It started with a generous maternity leave. In reality, I had not used a vacation day in seven years, so I was able to stay home until our baby was four months old. My salary was barely equal to the cost of paid childcare, so I had to get creative. My amazing family and friends stepped up to fill the childcare gap from April through June. Each day of the week, my baby would stay with someone different. Her aunt, her grandparents and even one of my former co-workers generously gave their time so that my baby could be safe and loved while I finished the school year.
Two years later, my in-laws still take the baby one day a week. I’ve been judged by the “sanctimommies” for continuing this (I’m a stay at home mom, how lazy to have someone else watch my kid), but here are five reasons why you need to have a kid-free day.
1. Kids Are Happier
My mother-in-law plans a spectacular day for my toddler. This week, they went to the indoor pool, had lunch, took a nap, and went to the park. Last week, they went to the zoo! It does not have to be something so elaborate; really, almost any change from the routine activities is a good growth experience for children. Obviously, this does not work if the adult is setting the kid in front of the TV all day, but then why is that adult watching your kid? Something as simple as getting to visit a different library will be special. Also, spending time with a grandparent can be great for a child’s self-esteem.
2. Bonding Time (for Others)
Your kid is an amazing person and others would be so lucky to get to hang out with her. At first, I worried that it was an imposition to ask someone to watch my kid. Then I realized how it makes me feel when others ask me to babysit- I’m honored. To clarify, it is not an imposition if you ask far enough in advance and are respectful of the person’s schedule. It is also important to show gratitude- no one likes to be taken for granted.
I see how special it is for my in-laws to get to spend time with our daughter. I love the email updates with photos and journal entries about how they spent their day. It is a great opportunity for them to bond with their granddaughter and I can tell that it makes them happy.
3. You Can Work
I do a lot of work as an independent contractor. In contrast to a regular job, where you work set hours and do the same work every day, I choose my own hours and the projects that interest me. There are some projects that are a great fit for my toddler and she enjoys doing them with me. Other projects are not well-suited to children, making my day off a prime time to earn some extra money.
The day off can also be used to catch up on housework, but this is not realistic for me because:
4. You Can Not Work
Having an unstructured personal day is a rare luxury for parents. It had been weeks since I had watched a show other than Peppa Pig, so I used my most recent day off to binge watch Downton Abbey. I also took a bubble bath and a nap. It’s okay to rest. I have had a hard time with days like this in the past because I would miss my kid. I would go to a restaurant for lunch and be miserable thinking about how much she would have enjoyed it. To fully appreciate a non-work day, try to choose activities that you would not ordinarily be able to do with your child.
5. Your Mental Health
I love to work, so quitting my job was a scary thing for me. Being able to work one day a week does a lot for me personally. Having some kid-free time to recharge is also important. These are the obvious mental health benefits.
Somewhere along the way, I learned something important about letting go. I think a lot of parents put limitations on their trust. I had a friend who worked as a nanny and the kid’s parents would not let her take the kid to the small local beach. This conditional trust has nothing to do with my friend’s nanny skills (she’s amazing). If my kid is with someone else, it is because I trust them fully. My in-laws might not do things exactly the same way as I do, but I do not care. They raised my husband, and he’s OK. My daughter is safe, happy, and loved when she is with them. I know this, so I am happy to let go of the situation and not try to micromanage her time with them.
After spending the day apart from my little one, I appreciate our time together so much more. Even though she cannot articulate it yet, I think my daughter feels the same.
I realize not everyone has in-laws as fabulous as mine. This is why it is so important to build relationships with other parents, which is something that is particularly challenging for me. If we support and help each other, we can all carve out a little bit of time to make everyone a lot happier.