Child Care as Relationship Building

I remember as a mother of a newborn and an almost-three, wondering how I would ever again get any work done. In desperation, I tried to think of eveyone I knew that I might possibly call on for help with child care. I recalled the wonderful welcome my new baby had gotten from a single male friend of mine, who said how much he was looking forward to being part of Andrew's life. Could he possible be a resource?

He didn't follow through, but I could imagine that a man with engrossing work responsibilities and no children in his life may not find it easy to initiate such a relattionship. So I took the plunge. I invited him over, first just to hang out with the two of us, then to help me out for an hour by being with Andrew while I worked in the next room on meeting a writing deadline.

He was clearly very pleased to be invited, but still didn't initiate. So, together we worked out an elegant plan. He would come over once a week to visit. Sometimes we would all hang out together. Sometimes he would play with Andrew while I got some work done. Sometimes, if Andrew napped, he would listen to me think through a work problem; sometimes I would listen to him. On the basis of several months of this experience, which worked out well for all of us, I was able to overcome my fear about imposing and ask him if, in addition to our time all together, he would be with Andrew for one morning a month while I had a board meeting.

He was delighted, and it turned out to be a wonderful arrangement. My friend and I had more regular contact than we'd ever had before. He got a child in his life. Andrew gained an ally. In addition--and almost incidentally--I got a particularly intractable child-care problem solved.

It's easy to understand why parents get desperate about child care. We need help badly and this society is simply not set up with the suppport of children as a central concern. But there are more resources out there than we, in our desperation, often realize. And we're more likely to find them if we think in terms of helping to build relationships between our children and others, rather than just simply in terms of filling child-care slots.

In looking for an additional baby-sitter, I built on this experience. I headlined the ad I posted at the nearby university as an invitation to have a child in one's life. Briefly describing the two particular (and wonderful) children I was talking about, I said that we were looking for someone who would like to get to know them, could communicate respect, liked to play, and wasn't bothered by tears--and everything else was negotiable.

The woman who responded was exactly the person I was looking for--and she said that the way the ad was written was the reason why she called. It was another wonderful arrangement, that worked for years. The children loved her to pieces. She looked forward to coming and, when she wasn't with them for a while, missed and dreamed about them. Our whole family gained both a new ally and a new friend.

What a hopeful process! Right at the point where I felt most desperate for help, I found goldmines just waiting to be tapped. The biggest hurdle (for me, at least) was to communicate that being with my children was not a chore or a burden, but quite a special opportunity. This is not a desperate scramble for scarce resources. My children are not a difficulty. Rather, this is a wonderful opportunity to help build new and lasting relationships.