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Trust Your Instincts

Weeks after having son number 1, a nurse hosting a group of new moms gave us a piece of advice that has stuck with me since: You are your child's main advocate. If you're ever uncomfortable about something involving your baby, trust your instincts and say something.

Through the years, I've kept that advice foremost in my mind. When I took that same infant to the daycare we planned to use and he screamed the entire time at one of the caregivers, I listened. When son number 2 couldn't hear or sleep and the ENT wanted to wait to put ear tubes in, I switched doctors. He had the surgery a week later and was a changed child.

And so, this week feels particularly troubling. The woman I consider the most wonderful nanny in the world and the one who watches my children was torn. Her father is dying. Should she go to El Salvador or stay here? I encouraged her to go and say her goodbyes -- the right thing for her and the right think for me to do as her employer. That has sent the kids' lives (and mine) into a tailspin.

She left last week, an in-between week for camp for son number 2. Wonderful husband and I took turns working from home in the few hours we could have another neighborhood sitter watch him. This week, though, was the start of camp, which thankfully agreed to up his hours to fill all the child-care time I needed. Instead of going just a couple of hours a few days a week, he's there 9 hours every day, not including drive time. Drop-off was fine. Into the classroom, off to the trucks, barely a look back. But at pickup time, his teacher said he was really sad. "He said he missed his mommy," she reported.

Mom's intuition tells me he misses his routine, the nanny he's known since he was three months old, his best friend, his brother (who's at a different camp) and a house where we're not racing every minute to get the next thing done. That's just a lot for a three-year-old to say. Which leaves me with a choice: Abandon my work responsibilities for a few weeks or keep pushing him to have long days, knowing the issue is relatively short-term.

So, while I hate that he's so sad, I also know that three-year-olds are resilient and he'll be just fine. A few months from now he won't remember this phase in our lives. Still, it feels wrong not to listen to my instincts -- and his.

How do you deal with sudden change in your child's life? When have you had to be advocate No. 1?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  June 25, 2007; 9:53 PM ET  | Category:  Babies , Preschoolers
Previous: Let Kids Be Kids | Next: Where Charity Begins

Comments


That is tough one. I particularly choose a day care center so that we would not face sudden changes. I think if you can spare even an hour more a day for the next week or so, it might make his transition easier. But your right that, he will be fine regardless of what you do. Children do adjust. Good luck. Sorry about your nanny. Are you getting another one?

Posted by: foamgnome | June 26, 2007 11:00 AM | Report abuse

foamgnome: Not getting another nanny. Ours will be back in mid-July. So, we've just got to survive until she returns.

Posted by: Stacey Garfinkle | June 26, 2007 11:20 AM | Report abuse

My 5-yr-old daughter is in the midst of a 2 wk soccer camp. She doesn't seem to like soccer so mostly just sits around playing in the dirt. Fortunately, at least part of the day they do swimming and crafts which she likes. She's asking when she'll go back to her regular school. She's got two more 2 wk camps after soccer. Although she is generally a very social child and good at making friends, I think little kids have a hard time going out of their normal (school year) routine and without their normal peers. And most of the daycamp scenarios are only 1 or 2 weeks. So the kid has to adjust multiple times over the course of the summer. It does seem like she'll be fine in the long run but the short run isn't so great.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 26, 2007 11:45 AM | Report abuse

On the other hand, a situation like this might help teach him that he IS resilient - that while his schedule DOES get upset sometimes and people do go away on vacation, eventually things go back to normal, people come back, and he's survived and handled it. Seems to me that's a pretty useful lesson.
What I would do is to make time to talk to him about how he feels, and about why things are different now, and that soon things will be back in his old routine again.
(I sympathize, btw - my daycare provider is also out of the country visiting family. My son is a bit better off, in having two sets of grandparents who are taking turns providing childcare, so he has people he knows well and loves taking care of him - but he's also worse off, in that he's younger than your son and not verbal enough yet to talk about how he's feeling or what's really going on.)

