It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Forging a Family

Note: this post speaks to the Canadian maternity leave, which is, in most cases, a full year. Additionally, many families can choose to split the leave between both parents. I am not talking about those unfortunate folk who are allowed a paltry and inhumane six or so weeks off. If that was/is your unfortunate situation, you have my sincere sympathy, and you may skip this post!

(Grammar note: Lacking a neutral person in this language, I am choosing to use the grammatically incorrect “they/their” instead of the cumbersome “he/she – his/her”, or the dated pseudo-generic “he/his”. Grammatically suspect though it may be, it seems the best available option.)

A child has been in daycare with me for a year or two, when the family tells me they are expecting baby number two in a few months. At one time, I would immediately assume I would thus have a space to fill, but I know better now. Most of my clients will keep child number one in daycare throughout their entire year of maternity leave. This always makes me sad.

There are good reasons to keep your child in care: parents want to keep the space open for their child. Good childcare (the kind I provide!) is hard to come by. The family and I have a long-term relationship we don’t want to curtail. If the child is old enough – generally 18 months and over – and social, they will miss their friends. And a break for the at-home parent is also a good thing. These are all good reasons to continue with childcare. So, yes, send the child: a couple of days a week. It makes sense.

But all day, every day? When there’s a parent home? It seems such a wasted opportunity! This is a time to forge that family bond, to build the foundation of the team that will carry your children till their adolescent independence. To teach your older child to share you, to give them opportunity to learn to be compassionate and nurturing, to experience the joy of seeing your children become friends.

So often I hear parents regretting the fact that their child – their young child, five, six, or seven years old – would far rather spend time with his/her friends than his family. Can this truly come as a surprise, when the child has never known it any other way? Parents regret that their offspring don’t get along better, when siblings have never spent whole days over weeks and months together, creating and developing their relationship.

Very often, after the initial honeymoon phase, the “old baby” sees the new baby as an interloper. The prince or princess has competition, may even feel like they’ve been completely deposed, and it’s tough! It takes time for the family to weather the transition and become a greater whole. It takes time, time together, living it out. And many of us have a whole year. It is such a privilege, and it should be treasured!

Why do they send them? The reason I hear most often is not the concern about keeping the space, or maintaining the child’s friendships, which have some merit to me, but that “it’s just so hard with two”.

They say this to me. They say this to me as I stand in the writhing midst of a half-dozen little bodies. It never ceases to astonish me.

It is hard with two. Probably double the work of one. But you live, you learn, you adjust, and a Family is created. It’s hard, it’s messy, it’s noisy, it’s chaotic, it’s fun, it’s rewarding, it’s stimulating: it’s a family. I wish more would try it!

June 25, 2005 - Posted by | controversy, parenting, parents


  1. And then there are those of us who get two, whether you like it or not. While it has been extremely hard, I still choose to like it.

    Comment by Matthew | June 26, 2005 | Reply

  2. Well said!
    This is the first time I’ve ever read this blog, and I find your thoughts to be eloquent and right on the money. Thank you for sharing!
    Sending a child one or two mornings (or days) a week, as an opportunity to develop social skills is one thing, but sending one child away every day, so you can focus on another, sends both children a very clear message – one is important, and one isn’t.
    I’m a mother of two children, nearing the end of her second maternity leave. My children are 18 mos. apart and people are right; it is DAMN hard having two. But so hard that I would give up the time with either of my children by sending one of them to childcare fulltime? Give up the opportunity for one child to get to know the other? To learn what it really is about to be an older sibling (or a younger sibling)? To see the joy that comes when one realizes that the other is more than just a blob? And yes, the temper tantrums, sulks, and tears are worth it. Because 365 days go by too fast. And this is from someone who LOVES her job and loves to work. But I also know that for right now, I am a parent of two children and I LOVE that more.

    Comment by Anonymous | June 26, 2005 | Reply

  3. Matthew: Glad to hear you’re still enjoying this parenting gig. Good thing, huh, since it’s a life sentence! I like the way you say it: you choose to like it.

    In fact, I always thought that, were I to have twins, I’d rather have them first. Not necessarily so that I could then decide my family was finished, because I’d always thought I’d have four (!!), but so that, should I decide to have more, a singleton would seem so easssyyy!!

    Thank you for you very kind comment. I always get a little nervous after I publish one of these more meditative posts. Parenting is such an emotionally loaded task – it’s not just something you do, it’s an expression of who you are – thus it’s very easy to offend or hurt someone who’s doing a good job at this most challenging task, simply by having a different opinion. In my job, I am highly aware of this, so I am always as kind and careful as I can be.

    Like you, I can’t help but think that the older child must feel that they’re less loved, being “sent away” while the baby gets to be with a parent. That’s not fair to the parents, of course, but does a 2 or 3 year old understand the nuance? Do they even understand what they’re feeling? Perhaps not, but it doesn’t prevent them from feeling it.

    I have three of my own, though with a much larger gap than is between yours. (7 and a half years between eldest and youngest, with the one in the middle a little closer to the older than the younger).

    When we were all home together, I found that once we’d all made the adjustment, it was just normal. Like most things you can choose to do, some days are tough, some are great, and the rest are just – well, normal! First, though, you have to do it.

    Comment by Mary P. | June 26, 2005 | Reply

  4. Hmmm, I’m on the 6 week UNPAID plan, but I chose to read anyway. I’m so jealous of the Canadian maternity leave.

    I don’t do well without a regular amount of sleep. If I were lucky enough to get a year off, I might continue to take my hypothetical older child to daycare for the initial 4-6 weeks and then bring them home to stay. I’m also on the C-section route for all my babies, and the first few weeks were difficult for me (even the lifting restriction alone would be terrible with an older child). I agree that parents are starting to see childcare as more convenient for themselves instead of what is best for the family bond. It’s great that these people have enough money to burn by staying home and paying for daycare, but to each his own. It’s hard to say what is best because everybody’s situation is different.

