Recently, Aston Kutcher when on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" to talk about his
daughter, Wyatt Isabelle. He told host Ellen DeGeneres that he and his fiancée, Mila Kunis, didn't want a nanny, because,
"We just want to know our kid. We want to be the people that know what to do
when the baby's crying to make the baby not cry anymore. We want to know, like,
when she makes a little face or something, we want to be emotionally in touch
with her. And I think the only way to do that is by being the one who's there."
Cue backlash. Welcome to the world of parenting, Ashton
Kutcher! Every decision you make will be immediately scrutinized and found
wanting. I remember my first entrée in to this dark world. It happened
innocently enough. I told a friend I was bringing baby pacifiers to the
hospital. "Oh no," she said. "Pacifiers are terrible for a child's teeth."
"It will mess them up for life," she told me. I just nodded.
But brought the pacifiers anyway. I've used pacifiers with both kids. They seem
a little nuts, but I'm pretty sure that has nothing to do with the pacifier. Our
disagreement, of course, wasn't about pacifiers. It was a disagreement about
approach. That's what it always is in the parenting wars.
At the center of this debate is a huge parenting myth — that parents can do it all alone.
And this is a war no one, not even Kutcher and Kunis, can win. If they confess to using nannies, then they are hands off and distant. If
they want to go without nannies, then, well, they sound a bit arrogant. Does
this mean that they think that people with nannies don't love or connect with
their children? No, maybe, I don't know.
In America, though, the debate still rages: If you watch your children, you are either a drain on the system or your spouse, or very privileged. If you
send your kids to daycare or use a nanny, you are making someone else raise
At the center of this debate is a huge parenting
myth — that parents can do it all alone. And with respect to the Kutcher-Kunises,
that's exactly what his comments suggest. That there is a
magical connection between a parent and child, where only a parent can intuit and
know their child's needs.
Nothing is further from the truth. Babies cry because they
are jerks. Nothing will sate them. One day your kid will eat everything. The
next day they will throw their food to the floor like it is garbage. The next
day, they will actually eat garbage. This idea that there is a parent out there
who, like Kutcher, believes he or she can "know what to do when the baby's crying
to make the baby not cry anymore" is just a myth.
I don't care how good of a parent you are — if you stay at
home, use daycare, are deeply into grooving with the biorhythms of your baby — at some
point your kid is going to cry, and you can do absolutely nothing about it.
There is also the point when we all need help. Knowing a
baby isn't a matter of magic or connection; it's really just experience. My
daughter went to daycare for the first two years of her life. And I was so
indebted to the babysitter for helping me teach her to nap, how not to bang her
head on the floor when she was upset and how to throw my leg over her body to
keep her from standing up while I was changing a poopy diaper. (It should be a
yoga move.) My babysitter knew those things, not because she spent more time
with my child than me, but because she had experience.
This idea of the small nuclear family is a modern invention. And it's bunk. Everyone needs help.
My daughter was also an easier baby to appease. For my son,
I have been home with him his entire life. Frankly, some days, I have no
idea what is wrong with him. I just let him work it out. All I can do is hold
him and say, "Feelings are for feeling, buddy, cry it out."
It is admirable that Kutcher and Kunis have the privilege of
being able not to work while they care for their daughter. Not everyone is so
lucky. At the risk of sounding smug, even the most in-tune parents need
help sometimes. And it is important that parents be able to ask for help. I
have a dear friend who just had her third baby. She's been drowning in a sea of
children, and it's so hard for her to ask for help. She has this idea that she
is the mother, she should do it all. Which is ridiculous (I tell her this all
the time). I often just invite her kids over for a playdate so she can nap. She
is smart, capable and kind. But sometimes she needs help.
For centuries, children have been raised by communities and
extended families. This idea of the small nuclear family is a modern invention.
And it's bunk. Everyone needs help. Every parent needs a break, and if you can't
make your baby stop crying, that is no reflection on your priorities or
Babies are jerks sometimes.
Also, I'm available to show anyone the
leg-over baby move. You are going to need it.