Posted by: Katja | June 26, 2007 11:55 AM | Report abuse

I agree about the camps being 1 to 2 weeks long and kids having to adjust to new situations constantly. My sons like routine. They like consistency. We send them to a 6-week long day camp (Valley Mill in Germantown, MD) where they have the same groups of kids and predictability. They have a wide range of activities and come home tired and filthy every day as well as happy and confident about learning such new skills as kayaking and archery.

Posted by: Bethesdamom | June 26, 2007 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Stacey: It seems to me that you're stringing together two very valid but unrelated points. First you say..."So, while I hate that he's so sad, I also know that three-year-olds are resilient and he'll be just fine. A few months from now he won't remember this phase in our lives." Then you say..."Still, it feels wrong not to listen to my instincts -- and his." Maybe your instincts are telling you that he is resilient and he'll be just fine. Definitely it's hard when we see our children sad. But it seems you're making the best of a challenging situation. If you have the option to take time off for the next few weeks then do so. But if not don't beat yourself up about it. Your instincts are telling you that he will be fine.

Posted by: m | June 26, 2007 12:03 PM | Report abuse

"Not getting another nanny. Ours will be back in mid-July. So, we've just got to survive until she returns."

You gotta be kidding!! You are not Holocaust survivors! Grow up! Stop playing the martyr!

Fools, damn fools!

Posted by: Anonymous | June 26, 2007 12:51 PM | Report abuse

The ole mother guilt thing going on... The only thing constant in life is change. The earlier your young ones learn this rule in life.. and how to adapt to it.... the better off everyone is....

Posted by: C.Z. | June 26, 2007 1:34 PM | Report abuse

There's a difference between the instinct of knowing what's right/knowing your kid will adjust and the desire to protect your kid from any negative feelings. The former you can trust, the latter you need to temper.
Case in point: My friends' two-year-old went through a ballistic routine because both parents left the house at the same time. After not buying his "crying game" for a few minutes I settled him down, played with him, changed his diaper, fed him, and watched while he explored. Yep, he'd completely forgotten his parents were gone.
"Protecting" kids from change is never good for them.

Posted by: Change is inevitable | June 26, 2007 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Seriously- at camp 9 hours a day not including drive time? It's a wonder your child even knows who you are. So sad... :(

Posted by: Anonymous | June 26, 2007 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Stacey -- With all due respect, writing a blog is not the most important job in the world. Being a mom is. Take the time off (one week or two) to be with your son. And, just think of all the material it will give you for future blogs on parenting...

Posted by: Anonymous | June 26, 2007 2:49 PM | Report abuse

I have to say 9 hours without their any of their regular adult figures around is a lot for a 3 year old. Don't abandon the responsibilities- but it would be good if you could get a sitter for the afternoons so he could be at home and secure and get to talk to you guys on the phone and feel somewhat connected. The best would be if you and your husband could switch off afternoons and spend them with him. But I know that might not be an option.

Maybe be sure to pack something special in a lunch or in their pocket when you say goodbye- a picture of you guys, or a picture of something he likes and tell him you'll enjoy that later tonight when you get home. And pour on the love and together time in the evenings.

Posted by: Liz D | June 26, 2007 3:10 PM | Report abuse

What a delicious absurdity. I find it significantly more interesting that someone actually allowed you author a column on 'Parenting' then your current 'childcare predicament'. Here's a useful suggestion... How about you write this column from home while actually parenting your child every day? Then, perhaps, your posts may have some actual, real-world value; and your son may grow up to reflect the ethics and disciplines that are important to you. Or maybe your nanny should write this column when she returns from El Salvador.

Posted by: Susy Gimmeabreak | June 26, 2007 3:20 PM | Report abuse

To all you hypocrites out there - guess what? Just because you don't make your kid the center of your universe by working to - gasp - help support the family, does not mean you aren't parenting. Who is the better parent - the one who is "there" all the time but puts the kid in front of the tv and talks on the phone all day, or the parent who can actually show their kid that they can do both effectively - work and be a parent. I am not saying that all SAHM are like that, but certainly being a working mom can be a very positive thing for a child also. And - for those of you judging, why are you even on this blog right now instead of enriching your kid's life?

