My son lay sobbing on the sun-room floor between our daybed and coffee table. If I tried to come near him, he kicked his feet and cried harder. His nanny was leaving and he didn’t want her to go. In fact, she had just told me moments before, “Your son won my heart today. He told me he loved me.”
Cavanaugh is nearly three. He has had a nanny six hours a week for the last three months. Besides the time he spends with his dad and the few months my mom lived in town and saw him a couple of afternoons a week, Cavanaugh is with me and has been with me pretty much all of the time for his entire life. So it was hard for me to watch him cry for someone else.
I’m excited he loves playing with her, loves her even. It helped that I’m reading A Secure Base: Parent-Child Attachment and Healthy Human Development by John Bowlby. I needed the reassurance that his ability to feel so attached to her comes because our relationship has provided such a secure base from which he can explore. But he didn’t even want me in the same room with him.
So I sat fifteen feet away on the living room couch and tried to figure out if it was better for me to face away from him and just sit there so he knew he wasn’t alone or look at him over the back of the couch so I would know when he was ready for me to hold and console him.
But I needed a little consolation myself. It took a lot for me to get to the point where I was even ready to have someone else take care of my child. The principle to provide consistent and loving care just seemed easier to manage if I was the one providing the care. Until I wasn’t being so consistently loving because I was getting burned out. Honestly, it took a while to get over my guilt at feeling so exhausted. But I’m human. I needed a break.
Then came the questions: How could we justify paying for a caretaker since I’m staying at home to be with him? How could we find someone who would honor his sensitive personality, be consistent with our parenting philosophy, and care for him–not just take care of him, but genuinely care about him?
As I worked out the logistics of finding another caretaker for him, whether to have someone in our house or take him elsewhere, if we should try a mother’s day out or a preschool, how large a group my introvert could handle and how to let him ease into a group and get used to another adult as a caretaker, I thought about how he would feel. I wondered about him learning how to share with other kids, or share his days with another caretaker, or share me so I could take some time for myself. I never imagined what it would feel like for me to have to learn how to share him.
The truth is he and I are both having to learn how to negotiate his having a nanny. We’re both experiencing growing pains and trying to learn what’s okay. When I walk out of my office to get to the kitchen or bathroom, Cavanaugh runs over from playing with Nena and pushes my bottom as he says, “Go back to work Mama” because he’s afraid I’m coming out to signal it is time for her to go home. Other times, he peeks his head in to see me and asks for a hug or finds some other reason to just see me for a minute, “Can I use the special marker Mama?” or “Nena and I are going to paint Mama.”
For my part, I have had to figure out how to spend my time, how to find a balance between needing a break and needing to be a productive human being with my own goals outside of motherhood. The first time he fell down and hurt himself while she was here, I went rushing in to comfort him and found him sitting in her embrace, the tears already waning.
We’re both growing up. And we’re both learning how to share. It’s hard work.
Sonya Fehér is co-leader of the South Austin chapter of API. She blogs at mamaTRUE: parenting as practice.