Reviews of Homeward Bound

“3.5 out of 4 stars” - People Magazine                                                               “The brilliance of Emily Matchar’s new book is that it exhaustively describes what disillusioned workers are opting into: a slower, more sustainable, and more self-sufficient lifestyle that’s focused on the home. Matchar synthesizes dozens of trend stories … into a single, compelling narrative about the resurgence of domesticity….Refreshing.” -The New Republic                                                       "[P]rovocatively explores what the movement says about the role of women in society today.” – The New Yorker                                                                       "I unreservedly loved it…It’s empathetic and funny and thoughtful and smart, and I encourage all of you to read it."– The Hairpin                                                         “Cogently argues that choosing a more hands-on, DIY lifestyle – family farming, canning, crafting, can, without sacrificing feminism’s hard-won gains, improve on an earlier time when ‘people lived more lightly on the earth and relied less on corporations, and family and community came first.’” - ELLE                                                               “[I]ntelligent and insightful...essential reading.” - Christianity Today                                                       “A lively and perceptive reporter… a valuable and astute assessment.”—Publishers Weekly                                                         “A well-researched look at the resurgence of home life…. Offers intriguing insight into the renaissance of old-fashioned home traditions.”— Kirkus Reviews

What is New Domesticity?

This blog is a look at the social movement I call ‘New Domesticity’ – the fascination with reviving “lost” domestic arts like canning, bread-baking, knitting, chicken-raising, etc. Why are women of my generation, the daughters of post-Betty Friedan feminists, embracing the domestic tasks that our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shrugged off? Why has the image of the blissfully domestic supermom overtaken the Sex & the City-style single urban careerist as the media’s feminine ideal? Where does this movement come from? What does it mean for women? For families? For society?                                                                                     My book, Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, which explores New Domesticity in greater depth, will be published by Simon & Schuster in May 2013.

Follow me on Twitter!

Since when is it bad to use a babysitter?

Is Kristy persona non grata?

It’s not news that internet commenters can be psychotic trolls. And it’s not news that moms – whether working or stay-at-home – are constantly questioned about their choices. Still, it’s slightly surprising and thoroughly sickening to see the amount of holier-than-thou bullshit pouring out around the awful story of Marina and Kevin Krim, the New York couple whose children were stabbed to death by the nanny. To wit:

“This is the reason I stay home with my kids and work in the evenings while my husband can be home. #soscary.” [Twitter]

I’m also not sure why she had kids in the first place, since she outsources their “care and feeding” to a nanny. [The Daily Beast]

Ms. K. would be better advised to save time required to write for and manage her blog and have that time available for quality care and raising their children instead of delegating this to an uneducated, even if well meaning Third World mother with more than few challenges on her own. [The New York Times]

[I]t requires sacrifice to raise children in a safe environment free from strangers you are never sure about. My husband and I have L-U-N-C-H dates while my children are in school a few times a week. To go out at night, we wait for my or his sister to come to town for a visit every few months, plenty often for us [The Daily Mail]

Though most of us would never be so tacky as to accuse bereaved parents of “asking for it” like these internet jackasses, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard something along the lines of “we’re so lucky – we’ve never had to leave Clementine with a babysitter.” I also hear a lot of talk about not wanting to “outsource” childcare, as if daycares and babysitters are the moral equivalent of moving American jobs to a Chinese sweatshop. And then there’s the oft-repeated “we didn’t want someone else raising our children for us,” used to explain non-use of daycares and sitters. Unfortunately, these attitudes sometimes seem to go hand-in-hand with the DIY spirit of New Domesticity: WE grow our veggies, WE raise our children.

I find these attitudes baffling. I totally get parents wanting to be deeply involved in their kids’ lives, and the idea of family closeness is one of the coolest things about New Domesticity. But I guess I never thought that using childcare precluded that. I went to daycare as a little kid, and was babysat/nannied after school by a succession of UNC undergrads. Sometimes my parents would go away for the weekend and leave us with these babysitters. To me, this was just what parents did: they had grownup things to do sometimes, so we needed to stay home. No biggie.