Posted by: arlington mom | June 26, 2007 3:37 PM | Report abuse

It can be really tough, but hang on.

When my younger son was 21 months old, I took an out-of-state contract. That's how he was weaned from breast feeding. It was *REALLY* hard for both of us, and for DH who's been the full-time parent since our oldest was born.

Younger son is ten now, and he's still a little more anxious about "abandonment issues" than his brother or other kids his age - clearly related to that brutal separation long ago.

One of our many jobs as parents is to give our kids something to talk about with their psychiatrists...

Gallows humor is sometimes the only thing I have when I can't be a perfect parent and give my kids perfect lives. But I also remember the disasters/abandonments I went through as a child, and I know those experiences built my strength and self-reliance.

Posted by: Sue | June 26, 2007 3:40 PM | Report abuse

arlington mom

"And - for those of you judging, why are you even on this blog right now instead of enriching your kid's life?"

Probably because my "kid" is 36 years old...

Posted by: Anonymous | June 26, 2007 3:49 PM | Report abuse

I just want to blow some steam at the family in front of me at the security line at BWI yesterday. She was clearly frazzled and taking it out on the boy who was about 9. IMO the boy wasn't doing anything bad- he wasn't being loud, he wasn't running around, he was just hanging out in a boring line and being silly.
Yet YOU, the mother, spent the ENTIRE time in the line complaining about him, grounding him, calling him a bad kid to the security guard. And, amazingly enough, the kid DID get upset at you and all this harassment, which only spurned you towards more.
And to the father who stood there completely silent- obviously not wanting to direct the wrath of the mother to you, and leaving your bins on the tables- you're just as responsible.
To the kid- I'm really sorry and hope somehow that your mom wakes up and realizes how to be reasonable and not use you as a scapegoat for her anxiety.

Posted by: Liz D | June 26, 2007 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Interesting that y'all presume that the blog is all I do at my job. It's actually a bit of an add-on. The rest of my "paid" job consists of editing two sections on washingtonpost.com. I often write entries late at night after the kids are asleep and my editor looks at them early in the morning.

Posted by: Stacey Garfinkle | June 26, 2007 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Arlington mom-

I am not with my children right now because my husband is currently spending "daddy time" with them. Helping support the family when you HAVE to is one thing (Though if you can afford a nanny, you probably don't HAVE to help support the family). It makes me upset that people think it's totally fine to leave their children in the hands of strangers every day for 8 or more hours a day to have "me time" or to be able to afford the new mercedes in the garage, or the new house in Mclean. As it is too often in this world, the kids pay the price for the parents'selfishness.

Posted by: to arlington mom | June 26, 2007 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Stacey Garfinkle

"The rest of my "paid" job consists of editing two sections on washingtonpost.com."

Obviously not the Beauty/Fashion section...

Posted by: Anonymous | June 26, 2007 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Tell your editor he/she missed something...

"the right thing for her and the right think for me to do as her employer."

Posted by: Anonymous | June 26, 2007 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Wow. Why are some of you so incredibly rude to Stacey? I've disagreed with her before, but I would never, in a million years, insinuate that having to find some sort of childcare during the day meant that she was a bad mom.

And who in the world could possibly think that this blog was her job -- the one and only aspect of her job?

People never fail to amaze me in their utter rudeness and self-righteousness.

Anyway, Stacey, I'm sorry you're feeling this way. I think someone made a good point, though, about the difficulty between identifying "instinct" vs. other feelings, like overprotectiveness. So, I'm really not sure that the nurse's advice is that good. Some people's instinct is commonsense -- that's great. Others' instinct is utterly stupid, or overprotective, or neglectful, or whathaveyou. My point is that "Trust your instincts" is just one of those sayings that, at the end of the day, ends up being rather meaningless.

