Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Elul 5764 - August 25, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Grandmother's Other `Hat'
by A. Ross

If we were able to conduct a survey amongst babies, asking them their preferences of who should look after them each day, Mommy would get a landslide vote. However, we cannot conduct a poll, nor can Mommy yield to her natural instincts and to Baby's predilections. Maternity leave is over, or the bank balance is alarmingly low, or for whatever other reason, the parents have to weigh their options of where to leave the baby when mother goes out to work.

There are many considerations to be taken into account, and what may suit one family will not be the right thing at all for another. Proximity plays quite an important part in the decision, and also financial considerations. Perhaps you will want the baby-sitter to come to your house, to do some light housework. Alternatively you will opt to leave the child with a child minder who looks after several other babies, and frequently has her own, too. Incidentally, one of these minders, who has an excellent name and is much in demand, told me that she would not like to send her child to someone like herself, as she cannot help favoring her own baby, however kind she is to the others. The other babies receive care; hers gets love!

However good a baby-sitter is, she cannot possibly attend to five or six babies simultaneously if they all need attention at the same time. During the first few months of his life, a baby learns about relationships and how to react to people. Thus, a day-care center is not really ideal, as they have several members of staff, and it is better for a very young baby to be looked after by one person. A mother who has looked after the baby for the first twelve weeks of his life knows how much time and energy she had expended on him and she recognizes his needs by the tone of each different cry. Nevertheless, she has to leave him, but where?

Experience is the most important factor to be taken into account. Some women who have baby-sitting service in order to earn extra money, are not really suited for the job. They have to be reliable and honest ("Baby tried to stand up and fell backwards on his head," or "He ate nothing this morning"). Recommendations from other mothers are worth a great deal, yet personal impressions also have to play a part. In addition, when you are told about a good baby- sitter, you will have to ask how old the other child was when she looked after him and for how long she continued. Was the child happy there and was there reliable communication between them? Written recommendations are not worth the paper they are printed on. If an employee asked you for a letter of reference, would you write anything derogatory?

If you prefer to employ someone who comes to the house, do not expect her to do more house-work than is compatible with being a baby-sitter, in order to save money on a cleaning woman. In the end, you will lose more than you gain. Before she starts working for you, invite her to the house for the interview. In this way, she will know in advance whether the journey is too far for her, and whether the conditions of work suit her. Furthermore, you will see how she reacts with your child/ren.

In many places, there are family centers and also day-care centers which are supervised by the State. Some of these provide well-balanced meals, recommended by experienced dieticians, and all are insured against accidents. These are excellent places but have the disadvantage mentioned above that small babies need a one-to-one relationship. For older children, there is also an added disadvantage that they are exposed to infections because of the proximity to so many other children at an early age. When many children eat, sleep and have diapers changed in the same location, there is bound to be infection and contamination at some time.

The ideal solution for both mothers and their babies is a loving grandmother who is prepared to come to the house. However, not all grandmothers are suitable for the job. Some grandmothers come for short visits, then they have had enough of the little darlings, and some, who would perhaps be suitable, live too far away. Others may have completely different ideas on upbringing and education from their daughters-in-law or even from their own daughters. If that is the case, neither side will be happy with the long-term baby- sitting and it is probably not even worth considering the positive side of the relationship between grandmothers and their grandchildren.

Assuming that the grandmother is not still working, lives close enough and has offered to undertake the babysitting role, there are some points to be taken into account. First of all, do not take her for granted; she is happy and willing to work for you, but she is working. Although most grandmothers will refuse pay, it is worth insisting. There are no hard and fast rules. Some will be quite offended that you offer them money, others will be quite offended if you don't offer them money. If she remains adamant in her refusal, then at least there will be no misunderstanding. When you come home, don't forget to compliment her and to thank her, whether you pay for her services or not. Actually, the same applies to all those who work for you! Smiles and compliments oil the wheels and make life more pleasant for everyone!

One woman reported that after her first child was born, her mother came to look after the baby when she returned to work. She arrived at 7:30 each morning and the woman felt her baby was in capable hands. When she returned home, her mother had a hot meal waiting for her and they chatted about how each had spent the six hours. When Child Number Two was born, and all subsequent children, grandmother continued in her role.

Mother hardly had time for a short peck on each child's cheek before dashing out of the house. Grandmother got the children up and dressed. She was the one who signed the various notes for school and she was the first to notice if a child was ailing. She told them what to wear and when to take a coat or sweater. There was a strong bond of love between these grandchildren and their grandmother-cum-babysitter.

Now, twenty years on, Grandmother still comes each day as a matter of course. She has slowed down considerably and if truth be told, there are no children for whom to baby-sit. A cleaning woman comes twice a week, yet Grandmother still feels needed. There were times when the mother was a little aggravated by her baby-sitter's criticism. Yet, when it was justified, she often acted on it. After all, it was her mother, who only wanted the best for the family. At other times, she ignored the comments and her mother learned that there were some topics which were not to be discussed.

This should be a completely idyllic situation. Nevertheless, there were, and still are, one or two flies in the ointment. Firstly, one of the mother's siblings was deeply affronted that her sister had this treasure working for all these years. She could have done with the same sort of help. Secondly, some of the other siblings resent the fact that the grandmother has a much closer relationship with this one particular set of grandchildren. This is inevitable, for after all, she raised these children more than the parents did.

In fact, another woman in similar circumstances reported that she felt real pangs of jealousy of her own mother. The grandmother got the children up in the morning, prepared their snacks or sandwishes, saw them off to school and greeted them when they came home to a lunch which she had prepared. It was she who was privy to all their little secrets and happy or sad experiences at school. This woman realized she was vexed that the children seemed to love her mother more than they loved her.

Fortunately for the family, her husband convinced her that the children were lucky to have two mothers and just because they confided in the grandmother out of convenience, it did not mean that they loved their own mother any the less.

There was a case of a grandmother who came to the house and looked after the children to perfection. However, when the mother came home from work, the breakfast dishes were still in the sink and the laundry had not been folded. In fact, the house was exactly as she had left it. Grandmothers are not ordinary baby-sitters; one cannot fire them at will. In this particular case, Hashem took a hand and the grandmother said it was too difficult for her to continue.

Thus, we see that no situation is one hundred percent perfect. Nevertheless, if you have to leave a child or children before they are socially in need of company, who is more suitable to look after them than your mother or your husband's mother? Whatever you decide and wherever you decide to deposit your treasure, remember they are YOUR treasures and enjoy them when you are able, even if you are tired when you come from work.


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