Before we had kids, dinner guests shared their babysitting morays with us: Except for a handful of evenings when relatives visited, the couple didn't go out by themselves for the first three years of their children's lives a whopping six years. This mom and dad also didn't allow their half-time nanny to take the kids anywhere in the car. "We would never be able to live with ourselves if an accident were to occur," the mom said.
The "We couldn't live with ourselves if..." argument makes me nuts. It's also foolhardy considering how many moms tell me that in retrospect they would have been happier, healthier, and more patient moms had they hired babysitters more often. "I was so afraid," says one veteran mom I know. "But now I realize the kids would have been fine."
Like most moms, I daily contemplate the horror of something happening to one of my precious boys, and am jolted by the nausea-inspiring realization of how vulnerable small children are in a sometimes sick and terrifying world. Yet, we couldn't live with ourselves, Duke and I decided, if our marriage floundered from lack of attention, or if cabin fever made us hostile toward our kids. We bought an inexpensive older model Volvo station wagon for our nanny to drive because we worried she could not afford a car with airbags and safety features we'd prefer. Armed with library cards and season passes to the San Diego Zoo, the Scripps Aquarium, Sea World, and a host of Balboa Park museums, our kids and nanny are never at a loss for something interesting to do.
Teenage babysitters fall within my comfort zone because church and neighbor kids, daughters and sons of my parents' friends always babysat for my sister and me. Several of those sitters are friends and role models we correspond with even today. Although this is a different age and time, responsible and smart teenagers are still in plentiful supply and we have the advantage of cell phones our night-on-the-town parents never had.
Even if you can't bring yourself to trust a teenager, don't let months and years go by without setting up a swap system with friends, or investigating a cooperative at your church or community center. There is simply nothing healthier you can do for your marriage, with the exception of regular and reciprocal orgasms, than getting out once a week or at least once a month with the love of your life ahem, that would be your husband, not your baby.
It's understandable for moms who work full-time to feel guilty leaving their little charges with a babysitter on weekends. So curttail your nights out but plan romantic adventures at home. Have a candlelight picnic in your bedroom. Or, pour the wine, light a fire in an outside fireplace, and whisper sweet nothings with the baby intercom nearby.
Don't be cavalier about choosing babysitters but don't overplay the risks either. Neglected marriages and pleasure-starved mommies and daddies are big risks in themselves.