Posted by: Ryan | June 26, 2007 9:47 PM | Report abuse

Sometimes you just dont have a choice in the matter.. I mean things are always gonna come up and you wont always have a easy fix solution for it.
But your right he will be ok. Honestly he will. I dont think this is a situation that will just scar him for life.
Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do. You cant just give up your job. You need money to support your child.
Thats one bad thing for me and my husband. We both work. We wish we didnt have to, to be home for our child. We know now that they will resent us for it but in the long run we are doing more them and they will understand one day.

Posted by: W.Irby | June 27, 2007 1:16 AM | Report abuse

I don't have a problem with the kid spending most of the day at daycare, as long as the counselors or teachers or whatever have some way to keep him entertained even for the extended hours. If they let him putter around for a few hours after all the planned activities are over, then of course he's going to start crying for you.

But at the same time, I bridle at the "we'll just have to survive until then." It, coupled with your earlier thing about training your kid to take care of himself in the morning so you don't have to get up, smacks of J-A-P syndrome.

And yes, humans are horrible at recognizing their instincts. We're just freaking terrible at it in general. A lot of parents "instincts" tell them they HAVE to buy the Armani crib sheets or whatever. A lot of parents use their "instincts" as a reason to abuse whatever childcare help they've hired. I've heard nurses say something to the same effect before, but I've heard nurses say lots of dumb stuff that I ignore. My friends had a premature baby, and the nurses told them that they were to feed the baby one ounce every three hours. It took me and a couple of friends to get it across that the baby needed to eat as much as she wanted when she wanted if they wanted her to catch up to her weight norms.

Posted by: Kat | June 27, 2007 4:55 AM | Report abuse

Re: Listening to your instincts. I have a doozy of a story where I learned this lesson.

My son (then 18 mos) had a sitter for about a year who was a nice retired lady, active in the community, etc.

She left him in her car one day (he was napping) and spent time shopping at a big box store. Luckily, it was only about 70 degrees (the windows were rolled up). Someone pulled up next to her car, called 911, and she was arrested. I got the message coming off the plane from a business trip. My husband had just gotten home and went to pick up our son (he was fine and had slept the whole thing through).

We were investigated by Child Services and the babysitter was publicly humiliated for several days on the local news (they showed her pic, etc.). I felt she had undergone enough punishment, so spoke out at her trial and she just got a small fine. The whole thing devastated her, and we have forgiven her (but of course she n longer sits for my son).

Prior to this incident, my son had been less than thrilled to see her for a few weeks. I wasn't sure how to approach her about it (she always seemed very good with him) and then this incident happened. In retrospect, I think she is self-centered and had come over time to regard my son as less of a precious cargo and more of a duty/burden in order to get some weekly cash. For that, I cannot forgive her. I regret not being a better advocate for my son. I failed in that respect and hope I learned my lesson.

Thankfully, my son was not harmed mentally or physically.

Posted by: Jenny | June 27, 2007 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Re: Listening to your instincts. I have a doozy of a story where I learned this lesson.

My son (then 18 mos) had a sitter for about a year who was a nice retired lady, active in the community, etc.

She left him in her car one day (he was napping) and spent time shopping at a big box store. Luckily, it was only about 70 degrees (the windows were rolled up). Someone pulled up next to her car, called 911, and she was arrested. I got the message coming off the plane from a business trip. My husband had just gotten home and went to pick up our son (he was fine and had slept the whole thing through).

We were investigated by Child Services and the babysitter was publicly humiliated for several days on the local news (they showed her pic, etc.). I felt she had undergone enough punishment, so spoke out at her trial and she just got a small fine. The whole thing devastated her, and we have forgiven her (but of course she n longer sits for my son).

Prior to this incident, my son had been less than thrilled to see her for a few weeks. I wasn't sure how to approach her about it (she always seemed very good with him) and then this incident happened. In retrospect, I think she is self-centered and had come over time to regard my son as less of a precious cargo and more of a duty/burden in order to get some weekly cash. For that, I cannot forgive her. I regret not being a better advocate for my son. I failed in that respect and hope I learned my lesson.

