In the last few months, I’ve come to realize something fundamental about myself: I do things better when I’m paid for it. And, I suspect, all parents would be better if they got paid for it. I’m not suggesting that we have the government subsidize parenthood or anything. But if Warren Buffet decided to start a company called Parenting, Inc., in which he paid all parents $30 an hour to feed the kids vegetables, set a strict bedtime, and never put them in a stroller? I’d so become his first employee.
It’s not that love for my child isn’t enough motivation, mind you. Well, actually–yes, it is that. I love my kids, I really do, but when waking up for my actual paying job looms 3 hours away, and the kid’s screaming in her crib, she’s going to get me feeding her a bottle of formula, lying down, in the crib. When it’s been six hours since the toddler ate, and she’s getting cranky for it, but refuses all offers of apples and grapes, then I’ll give her a frozen waffle. When I come home from my paying gig, and my husband’s gritting his teeth because the little one hasn’t stopped whining for thirty minutes, and the toddler is staring at her fifth consecutive episode of Curious George on the TV, I’m not going to take him aside for a developmental review. Not this time, anyway.
Why? Because you’re not paying us. And you can’t fire us, either.
Of course, parents can be fired. They can be fired for a host of horrible reasons, from going out for a beer and leaving the kids to burn the house down, to pouring hot sauce down their throats, to all of the other things I can’t bring myself to think about. But feeding her a bottle (of formula!) in the crib? Letting her watch TV? Feeding her frozen waffles three times a day? The day that stands up in court is the day that the message board junkies have won.
On the other hand, if I were paying you to watch my kid every day, and against my wishes, she sat in front of the TV and ate nothing but frozen waffles, I’d totally fire you. You’re not doing it out of the goodness of your heart, after all. You have a job, one that pays your bills and keeps you fed and, I hope, offers you some personal satisfaction, as well. Just like my paying job: it’s not always easy, but it has great benefits and good people. But sometimes, I have to grit my teeth and do something that sucks because that’s why they’re paying me: to be the best at my job that I can be. After all, if I’m not the best at what I do, they can find someone to replace me. So if I’m paying you to NOT give in and feed her Lorna Doones, well, then by gum, I’m the boss of you, and you will not feed her Lorna Doones.*
This became crystal-clear a few weeks ago, when we started potty training, and realized that there’s a whole industry out there of potty training consultants. One of them’s charging $40 just to download a pdf of her book, which supposedly has the secret, although she reveals the secret in the free chapter she provides: it’s you. It’s your consistency and your dedication to the process that will make potty training work for the kid, which totally makes sense. So why do I need to pay $40 for a book? Or, for that matter, $200 an hour for someone to come into my home and potty train her?
Why? Because of desperation. There was a point when Eliza was five months old, when we were trying the No-Cry Sleep Solution and she was waking up screaming every two hours, that I would have gladly paid a sleep consultant whatever she wanted to come in and make her shut up. I don’t think it was lack of knowledge that made that early sleep training so hard; I’d read the book backward and forward, and understood what I was supposed to do. It also wasn’t my deep, abiding need not to let her cry. It was just that my motivation to want to sleep was far greater than my motivation to get through sleep training without her crying for more than a minute. So what did we do? Scrapped the No-Cry and went for a cry-it-out solution, which worked brilliantly for us. And it cost us $14.95 for the book.
But… if the CEO of Parenting, Inc., had come to me and said, “Look, really, it IS terrible for her to lay there crying, and it’s really the best thing for her to do the No-Cry Solution, and I’m going to pay you $2000 to commit to the no-cry method,” I totally would’ve sucked it up with a smile. I might even have done it for $500. And if the same CEO went to David and offered him a full-time job to get the kids to eat vegetables and read books all day? Say, the rate of $20 an hour, which, with overtime, adds up to $60k a year? You’re damn right we’d be discussing the Curious George incident. With that kind of scratch we could buy a house in a few years.
In the two years since I gave birth–and the five months since I gave birth again–I have come to realize that I am 1) not replaceable; and 2) more motivated by money than some abstract, distant concern that I will raise an obese, whiny couch potato. I’m doing two jobs as it is. And, honestly: I really just don’t think that’s going to happen, and if it did? I’d still love her. And I’d hope she’d still love me.
*All of our babysitters have been friends who are doing it for free or drastically reduced rates. So friends: continue stuffing her full of Lorna Doones and crank up the stereo to all Disney, all the time, if that’s what’s easiest for you. I love you.