And I know that so much of her wonderful personality has been shaped by the many people who help to raise her, and instill in her qualities unique to them. I’m thankful for my village who loves my daughter unconditionally, and is helping to shape me into a better person and mother too.