Thankfully, my son was not harmed mentally or physically.

Posted by: Jenny | June 27, 2007 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Re: Listening to your instincts. I have a doozy of a story where I learned this lesson.

My son (then 18 mos) had a sitter for about a year who was a nice retired lady, active in the community, etc.

She left him in her car one day (he was napping) and spent time shopping at a big box store. Luckily, it was only about 70 degrees (the windows were rolled up). Someone pulled up next to her car, called 911, and she was arrested. I got the message coming off the plane from a business trip. My husband had just gotten home and went to pick up our son (he was fine and had slept the whole thing through).

We were investigated by Child Services and the babysitter was publicly humiliated for several days on the local news (they showed her pic, etc.). I felt she had undergone enough punishment, so spoke out at her trial and she just got a small fine. The whole thing devastated her, and we have forgiven her (but of course she no longer sits for my son).

Prior to this incident, my son had been less than thrilled to see her for a few weeks. I wasn't sure how to approach her about it (she always seemed very good with him) and then this incident happened. In retrospect, I think she is self-centered and had come over time to regard my son as less of a precious cargo and more of a duty/burden in order to get some weekly cash. For that, I cannot forgive her. I regret not being a better advocate for my son. I failed in that respect and hope I learned my lesson.

Thankfully, my son was not harmed mentally or physically.

Posted by: Jenny | June 27, 2007 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Re: Listening to your instincts. I have a doozy of a story where I learned this lesson.

My son (then 18 mos) had a sitter for about a year who was a nice retired lady, active in the community, etc.

She left him in her car one day (he was napping) and spent time shopping at a big box store. Luckily, it was only about 70 degrees (the windows were rolled up). Someone pulled up next to her car, called 911, and she was arrested. I got the message coming off the plane from a business trip. My husband had just gotten home and went to pick up our son (he was fine and had slept the whole thing through).

We were investigated by Child Services and the babysitter was publicly humiliated for several days on the local news (they showed her pic, etc.). I felt she had undergone enough punishment, so spoke out at her trial and she just got a small fine. The whole thing devastated her, and we have forgiven her (but of course she no longer sits for my son).

Prior to this incident, my son had been less than thrilled to see her for a few weeks. I wasn't sure how to approach her about it (she always seemed very good with him) and then this incident happened. In retrospect, I think she is self-centered and had come over time to regard my son as less of a precious cargo and more of a duty/burden in order to get some weekly cash. For that, I cannot forgive her. I regret not being a better advocate for my son. I failed in that respect and hope I learned my lesson.

Thankfully, my son was not harmed mentally or physically.

Posted by: Jenny | June 27, 2007 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Sorry for the multiple postings!

Posted by: Jenny | June 27, 2007 1:18 PM | Report abuse

What have we become?

This incessant worrying...where does it come from? Worrying that one day of crying at camp is somehow impacting your instincts as a mother, come on.

These judgers who say it's BAD for parents to let kids watch hours of TV or BAD to send kids to day care for eight hours or BAD to have a nanny, are you all completely nuts?!

It sure as hell seems a lot more interesting to raise kids who have a concept of socialization, diversity, differing opinions, life changes, from a young age because life isn't consistent and the earlier kids get armed with that knowledge the better.

Who are these people that say "let the nanny write the column on parenting?" Are you kidding me?

Posted by: For crying out loud | June 28, 2007 10:10 AM | Report abuse

I wonder why some of you bother to have kids at all, if you're just going to hand them off to daycare/nannies/camp.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 28, 2007 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Wow, this has taken a nasty turn. Too bad.

I think that all moms, stay at home or working for pay, need advice and input from time to time. I would hope that we are beyond the point where one group feels superior to the other. I get up at 4.30 every morning so I can go to work then be home with my children by 4 everyday. I take them to the pool, the playground, or we play before making dinner, showering, and reading stories.

