(originally posted in July 2009)
This is actually a re-post from my other blog, but I felt like putting it here. I have been thinking about this the past few days because my brother expressed to me that their current child care situation (with his MIL) will be ending fairly soon and they are trying to decide what they are going to do after that. I know that my SIL had some reservations about asking me to keep their kids because of some issues (read: stupid, stupid fighting) we had about a year ago. So I was not too sure if they would actually ask me or not. But last night my brother pulled me aside and told me that his wife had agreed that they would ask me. So soon (in the next few weeks, I think), I will start caring for their kids (2 boys, Conor is 20 months and Jordan is 8 years). Katy (my SIL) is usually finished working between 12 and 2, so I wouldn't even have them a whole day. And once school starts, their 8 year old will be at school and I'll just have the younger one. I told my brother that we start school 2 weeks before the public schools, and that I wasn't sure how that would work out with their oldest son (with my kids all busy on school work, what would he do?) and my brother said, "Put him to work, too! It'll be good for him!"
AND my BIL (Tony's brother) and his wife ask us about once a week if we're still OK with watching their daughter once mom goes back to work.
So, anyway, life is about to get a whole lot busier for me! Honestly, I think the biggest concern that I have is that by sharing our home and my time and attention with other kids, will I be shortchanging my own kids in the process? I don't really think I will, but it sort of nags at the back of my mind from time to time. Ya'll gals pray for me on that one, that I would have a selfless heart and that my children would always know that they are more special to me than anyone else, but that it is good to love and help others, too.
So, all that said, here is my original post on "Other People's Children"...
Most people will find it shocking to discover that I'm not particularly fond of other people's children. It's not that I dislike them, its just that...well I don't really know how to explain it. I was never one of those girls that wanted to grow up and have kids. In fact I was quite sure that I did not want children. My first child came along quite unexpectedly, and even more surprising was the bond and the love I felt for that child.
I discovered that I did want kids (good thing, too, since I already had one! ) I love my kids so much and I love to be with them, but other people's children are a different story.
I can't explain it. I think its partly that I don't tend to "connect" with anyone (child or adult) easily, and its partly that I am not able to know and expect the same things from other people's children as I am from my own.
You might be saying, but didn't you used to teach preschool? Well, yes, I did. But you know, that was different. It was my classroom, with my rules, and my expectations. That is different from just being in a big group of parents and kids, where each family has its own way of doing things. When I taught, we did things my way. When there is a big group you can't do that. If you see some kid doing something you don't like, and his parent is right there, you can't go discipline him. The same goes for visiting at people's houses. I can make my kids follow our rules but I can't make someone else's kids follow our rules in their own house!
So, anyway, all this to say that I have a really hard time with other people's kids. The one exception to this is my best friend Amanda's kids, and this is because our kids have literally grown up together (after Amanda and I grew up together!). I was there when her kids were born, she was there when mine were. I have kept her kids while she worked and she has kept mine when I worked. We have spent tons of time together, and so I feel like I really know her kids.
Which reminds me of another reason I am uncomfortable with other people's kids. With my kids, I know what will set them off. I know how to head off a tantrum or hurt feelings, or how to deal with those things if they do occur. But every kid is different. I can't always know what will make someone else's child lose it or throw a fit, or the best way to calm them down if they do. Yet another reason I'm uncomfortable.
Add to that things like knowing rules and boundaries. I know that my kids know the rules. I don't have to follow them around constantly making sure they aren't doing something they shouldn't. But other people's kids...well, other people's kids will grab the scissors off the counter and cut their hair, or take a marker to your walls, or touch the hot stove, etc. This makes me a basket case when other kids are at my house!
In short, other people's kids make me nervous.
OK, now, with that out of the way...
I have been thinking a lot lately about keeping other people's kids. Not that I plan to make a job out of it or anything, but just what would I do if someone I know asked me to keep their kids? I have a hundred reasons for saying NO. As we have already covered, other people's kids make me nervous. Besides that, don't I have enough to do with my own kids, doing school, keeping house, etc.?
And then the thing that I really have had to put much thought and prayer into: if I truly believe in my heart that a woman's place is in the home, caring for her children, is it wrong of me to keep some other woman's child/children while she goes to work? Is that not helping her to do that very thing which I think is wrong?
I spent much, much, much time on this.
Revelation came to me through the book For the Family's Sake The Value of Home in Everyone's Life by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. Read some excerpts:
I want to address the reality that we'll have to adapt ideas and ideals to fit who we actually are and what our lives are like, while carefully keeping what is morally essential for human life...Jesus said that we are not to create burdens for other people to bear. I have been sad to see that some of the 'Christian' instructions, instead of helping us in our own lives, discourage us by telling us we have to do things that in fact can't work for us.
