The other day my best friend texted me with a seemingly innocent question. She was headed to her local IKEA with her 2-year old and wanted advice - Did I ever leave my 4-year-old twins in the Smaland play area while I shopped?
Her question caught me off guard. As often as I go to IKEA (enough that I know the shortcuts to avoid having to walk through the entire layout and can tell you the exact cost of a two hot dogs and drink combo) it never once occurred to me to leave the boys to play while I wandered through fake kitchen setups. The same goes for grocery store playrooms and the gym daycare. These play areas are a fantastic idea for letting parents shop in peace and I'm sure my boys would have a blast playing with new toys and other kids. But the truth is, I don't really trust most people to watch my children.
Of course, I trust my family to watch my kids, and my mom and sister and aunt are always encouraging me to leave the boys with one of them for a night so I can have some time alone with my partner. But even though the boys adore them and I know they would have a great time, I rarely take advantage of their offer. I call on my mom to watch our sons maybe twice a year.
Not having a babysitter means I have to get creative. When we venture to IKEA, for instance, I'll buy the boys a cinnamon roll to keep them semi-well behaved. (If I ever meet the person who invented the two-child grocery cart that looks like a toy car, I'll kiss them, because that the only way I can get through the store with my kids.) When it comes to exercise, I'll take the kids for a walk in the stroller at nap time, or go to the gym the three days a week that they're in preschool. The end result is that we don't go out without kids that often, but I prefer that to leaving my children with someone I barely know.
Part of the reason why I rarely ask anyone to watch my kids is because I'm admittedly pretty lucky. I work from home, so I'm able to keep them with me instead of needing to put them in a day care or child care center. My partner is a college professor, so he has regular hours. His schedule allows him to take over kid duty when I need to finish a work project, or if I just want a hot shower without little hands knocking at the door.
It's also easy for me to not go out all the time because the things I like to do for fun are actually pretty kid-friendly. I'd rather go to the beach than the bar, and I really like Disney movies. I'm willing to pass on concerts my kids aren't old enough for if it means that we have more money for us to do things together as a family.
But the main reason why I don't like to leave my kids with someone else is simply because it makes me anxious. Accidents happen, even when I'm in charge. The boys' bathtub is covered in a thick foam pad to prevent them from hurting themselves on the lip of the tub. I always take them out one at a time after a bath and place them on an area rug so they don't slip and fall. Despite all my precautions, about a year ago my son Remy was coming out of the tub and he managed to slip and hit his chin on the two-inch portion at the end of the tub that wasn't covered. The result? A late-night visit to the ER and stitches.
Even if I tried to leave them with a sitter, I know I wouldn't be able to enjoy the experience, because part of me would be worried the entire time.
When my child got seriously hurt, I was fully sober and paying attention to him. I wasn't on my phone or distracted. But still, these accidents happened, and I felt totally guilty and helpless about it. I would hate to place those feelings of helplessness and guilt on the shoulders of one of my family members should something happen to the boys while they were babysitting.
Even if I tried to leave them with a sitter, I know I wouldn't be able to enjoy the experience, because part of me would be worried the entire time. I realize this stems in large part from my neuroses and trust issues, but the guilt that comes with leaving them behind makes it impossible for me to do it. Is going out to dinner or seeing a movie when it first comes out really worth the risk? After all, that's why Seamless and Netflix were invented.
It's not just fears about accidents, child molesters or kidnappings that makes me keep my kids close. Part of my hesitation stems from the fact that at 4 years old, my kids are frustrating more than they're fun. (Although I've always felt like having someone watch two kids at once is a huge ask, even when they were babies — the fear of making someone deal with a double diaper blowout was real.)
I feel bad putting my family members or a babysitter in the position of having what is sure to be an exhausting day, just so I can go to a movie or eat a meal alone with my partner.
My boys can be super sweet, but they're also energetic and smart, which leads them to question everything you say and do. Sometimes they think they're smarter than adults (a trait they inherited from me, I'm sad to admit), so they'll ignore your instruction to leave that bowl full of water on the counter or not to dive off the couch headfirst.
Watching my kids is an intense exercise in patience: just when one of them starts to listen to you, the other one starts doing their own thing. The moments when no one is crying and everyone is calm and happy are few and far between. I feel bad putting my family members or a babysitter in the position of having what is sure to be an exhausting day, just so I can go to a movie or eat a meal alone with my partner.
In my experience, I've also found most babysitters to be pretty unreliable. I've used a few I found from a childcare website before, both students who babysat as a side job. But truth be told, finding them and actually getting them to come watch the boys was more trouble than it was worth. Despite the fact that I paid reasonably well, baked cookies beforehand, and asked them to come when the boys were headed to bed, the two sitters we had were rarely available when we needed them or would routinely cancel at the last minute. If someone can't be bothered to come to my house for a few hours with a hefty cash incentive and the promise of fresh baked cookies, how do I know they're keeping a close eye on my kids?
That said, I certainly don't judge anyone who routinely uses a daycare or babysitter, or takes full advantage of in-store childcare. I realize that I'm fortunate to have a job where I can work from home, so I don't have to put the boys in the care of someone else. I also appreciate that parents both deserve and need breaks from their children. My partner and I manage to sneak in the random day date here or there when the boys are at school, which is how we manage to get some much-needed couple time.
Yes, there are times when I wish I was more chill, and that I could trust other people to watch my kids and not worry so much. As I write this it's Spring Break, meaning I'll be missing my favorite dance class at the gym this morning just because I'm not comfortable sticking the kids in the gym daycare for an hour. I don't feel good about it, but I know this period of my life isn't forever. One day soon my boys will be mature enough that I'll feel comfortable leaving them in the care of others. Or maybe by then they'll be so well-behaved that I'll just take them with me everywhere.