Friday, September 6, 2013

Nursing on CSPAN

By Joy Pullmann

One day, I had a radio interview. My husband usually minds the kids while I work, but this time he had to be away, so we hired a new babysitter for the morning. Right before the interview, I put the kids in their swim diapers and ushered them all outside so I couldn't hear them but they'd have a good time.

My toddler son chose that very moment to throw a wild tantrum. Note it was a new babysitter, and my son's tantrums are like a heavy metal rock concert packed into one child, complete with live bat-eating

Radio shows have regular commercial breaks, and I was set to be on this show for a whole hour. So at the first break I rushed downstairs, phone on mute, to rescue the poor babysitter. Turns out my son wanted to be done with water (heaven knows why--he's obsessed with water) and was demanding a diaper change. And *I* had to do the diaper change, not the babysitter we'd hired for this very reason. So I'm frantically tearing his clothes off and trotting my pregnant self up and down with new clothes and a diaper, when the commercial break ends, mid-change. So I rush upstairs, trying not to breathe hard into the phone, and switch back to interview expert. Next commercial break, my kid is still sitting there, at least only whimpering now, half-diapered. I finish him up in two minutes and tell the babysitter to read them books, right before dashing upstairs again and holding my breath in to what I hope sounds like normal breathing. 

Along the same lines, Mary (from this blog) recently told me of a very well-educated mom who works part-time from home with her three kids. This venerable lady recently went on CSPAN when her newest was only two months old, so when he was hungry she just topped him with a blanket and nursed him on air.
When I was growing up, I thought of working for pay and mothering as separate activities. Now, I and many women I know combine them, perhaps not typically as insanely as the diapering radio episode, but most day's it's basically a lighter version of that. Child development research seems to be very clear that children need one consistent caregiver from birth through age three (and beyond), and biologically and logically a mother is the best person to choose for that. I've nannied for career women and, really, the lifestyle broke my heart. These little kids needed and desperately wanted their mother, but they got stuck with me. And they were nervous and acted out as a result. I don't want that for my kids...but my family needs my income. We depended on it even more when our first baby came. So we have a compromise that so far works.

I try to think of myself as a pioneer woman: The household's gotta run, and the kids are a part of that but I'm not their entertainer. Sometimes I veer towards ignoring them too much. You can always tell because they get moody and sad. But then mommy spends a few hours each day reading to them, and more giving them a bath or playing a game, and in a few days they feel better. I do think lots of moms tell themselves "the kids are fine with a nanny" and the kids really are not fine. (I know lots of women who go right back to out-of-home work when their babies are six or even four weeks old, leaving their kids in full-time daycare.) My husband and I have tried not to do that. We don't always get the nurturing balance right.

I think the job market for white-collar people is already pretty comfortable with flex working and people basically being on call constantly as a trade for letting them slide in late or out early for a baseball game or carpool. All the people in all the jobs I've had have behaved as if this is normal. Now I often tell people "I'm at home with the kids so if you hear them that's what's up," and they invariably reply "Oh, me, too" or "How great you get to be with them." Men and women. Now, I don't tell them "I'm nursing on this call" or "yikes, the baby just pooped all up his back," but both have happened.

The real stretch is for blue-collar, low-training mothers. You can't work remotely for Walmart (outside of Walmart corporate, of course). And you can't take your baby to work with you there. So those moms, who already less to pass onto their kids, further handicap their families with the financial and socioemotional problems of having to get outside childcare. And it's rare that even rich people can find childcare they can depend on for the kids through at least the first three years. Nannies have lives, too, and they move and get married and get other jobs. This means kids are left with rotating random caregivers and they lose the crucial bonding and emotional security they need and deserve when so small.

You can tell a child who has been treated like this. In August, I had eleven traveling events for work. Half were out of state events that required flights and hotels for two or three days each. Between several, I was literally home long enough to sleep, shower, and do the laundry. My son started crying when we drove to the airport, and my daughter got extremely clingy and started twisting knots in her hair incessantly. And their daddy is home with them full-time, so they're not even with random nannies. But they need me. So I've started turning down as many events as I can.

Maybe my kids are just sensitive. But they're my kids, and they deserve my attention. It's ok to slip the kids into life and treat the children as part of the family with a bigger mission, because they're not the end-all, be-all, and I need them to learn that. But it's not ok to ignore them. Small people need mommies, and that's all there is to it.

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