After 49 hours of labor, an unexpected C-section and exposure to some of the meanest labor and delivery nurses at a leading Boston Hospital, I cradled my beautiful son, Peter, in my arms. Parenthood began and my husband and I were ecstatic.
It was 1979 and the childcare option landscape was a dim one. There were many unqualified and inexperienced baby sitters, day care centers which were more custodial than nurturing, au pairs out for a cool cultural experience and neighbors willing to take another child into the mix. I soon discovered that my desire to return to my position as a full-time professor of Sociology at an area Community College was a provocative and unsettling notion to many of the mothers living in the same sprawling development of condos in the exurbs of Boston.
“I love my child and plan on staying with him,” one such mother commented as I told her of my plans to return to work. It wasn’t too long until my plan was broadcasted to her network of friends and I was labeled a “bad mom” and ostracized. Ironically, it was that same community of peers who reported excessive nursing activity, pool side, to the Condo Board of Directors from whom I received a warning letter. This was an early version of the mommy wars and I unwittingly had to take a side.
Fiercely idealistic and an ardent feminist I swung the banner for all mothers who loved their children but also loved their work. It had to be possible to balance family and work life. Fortunately, my husband also a professor, believed as I did and shared equally in the care of our son and home. He encouraged my transitioning back to work after a 6 month maternity leave.
Planners that we were we began interviewing candidate to care for Peter. From divorcees to wives who were being hunted down by ex-husbands to 18 year olds who hadn’t a notion about what to do with their lives we were about ready to check out the local McDay Care when Maureen Finn opened up her home to Peter. The very warm mother of a baby Pete’s age and a delightful 3-year-old we knew we struck gold.
Sadly, at 17 months we wrested Peter away from his home and had to walk away from a very special arrangement as we moved from condo to a home in Newton, Mass. The nightmare of childcare began. We hired a student of my husbands who had good references and an interest in art and children. She moved in and we were relieved and felt fortunate. Two months into that and our cleaning person took me aside to tell me that Julie’s care of our child was a charade. As soon as we left for work Julie would put Pete into his high chair, climb the stairs to her room and leave him there for hours. Then there was the sitter who was constantly late because she took on a night shift at a 24 hour restaurant without forewarning us. Finally, relief came in the form of a Swedish Au Pair with eyes the color of the sea and a calming voice. True, she had little experience with babies, but she was smart, motivated and seemed to have a natural chemistry with Peter. After that was Jeanette who was a Danish Au Pair placed in a miserable home where she was taken advantage of and underpaid. Bright, engaging and with a keen sense of humor she was an outstanding match for our family. She left to marry and we realized that this merry-go-round was impacting our lives and upending Peter’s trust in caregivers. Attaching fiercely and then having them fade into the night was putting him and us on edge.
This is the back story of how I became an “accidental entrepreneur. Borrowing the idea of the European Au Pair and translating it into an arrangement that could last longer and have less cultural conflicts I began the American Au Pair Company. The phones rang, I took a leave of absence from teaching and a company was born; fueled by needs and passion for finding solutions for self and others.