When I was 8 or so, I was playing across the street with a neighbor, who had a stay-at-home mom who always baked fresh treats after school. “Mmmm,” said the neighbor girl, biting into a warm chocolate chip cookie. “Don’t you wish YOUR mom was home to bake cookies?”

I shrugged. I hadn’t really thought about it. My mom had a job. That’s just the way it had always been. Fresh cookies were nice, but they weren’t that compelling.

Later, when I relayed that conversation to my mother, she burst into tears. I was totally confused.

I babysat a lot when I was a teenager, and I was always happy for the extra cash and the chance to help build Play-Doh castles and snuggle some toddlers in front of a Disney video. The parents, I imagine, were happy for the night off or the chance to run some kid-free errands. It never occurred to me that they were lesser parents for doing so.

It’s only more recently that I’ve begun to hear people talk of “never using a babysitter” as a point of pride. And honestly, I wish they’d stop. Because just like Marina Krim was not guilty for having left her children with a nanny, moms who rely on sitters or nannies or daycare are NOT lesser parents. So when you brag about not using a babysitter ever, as if this is the better choice, it suggests a whole lot of judgment and helps create a culture where parents feel obligated to do everything themselves, with no help from the broader community outside family and close friends.

Who here grew up with daycare/nannies? Who has feelings about it? And if you have kids, how do you deal with the issue of caretakers?


9 comments to Since when is it bad to use a babysitter?

  • I babysat for quite a few families as a teenager; all of them had working fathers and stay-at-home mothers. Hmm!

    My heart actually goes out to Ortega, as much as it does to the Krims. I was a nanny/au pair for three Swiss kids when I was 21-22 years old. Under Swiss law, the parents were required to pay for room, board, health insurance, and a stipend on top of all that. All of my basic needs were taken care of and I wasn’t gripped with the worry of paying rent, managing debt, etc. The same conditions don’t exist here in the US, and I think that no matter how “well paid” Ortega was, she was likely in a position where she was constantly juggling a lot of stress, debt, and responsibility. There was an insinuation in one of the articles I read about the murder that she was working, on occasion, 12+ hours per day.

    On top of that, there is an expectation of caregivers/nannies that they always be ON; that is to say, unlike a mother who can put a kid down for a nap and take one of her own, a nanny is expected to always be engaged with the children or some other kind of domestic responsibility. And judgments from those on the periphery (other nannies, moms at the playground, etc) are rampant, no doubt, given the transactional nature of care-for-pay capitalism that nannying/babysitting is these days. A psychotic break under those circumstances, regardless of chronic or pre-existing mental health issues, doesn’t seem implausible. I am, by no means, justifying what happened. Mostly I’m just encouraging people to stop seeing their caregivers in the same light as people who sit at a desk job all day, or even factory workers. The impact of 12+ hours per day of constant extroversion around children in your care, moderate wages, rent inflation, debt, exhaustion, etc. ravages your mind and your psyche.

    I’m grateful that the majority of my friends and family have been open to and accepting of babysitters and other forms of childcare, including asking me on occasion. Cliche as it might sound, it does take a village, and the idea that you are solely responsible for raising your children is arrogant, controlling, and impossible.

  • Wait, what? I am totally baffled by this.

    I am a SAHM, but starting to work on some freelance writing and editing on the side. I take my almost-2-year-old to a preschool/co-working place run by an old friend of mine, and it’s great. We also leave her with a teenage babystitter about once a month while the hubby and I go out for a (nighttime) date. The sitter plays with her while we get ready, helps with dinner and bath, and then we put her to bed and leave. We’ve never had an issue, and I’ve never felt guilty about it.

    I mean, really. Outsourcing the raising of your child b/c you hire a babysitter once in a while? That’s just nuts.

