I’d like to think that my parenting choices are just that — choices. But at the end of the day, my parental behavior is determined by my paycheck.
The media “mommy wars” are never-ending. There is always a new parenting debate that begs us to choose sides. Co-sleeping or not? Daycare or not? Nanny or not? Extended breastfeeding or not? These questions aren’t parenting questions. They are questions of money. We take the sides we have to take. Well, I won’t speak for anyone else. I’ll just say I take the sides I have to take — because I am broke.
When it came to co-sleeping, we didn’t have a choice. When our son was four months old, we moved into a brownstone in Brooklyn, in the middle of winter, that did not have heat. Well, there was some heat, but it was negligible. It was freezing in that house. The fear of rolling over onto my child and killing him in his sleep was replaced by the fear that he would freeze to death — and he made it into our bed. The winter came and went, and he was still sleeping comfortably between us.
Some of my friends insisted that we needed to get him into his own bed. It’s important for sleep training! He needs to learn to self soothe! He needs his own space early, to nurture his independence! Well, he’s never going to have his own space in our house. It’s a one bedroom floor-through. He sleeps in the middle of the living room, in a Pack N’ Play, or he sleeps at the head of our bed in his crib. We can’t afford to move, so those are the only choices we have. Yes, I can say that my son is a warm, well-socialized child because of the bonding he has experienced through co-sleeping. Or I can say that we don’t have a choice — so thank God it doesn’t seem like we’ve screwed him up too bad. Yet.
Childcare in my neighborhood in Brooklyn is ridiculously expensive. We quickly learned that we would need to take care of our child without any outside help. People generally respond to this in a very positive way. It’s the antithesis of all of those stories of celebrities and rich people who are flocked by nannies at all times. Good for you! A child needs his parents! Yes, he does. But all the time? Nope. I don’t think so.
My son has hit all of his milestones a little later than some children. He didn’t crawl until he was seven months old. He didn’t walk until he was 14 months old. He is 21 months now and is just really beginning to talk. Maybe daycare, and being around other children would have sped up his development a little. Who knows? What I do know is observing the nannies at the park makes me realize that they are pros, and I am not. I used to think they just didn’t give a shit about the kids they were caring for. I would see them talking amongst themselves on park benches while the kids in their care ran around the park like little madmen. I see now that these kids are a little more advanced and independent than mine, because they don’t have a nervous mother anticipating their every move. Conclusion — nannies aren’t so bad after all. Too bad I can’t afford one.
I was hell-bent on breastfeeding. It didn’t come easy to me, but somehow I got through those first very difficult weeks and was able to breastfeed exclusively in the first months of Lucien’s life. Then I had to go back to work.
I am a bartender and waitress. There was absolutely no where for me to pump when I was working. Having a service job isn’t like having desk job. Someone needs something from you at all times. And you certainly can’t occupy the only restroom in the place while you pump for 20 minutes. Once I blew through my freezer full of breast milk, I noticed that I was not going to be able to keep up with my son’s demand. My milk supply was being sorely affected by going for eight hour stretches without pumping. At five months I started supplementing with formula and at 10 months I weaned him completely.
In theory, people know that breastfeeding is not something that can be easily maintained if you are forced to be away from your child for long stretches of time. But that doesn’t stop a lot of women from chiding others for not making the best choices for their child. I would have loved to breastfeed my child longer. I couldn’t do it.
It is totally normal to staunchly defend the parenting choices that we make. Everyone wants to believe that they are doing the very best for their children. But we should all stop pretending there is a level playing field in these “mommy wars” of ours. Different experiences breed different opinions — as do different social classes. If money wasn’t an issue, my child would have his own bedroom, I would have breastfed longer, and I would have a nanny helping me so I wouldn’t have to write this story at two a.m. No one wants to believe that they are a victim of circumstance — but sometimes our parenting choices aren’t choices at all.