Why is “help” a four-letter word for moms?

On dropped babies, the shame of needing help, and the lion’s den of internet comments.

Photo: iStockphoto

When my daughter Chloe was seven months old, I left her in the middle of my bed and turned my back to get something out of a drawer. A few seconds later I heard a revolting thud, followed by a feral cry I’d never heard from her before. She’d rolled off, faster than I realized she knew how, falling off the bed onto hardwood floor, and by the sickening sound of it, knocking her head. She was fine, is fine, now 11 years later. I was not. I was a fraud of a parent, obviously ill-equipped to live up to the responsibility of keeping this little person safe, and I tortured myself for weeks by replaying the scene in my mind on loop. I’ll never forget the pediatrician on call that night, the grumpy doctor I usually tried to avoid at the practice, who nevertheless kindly assured me this kind of incident was exceedingly common, and didn’t mean I was a terrible mom.

I remembered that incident when I read about Eva Amurri Martino, who is a lifestyle blogger and the daughter of Susan Sarandon. She writes on her blog about her night nurse accidentally dropping her infant son on the floor after falling asleep, and her subsequent fear that if she shared her story she’d be flogged for having hired nighttime help (she decided to post anyway). Her son did sustain a skull fracture but, after a few scary days in the hospital, is fine.

Set aside the idea that bad things happen on almost every caregivers’ watch, at some point. What I wonder is why having help is so taboo. Why are “night nurse” and “nanny” dirty words, or code for “lazy, unloving mom who doesn’t even deserve the title?” We’ve all heard the snide remarks about the mom who has help even though she doesn’t even work outside the home, or the working mom who “pays someone else to raise her children.” While Amurri Martino, who also has a two-year-old daughter, received many encouraging words, they were coupled with insinuations that her son’s injuries were somehow karmic justice for her choice to hire a night nurse.

Why don’t you try taking care of your own child? Who gets the Mother’s Day card? You or your nanny?

…maybe she should get fixed so she doens’t have anymore kids she can’t care for. [sic]

There are couples out there that would kill to have a baby of their own and to have the opportunity to get up in the middle of the night….suck it up buttercup, its called parenting, if you didn’t want your sleep interrupted you shouldn’t have gotten pregnant. [sic]

I firmly believe moms, especially new ones, do best when they’re supported (and even then it can all feel overwhelming, especially in those first few months). In an ideal world, grandparents and involved friends live nearby and pitch in, and your partner steps up to let you rest and regroup frequently. But some new moms have to—or decide to, for various personal reasons—hire the village. What’s wrong with wanting a good night’s sleep so you have enough gas in the tank to be a happier mom, and a more engaged partner? What exactly is so offensive about help, regardless of the source?

There seems to be a certain segment of the world that sees motherhood (but interestingly, not necessarily fatherhood) as a zero sum game. Either give up your pre-baby passions, and bear the sleep deprivation, workload and overwhelming emotions without complaint, or don’t have children at all. I oppose that notion, strongly. If we truly had to make that choice, I’d expect most of us would end up childless. Why should martyrdom be a job requirement for motherhood? In the past I’ve felt sheepish admitting when I’ve had a nanny as childcare, preferring the term “sitter,” even though I know that term conjures up an inaccurate picture of a teenage girl who pops by occasionally to make date nights happen. Clearly Amurri Martino shared this hesitation, never revealing until now that a night nurse helped her achieve such an inspirational lifestyle. Reading the internet hate, I absolutely understand her qualms about being transparent.

Maybe you didn’t have help and managed with 24/7 cheer. Good on you. Perhaps you couldn’t afford a night nurse or other help, and were a zombie for months. I’m sorry you had to go through that, and kudos for making it through. Perhaps you’re jealous of the fact that other moms, especially a semi-famous mom, can afford hired help. Cop to feeling envy, but don’t fault another mom for admitting she needs help. We all need a hand sometimes, and I think we might be better off if we could just admit it.

Read more:
The Trudeaus aren’t bad parents for having a nanny
Should you quit your job to be a stay-at-home mom?
How to build a parenting village

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