  • Rachele

    I work from home these days. I homeschool and make homebaked goodies and sew and craft and all that domestic jazz, but I still use a babysitter sometimes. And sometimes I am a babysitter for some of my single working parent friends. So it would be ridiculous for me to have a problem with child care. The whole virtuous, perfectly self-sacrificing, always available stay at home mom act is kind of gross in my opinion, and I hate how they are all criticizing the mother alone. The obliviously sexist idea that only the woman can or should be the primary caregiver if a couple has children just blows my mind. I also think the terror-of-strangers aspect of these comments, while more sympathetic, is damaging and isolating. This kind of thing is extremely rare and unpredictable, and I refuse to hide from the world on the really tiny chance that something bad can happen.

    I don’t work outside the home because I just plain hate it with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, and found a way to make it workable financially and agreeable to my partner to stay home. I don’t begrudge any mother for including in her priorities a career that is meaningful to her or needing to work to provide a good quality of life for her kids. I’m happy with my choice, and I sincerely hope everyone else is happy with theirs or, if not, has the opportunities to make the changes that will bring them happiness.

    In my experience, stay-at-home moms often feel like others judge them for not making more of a contribution to the world and feel compelled to use a lot of language that implies their choice is superior in other ways to counter the implication that their labor is not meaningful because it is not paid. Most would hopefully have the good sense not to use someone’s child getting murdered as an example of how their life choices are as valid or better than a work-outside-the-home parent.

    And with regards to the above commenter, I completely agree that nannies are often severely overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated, and that gets my goat almost as badly as the blame games and insensitive talk about a stranger’s tragedy. I would never blame the parents for the caregiver’s psychotic episode, but you’re right, in my opinion, to call out how high-pressure these situations are. The circumstances of this event highlight a need for a cultural shift in more than one arena.

  • forsakinghalfloves

    Here in the Philippines, it’s not unusual to have households with live-in help. When my siblings and I were younger, our parents hired nannies to take care of us while they were at work. We don’t have nannies anymore, but we do have someone come in during the weekends to help with the general cleaning and ironing.

    I find it appalling that people are using this tragedy as a wedge issue, to assure themselves that they made the right choices and those who didn’t follow their lead are somehow lesser parents or persons.

  • tenya

    Oh, this has been around for awhile. And having been a pretty prolific babysitter/nanny during the summers as a teenager, I understand how it is both expensive and underpaid. 12 hour days weren’t that unusual, either, and I imagine when there is one parent staying home with the kids then days spent only with the kids occur – thus, much longer than 12 hours, so why complain about 12 or 14 hour days when you’re on 24/7?
    (Have you read Global Woman? Childcare and issues with immigration and so forth is discussed quite a bit)
    The one that always struck me the most are the ones like the comment from the Daily Mail that indicate that they do utilize family members for childcare, at least occasionally, but that this is somehow different and safer/more moral/better. I certainly understand when it is the least expensive option, but when it is “oh ugh, I don’t use anything so terrible as daycare, my kids stay with my mother while I work!” Like nothing bad ever happened to a child cared for by a family member? And what if that weren’t an option, then you’d refuse to work except from home, which may or may not be an option? It is baffling position to me.

  • Joy

    I like that you and a lot of the other commenters on here used the word “baffled.” I couldn’t believe those comments I read, and I’m disgusted by them. Of course, the root of most of those comments is fear–these people who think they are taking all of the precautions to protect themselves and their loved ones from this crazy chaotic world have to reassure themselves that their precautions really WILL protect them. It is all very, very sad.

    My mom raised my two sisters and I–we’re within 3.5 years of each other–by herself for almost a dozen years. Guess what, that meant babysitters. Sometimes just a thirteen year old from the church whose “authority” kept us from killing each other and who also knew when to call 911 if something went wrong. We had no problem with having babysitters, and even the years that we were “latchkey kids” were not really a tragedy, it was just life, and looking back as an adult, I just see my mom as a superhero for all she was able to do for us.

    Sometimes I worry about these families who refuse to leave their children–I fear that if that were me, never having a night out with my husband or “grown-up time” sans kids, I would be the one in danger of a psychotic break (albeit not a murderous one…you get what I’m saying).