As an example, look at full-time mothering. Some women have been told that be a "good Christian" or a "responsible mother," they should never go out of the home to work...But in real life we all face different circumstances. Detailed choices must be made individually. It is no good staying at home to parent full time if the family goes hungry! All such directives are extra to the biblical infrastructure or principles.
...If we do feel it is right or necessary to choose work, then how a child is cared for is a huge concern.
Children under ten need as homelike an atmosphere as possible. sometimes they can stay in their own home, and their caregiver can come to them...It is sometimes possible to locate a mature woman living locally whose life's work of homemaking is so much a part of her that she will add a child or two and be able to love and care for them as an adopted aunt or grandma.
...We find that if there is family to care for, that is a priority and pleasing to God. [The next verse] pertinent to this discussion applies to everybody in the church - men, women, old, young, single, married, widowed: "Give the people these instructions, too, so that no one may be open to blame. If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:7-8).
Strong words indeed. They should make each of us ask what we must do before God in order "provide to our relatives, and especially for [our] immediate family."
Many times throughout the book, the author describes days from her own life when her children were young, and how there was often a steady stream of "other people's children" in and out of their home. She talks about how all children knew they must abide by the rules of the house when they were there.
So I examine my "reasons" (read: excuses) for not wanting to care for other people's children. Other people's kids make me nervous, but only at first, until I get to know them. And the younger I get them, the easier it is to bond. So that excuse goes out the window. Don't I have enough to do? Well, yes, but not so much that I couldn't handle another kid or two. We want more kids of our own, and if I can handle them, why not other people's kids? There goes that excuse.
And so to the big excuse...is it wrong of me to provide the means for a mother to leave her own home and go out to work by agreeing to care for her children? Here is what I have decided: First of all, it is not up to me to judge whether what another person does is right or not. I tell my kids all the time "don't worry about what she is doing, worry about what you are doing." In a perfect world, all mothers would be able to stay home with their children. But we do not live in a perfect world, and financial problems often force mothers back into the workforce. It is not my responsibility to determine whether or not another mother should leave the home to work. What is my responsibility is what I will do when called upon to help.
I could say no, and the child/children could either go to another family member or friend's home for care, or be put into institutional child care. I don't want it on my conscience that a child was forced into the day care system because I refused to help. Even another relative or friend's home may not be as good an environment as my home.
Children benefit best from a loving, nurturing home environment. If the parents cannot provide that environment for several hours each day, but I can, then it seems wrong for me to deny those children the atmosphere which would be best for them.
If a child is in my care for several hours a day, and several days a week, then that child will grow to know the rules and expectations of our household. That child will also be learning and discovering along with my own children every day. And perhaps most important of all, that child would be learning about God, His love and His laws every day. If I can ensure that for even one child, what a blessed calling!
My brother-in-law and his wife are expecting their first child in October, and have already asked if I would keep him/her when the mom goes back to work (they're also already asking about homeschool, which thrills my heart!). I can't say no to them. Of course I'd prefer that the mom stay home and care for her own child, but if her choice is to return to work, then my choice is whether to help them and be sure that child is provided a healthy, loving, nurturing, Christian environment or to refuse help and condemn that child to substandard care.
So I've said yes, if she goes back to work I'll watch their baby. I'd watch my brother's young son, too, if my SIL goes back to work, though I'm not sure they'd ask me, after all the drama of the past year. For all that I am truly sorry, because I fear that my own rash actions and hasty words may have caused too great a divide to ever be truly bridged. I don't think she'll ever trust me again, and all the help and advice I could offer would not be welcomed. I don't know...time will tell.
But, to sum things up, the world is not a perfect place. Sometimes mothers cannot stay home as long as they would like. When they go to work, their children must go somewhere. Our choice as Christian women, mothers, and homemakers, is will we help them provide what is best for their children, or we will refuse them, force them to take their children elsewhere, out of our own selfishness or self-righteousness?
I'd like to close with some verses from the Gospels:
Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." ~Matthew 19:14
"Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me." ~Mark 9:37
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'..."He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' ~Matthew 25:40,45
I don't know about you, but I'd hate to ever be the person who "did not" for the least of these - and who is that if not the children?
update: I did in fact start keeping my brother's kids, and was absolutely amazed when they asked me to homeschool their 8 year old son along with my own kids. Just last week I finally go to start keeping my niece Alexandra as well. It's a little crazy at times, but really, I enjoy it!