The Help, Northern-Style

Watching the lovely ladies of The Help during the Oscars (celebrating Octavia Spencer‘s victory while feeling that Viola Davis got “robbed”), I couldn’t help thinking of the many women who helped raise my own four children.

Most of us believe that “it takes a village” to raise good kids, and even if we aren’t ‘60s-era Southerners with full-time Mammies, we are still indebted to the relatives, friends and paid professionals who help out.

After all, who doesn’t appreciate the impact of having another adult tell your child, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important”?

In my early parenting days I, like millions of other women, sought advice from the What to Expect series and T. Berry Brazelton. Now, some 27 million mothers gain insights from the 8 million or so “mommy bloggers” on line.  However, there is still nothing like the mentoring and information that is delivered in person.

My own mother, who visited for several weeks after each child’s birth, demonstrated the calm, no-nonsense parenting style she used in raising her own brood of six children (born within eight years). My kids see Grandma W. just a few times each year, but always value the patient way she encourages them to learn deeply. They will forever remember watching her work as a Lincoln Park Zoo docent, knowing that one’s education never needs to end.

My husband’s family lives close by, so are more connected to my kids’ lives.  His parents are young and vibrant, and continue to model family values and cooperation as they take all “8 and up” grandchildren on a vacation every summer. The kids always seem to return home a little older and a lot more considerate. His sister was a parenting pro with two young boys when I met her, and I have learned so much about kindness and generosity through watching her.

While I am fortunate to enjoy a wide circle of supportive friends, one girlfriend in particular provided unparalleled support after my first baby arrived. Sadly, she had just lost a son – who died at 5 months of heart problems – so I worried that my boy’s birth might prohibit our friendship. To the contrary, she offered to serve as his nanny one day a week after I took a part-time job, and taught volumes about baby care and love. She and my son formed a special bond that is still strong 18 years later.

I worked part-time, in various capacities, until my fourth child was two years old. As such, I relied on the help of paid professionals, who often spent more waking hours with my kids than I did. At first, I struggled to abdicate control and secretly worried that they might be more qualified for child care than I was. But soon, I learned to value the unique contributions they could offer.

  • Paige reminded me to set chores aside – the dishes and laundry could wait – and have fun with the kids. I often arrived home from work to find the kids dancing in the living room or digging for worms in the yard. Yes, I might also find a mess in the kitchen or unmatched outfits, but I soon learned that the kids’ happiness mattered more than the house’s order.
  • Sarah 1, who we “stole” from the Montessori school my toddlers attended, continued the school’s important teachings in our home, so the kids really learned to be self-sufficient and self-directed. I will always be grateful for the little slip of paper she left me when still teaching at the school, at a time when my husband lay in a coma at the hospital, his life literally teetering on the edge: “Please call me if I can help in any way,” she wrote. “I will come and watch your kids any time.”
  • Sara 2 won me over with her calm, soothing voice, when she replied to my advertisement. I had just met with a nanny I planned to hire, but decided to invite Sara over for a chat. I knew immediately the 23-year-old was just what we needed in a very tumultuous time.One of the most important lessons I learned from Sara 2 was to try to see life from a child’s perspective. We mothers often complain that a child “kept me up all night” with hunger or fever, “made a royal mess in his diaper” or “embarrassed me with a tantrum in public.” When I attempted to get sympathy from Sara after a particularly short and difficult night with a sick kid, her reply was, “Oh, poor baby. He must have been feeling terrible.” That one sentence shocked me to my senses, and changed the way I approached parenting. 

 Sara 2 is due to deliver her first child in April, and I am so excited for both mother and baby-to-be. Whether or not Sara receives outside help in child-rearing, I am certain that her child will grow up feeling the love and confidence equal to what Aibileen gifted Mae Mobley (and 16 other kids) in The Help.

 –          Linda Williams Rorem, 28 Feb. 2012

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Comments

  1. Chris Stockwell says:

    You betcha!

  2. Thanks for your kind words, Jill. I sure would like to meet the fruits of your “labors” one of these days. In the meantime, I’d better see “The Iron Lady” before I pooh-pooh Meryl’s victory any more.

  3. Linda, It’s wonderful that you can see the gift that each of your caregivers gave to you and your children. Sometimes it’s easy to feel frustrated, or jealous, when we hire others to watch our children. But when you realize no one will do it exactly the way you do–and that’s a good thing–you can appreciate the gift it is to you, and to your children. Great post. I did love Viola Davis and The Help (wish the Oscars had given that movie more attention than the Bridesmaids!) but was so torn because Meryl Streep’s performance was so incredible also.

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