    I’m actually hoping to stay home permanently when we decide that it’s time for #2. I sure miss my little punkin during the day.

    Comment by ieatcrayonz | June 27, 2005 | Reply

  5. Crayonz: I think your suggestion of 4 – 6 weeks of care is a reasonable compromise. Older child’s days stay relatively stable while mom and dad make the big adjustments and baby settles in a bit. The family would be making the transition to larger unit in stages. In fact, some of my clients have done just this.

    And of course, C-section moms, who are recovering from what is, after all, major surgery, need some dedicated recovery time.

    But when the initial few weeks are over, I firmly believe that it’s in the child’s best interest, and that of the family unit, to spend that leave as a family.

    Comment by Mary P. | June 27, 2005 | Reply

  6. p.s. Six weeks unpaid leave? Gee, wow, how generous… Are you a freelance or contract worker? (Or self-employed, like me?)

    Comment by Mary P. | June 27, 2005 | Reply

  7. Great post! I like the comments, too. You have to choose to like parenting.

    People are lazy. They want to have a loving family, but they don’t want to work at relationships or face adversity head-on. They think that if they can make enough money, their problems will go away.

    Michelle and I didn’t plan to have a child when we did. We had just moved to a strange town far away from our immediate families. We had no money. I was unemployed. I was making plans to get my college education. Then she got pregnant.

    We never considered abortion. We decided that one of us had to stay at home and raise our baby. I got a job, Michelle quit hers, and we had our first daughter, Havilah. We never looked back. When Simcha, our second daughter, came along a year and a half later, we just kept on persevering.

    You know what? It was hard, but we have raised a close-knit family and I went to school and got my degree, while supporting them and making the time to be with them.

    It was all worth it and I pity those who don’t understand the rewards that come from interacting with and caring for children. My heart really goes out to the children of parents who limit their involvement.

    Comment by snaars | June 27, 2005 | Reply

  8. Oh, Mary, we here in the United States of We Have Our Priorities Totally Screwed only usually get 6 weeks unpaid, IF WE’RE LUCKY. Seriously. Not everyone gets that. My husband only ever was able to take off 2 weeks, and that was his vacation time. No joke.

    And, I totally agree with everything you said.

    Comment by misfit | June 27, 2005 | Reply

  9. Snaars: Wow. That’s quite the passage you two have weathered. I’m impressed.

    You never know what you’re capable of until you give yourself the chance to do it. You did it, so you know others can do it too.

    Who knows what motivates people make the choices they make? I balk at putting labels on other peoples’ behaviour, when I can only speculate on their internal processes.

    I can say with confidence that being in a family, assuming it’s a well-meaning and loving unit, is good for child and parent alike. You and Michelle have experienced the rewards that come of forging a family in the face of significant challenges. The reward is that much greater, simply because of the challenges overcome. More of us should allow ourselves to discover this.

    Misfit: six weeks unpaid is standard?? It’s worse than I thought. I thought six weeks was the standard, which is pathetic enough, and I thought – how naive am I – that, paltry as it is, it would at least be paid. I am truly shocked. Not in a holier-than-thou, aren’t we Canadians just so civilized way, but just, Oh, my god, that’s awful!! way. And this is a government that claims to be so concerned about families and “family values”?


    Comment by Mary P. | June 27, 2005 | Reply

  10. I balk at putting labels on other peoples’ behaviour, when I can only speculate on their internal processes.

    You are wise, Mary. I shouldn’t have generalized and said that “people” are lazy and “they” think that if they have enough money, their problems will go away. I was frustrated by what I saw as a general trend, without thinking my statement through.

    Now that I am aware of my prejudice in this regard, I won’t make the same mistake again. Thanks!

    Comment by snaars | June 28, 2005 | Reply

  11. Mary P., amazing isn’t it? Congress had to pass the FMLA Act so that we were guaranteed our jobs back if we had to take leave for family reasons. However, it does not apply to part-time workers, new employees (

    Comment by ieatcrayonz | June 28, 2005 | Reply

  12. Snaars: you are a genuinely nice man, you know that? What a gracious response. I am, once again, impressed. I also think there was much merit in what you said originally. Even if you over-generalized a bit, there is much data to support that particular generalization.

    Crayonz: I am speechless. I feel so badly for you! It’s criminal, that you could actually lose your job for staying home more than four weeks after giving birth. Four weeks! Never mind creating a family – you probably hadn’t even finished recovering physically from the labour and delivery. No, given that you had a Cesarian, you definitely hadn’t recovered. That really stinks. I’m feeling sad right now. Ache-in-my-stomach sadness for all those families who’d like to do it otherwise, but can’t.

    I think there are some restrictions on our maternity leave here, too, like having had to work at the job for a certain amount of time, but it’s not nearly so restrictive as what you face.
    I’m astounded.

    Comment by Mary P. | June 28, 2005 | Reply

  13. I was fortuante that I was able to get 6 weeks paid when I had my first daughter. However, I participated in conference calls when she was 9 days old for fear that I would lose my job if I came back and wasn’t able to pick up where I left off. Previous co-workers had set the tone. Since I was no longer in the corporate office in PIttsburgh because of our move to New Jersey, I was under constant scrutiny and being evaluated for being the “Lone HR” person in the company that was remote.

    Comment by Misfit Hausfrau | June 29, 2005 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: