Monday, October 02, 2006

This woman's work

I made my neighbor cry the other day.

I feel like such an insensitive jackass. The last thing I wanted to do was make her feel bad, but I didn’t think about what I was saying before the words left my mouth. This seems to be happening a lot lately.

Our neighbors have two children almost the exact same ages as JJ and The Peanut. It would be the ideal situation for playdates and childcare swaps, but both parents work and the kids are in full-time daycare. We do get together often on weekends, though, and it’s nice to be able to spontaneously call each other up. Neither of our families is big on planning ahead, so we’re compatible in that way.

This weekend, the mother (I’ll call her R.) came over with her kids. We were talking about the home daycare in which both of her children were enrolled since they were babies. On her recommendation, I’ve been sending The Peanut there for a few hours one day a week so I can work at JJ’s preschool. The daycare is just a few blocks from our houses, and the woman who runs it (J.) is very competent, warm, and flexible. The Peanut, who has very strong opinions about everything and is a bit of a misanthrope, absolutely loves J. and has a great time at her house.

But lately R. has been worried about her son. Apparently, J. told R. that her son has been biting the other kids. I was surprised to hear this because JJ and I always hang out for a long time when we pick The Peanut up from J.’s house, and I’ve never seen any indication of aggression on R.’s son’s part. In fact, almost every time I visit, R.’s son is either being picked on by the other kids or he’s sobbing. I mentioned this to R., and she burst into tears. “I just can’t bear for him to be unhappy,” she cried.

I realize this isn’t my fault. R. has every right to know that her son isn’t happy in his daycare situation, but maybe I should have been more tactful about it. R. has a very high-powered career, and a recent promotion has meant longer hours and a hell of a lot of travel. For some reason, it never occurred to me that she might feel bad about this. I know she adores her kids, but I also know that she’s not someone who would be happy staying home with them. And I always thought she was okay with what that meant: that her children spend a lot of time in the care of other people.

If you told me 10 years ago that I would be a stay-at-home mother, I would have laughed in your face. I never thought I wanted children, period. It was a big shock to realize that I would do anything to stay home with my kids. I know I’m not the world’s best mother—far from it—but if I’m going to fuck up my kids, I want to do it my way.

Every woman gets to make her own choices. There’s no “right way” to live your life or raise your kids. If a woman is unhappy staying at home, her children are going to suffer the effects of her resentment and bitterness. Of course, not every family gets to choose; these days, staying home with your kids is a luxury. But those of us who are lucky enough to have options have to weigh them carefully.

I don’t want R. to think that I’m judging her. Hell, she’s the major breadwinner in their family, so if anyone should stay home with the kids, it’s her husband. But there’s no “should” about it, and that’s what I hope she understands.


Mrs. Blue said...

As you well know, I say a lot of things without thinking them through.

In the interest of keeping friends, well, friends I often have to revisit past conversations. Saying things like, "I hope when I said this, you took it at face value and not that I meant THIS"

Working mother or not, I think it's hard to hear about your children being unhappy. You are a good friend to even contemplate your words. I think.

Student Nurse Jack said...

My laptop crashed earlier as I was posting a response very similar to what BEF is telling you. I don't think YOU made your neighbor cry. I think you touched on a subject that has been bothering her and that triggered the response.

Clarify what you meant to say, give her a hug, and ask her if she wants to talk about the bigger issue.

I wish you lived near me.