  • Katy

    I think it’s telling that even you – in a post critiquing the values around child care – say that “marina Kevin was not guilty for using a babysitter”. I assume the Kevin’s both benefited from child care, but it’s always somehow the woman who is implicitly painted as benefiting from the hired help. I work two days a week (as a lawyer), and my boyfriend works five (as an architect); but there’s no doubt in my mind that when I at work, our nanny is covering for me, not my man. Even though we are a feminist household who talked about both parents having time as primary parent; even though my earning capacity is higher. Post having the baby i definitely struggle to shake the feeling that mummying should be my 24/7 gig and anything less is failing my kid. Unfortunately, I also feel like dropping out of the work force is failing myself (emotionally) and failing my family (financially), and we couldn’t afford it anyway, so until I learn how to split in half and do both at once I guess I’m in trouble…

  • 24fps

    There’s an advantage in having your kids learn that there can be more than two trusted adults in their everyday lives. I had my oldest daughter in a home daycare twice a week after she turned two – and the woman who looked after her taught me a great deal about kids and parenting. We all benefited.

    I worry about parents who are so paranoid they don’t leave their kids with a sitter now and then. They’re sheltering them too much from life. My kids know how to talk to other people, they are latchkey kids nowadays. I send them on errands to the grocery store and the post office, started when they were old enough to cross the street themselves. Overprotectiveness prevents your children from learning how to be self-sufficient or to manage a world that is not mediated by you. They don’t have the opportunity to find themselves.

    And as for not wanting to outsource raising your kids – What a crock! Same with the term “full time mother”. Bullshit! I’m somebody’s mum 24/7 whether I’m in the room with them or not.

  • Daisy

    Late to the conversation but if I may throw in my .02 from the “other side” My husband and I do not utilize a babysitter for our daughter as she’s required ambulance transportation on two occasions due to respiratory distress. Both times her issues presented shortly after she had fallen asleep and came with no previous warning on illness. The first time was the dramatic situation most would think of when they envision what dangerous respiratory issues look like: a visual and auditory struggle to breath, frantic, turning blue. The second time my daughter’s oxygen levels were too low for the obvious struggle to breathe. Instead she was quiet and barely moved. It was a situation somebody unfamiliar with respiratory issues might have missed and failed to call 911 in time to save her life. Her regular physician has yet to figure out what is triggering these episodes thus leaving us with no effective treatment beyond an emergency inhaler and epi pen that has yet to be tried and calling for EMT assistance again.

    We’ve interviewed numerous babysitters since them–all well qualified and some with many years experience–and have yet to even bring up these two incidents as not a single care provider has given a satisfactory answer when asked how he or she would handle a medical emergency. “I hope that never happens” or something along those lines is the typical response and obviously completely and utterly unacceptable to me and my husband. If we were able to find a former EMT, military medic, nurse, parent of a child whose suffered respiratory crisis, or somebody along those lines who could be trusted to handle a medical emergency appropriately we’d be open to utilizing a babysitter for an occasional date night or help for me when my husband is deployed or TDY but until then I don’t believe leaving my daughter with somebody who might fail to handle a medical crisis appropriately is a responsible choice to make for either her or the potential care provider. For now, I take my “me time” while she is in my PA husband’s care. ;)

    I’ve often wondered if the lack of respect our society has for child care workers may fuel why many families opt against child care. If you pay crummy wages and treat people who watch children like garbage, can you expect well-qualified people to be interested in performing the job? Can you expect better standards for people to be trained to handle emergency situations or to be well educated in child development, first aid, psychology, and other pertinent areas of study? I believe this question is especially important with many families handling the burden of special needs children on their own, whether they be like mine and dealing with concerning medical issues or parents with children who have autism or other such conditions or anything in between. The best care provider in average situations may be ill equipped to handle more challenging circumstances and it’s absurd to consider parents paranoid or acting in poor fashion for acknowledging the fact good care may not easily be found for their children. This failure is not theirs but indicative of a larger issue IMO.