Am I a bad parent because my kids are in daycare for 8 hours a day but then I focus on them for the 4 hours I get with them everyday? Or just a different parent from the person who stays home with their kids?

We all need help and advice. And good advice generally doesn't consist of villifying people who have asked for help.

Posted by: Burke Mom | June 28, 2007 12:16 PM | Report abuse

what a narcisistic parent,such a problem.

Posted by: leslie green | June 28, 2007 2:26 PM | Report abuse

I have an idea...I know it sounds crazy, but how about actually raising the kids you bought into the world instead of shuffling them off to day care? But then you might have to do without some materials things.

(This comes from a father of four whose wife stays home with the kids. We both drive 10+ year old cars, live in a small house, have never been on a plane to go on vaction as a family. We live paycheck to paycheck. We'd be much better off financially if my wife worked as well, but we are making the sacrifice.

Enough with the "kids are resilient" thing. After crying enough times at a day care center, they will eventually stop. That doesn't make them happy or cared for.

Posted by: Steve | June 28, 2007 4:37 PM | Report abuse

I don't know what your arrangement is with your nanny is but clearly your son is too attached to his nanny when he should be attached to you. I suggest reading Dr. Sears and his writings on attachment. I am a stay at home mom and I respect my fellow mommies who work outside the home. Being a writer is important calling that cannot be quelled but I do believe that you need to reevaluate your life. When you spend time going to school and working on a career it is very hard to change gears but when you become a parent being a parent should be first. Although you have to financial ability to hand over alot of the responsability of rearing a child doesn't mean that you should. A three year old needs to spend more time with their parents. This is a very important time. You need to be there to direct his learning. Teach him how to behave. So many things that a nanny simply does not do. I used to take my kids to the Spring hill rec center in Mclean,VA. Too many kids had nannies and these nannies don't discipline or direct. The just keep them alive. My son was in a class with a boy who had a wonderful nanny but she wasn't allowed to do anything for this child other talk to him. No time outs. Nothing. He was such an angry child. He was constantly trying to find limits. His parents made a schedule for him that didn't allow time for being at home with his family. A parent who is fully involved would be more than a schedule planner.

Change your schedule and be with your son. Your son needs more time with his parents. Take some time off and write a book about staying home with your kids. Oprah will love it!

Posted by: Lisa | June 28, 2007 6:57 PM | Report abuse

Why do we always have to be so nasty on these postings?

By the way-not all of us work outside the home for the money. I know that if I stayed home all day with my son, I would be very depressed which would make me a very bad parent.

And the whole stay at home parenting is a modern concept. Most parents throughout history have had to work very hard to support their families. Today's parents-both working and stay at home-probably spend much more quality time with their kids that any other time in history.

Posted by: Mindypoo | June 29, 2007 1:23 PM | Report abuse

You should have sent him to El Salvador with the nanny! Just kidding.

Seriously, sounds like if you can go back to the working from home tradeoff with your husband that'd be the better solution. Or maybe see if you can mitigate the situation a little bit by having each of you take a few hours off every other day so he doesn't have to stay quite so long. Doesn't need to be an all-or-nothing solution.

Posted by: nora | June 29, 2007 2:50 PM | Report abuse

I completely agree with Steve's post - if you shuffle off kids to daycare/camp/nannies, how can you really complain when the inevitable happens (e.g., kids missing you, kids getting left behind in cars while nannies shop, etc.)??

It is such a hardship to watch your own kids in life?

Posted by: Anonymous | July 2, 2007 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Look throughout human history the mother had to go collecting and the father had to go hunting. Children had to stay with other children under the care of those that could not go out of the camp. Human are not meant to live in pairs, we need a clan and a tribe. Nannys and daycare fullfill this function. No human family would survive if either parent stayed home and just helped their children grow. Children will grow and it's the quality and not quantitiy of parental contact that matters. Rich people buy a clan and poor people live with their clan.

Posted by: Ray | July 13, 2007 4:12 PM | Report abuse

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