I became a mother for the first time when I was 35 years old. I went into it thinking, “I have waited and prepared for this for so long, I’m totally going to nail this parenting thing. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!” I had read all the books and listened to the sage wisdom of moms who I thought really had it going on. I gave up sushi, caffeine and liquor and slept on my left side from the moment I found out I was pregnant, fer crissake! I vowed that my children would have minimal screen time, eat the healthiest foods and have the most educational toys money could buy. By being a stay-at-home mom, I was going to give them the very best start in life by loving and nurturing them every waking, meaningful moment of their lives.
Good lord. How did my husband stay married to that hot mess of hubris who thought she could single-handedly raise the greatest wünderkinder the world would ever know?! My grand plans of being the perfect mom and providing a well manicured childhood were quickly dashed when I realized First Born Male Child had ideas and plans of his own. Most of them did not involve accepting my loving, guiding hand. In fact, he mostly shoved my hand aside and decided he was going to do it his way.
I’ve been a stay-at-home mom since FBMC was born 11 years ago. It was a decision that my husband and I made together. Before that, I was part of the work-force, making actual money (not copious amounts, but…) I had goals to attain, work to produce, deadlines to meet, performance reviews, vacation — also known as paid time off — weekends free and a paycheck twice a month.
So often I get asked by non-stay-at-home parents, “So what do you DO all day???” You know what? That questions makes my skin crawl every time someone asks it. I never know if it’s coming from a place of jealousy, judgement or just plain curiosity. I scramble to think of tangible, worthy and important things to tell them, and my mind goes blank every time. What do I do all day? Crap! Then I start filling with guilt and self-doubt. Maybe I am as lazy and pathetic as they must think I am! Really. What is my job description?
I think what makes that question so frustrating to answer is because my job as a SAHM is a million seemingly mindless little things. Granted I was never the leader of a Fortune 500 company or curing cancer single handedly, but I used my education and talents daily in a dignified manner. My job was part of a greater picture for the success of an organization. But the perception of a SAHM is that we putter around the house all day and don’t contribute to society. A lot of days I feel like that’s true.
Probably the best description I think is that I’m the pro bono CEO, Office Manager, Director of HR, Executive Assistant, Personal Chef, Life Coach, Lead Negotiator (of arguments and hostages) and of course Janitor of our house. The real issue is that you can’t truly compare a SAHM’s job to one in the workforce.
Sometimes I get the response, “Wow! I could never do that! It would drive me nuts. I need to be in the workplace.” You know what? I totally get it. I’m jealous of the fact that you get to have alone time to eat lunch, have a complete conversation (with an adult) and go the the bathroom without an audience. I’m jealous that whenever you ask someone to do something, they most likely will do it without arguing or tantrum throwing. I’m jealous that you get a paycheck and vacation and a performance review with real feedback on how you’re doing (and dare I say a raise or a bonus every once in awhile?) I actually envy your quiet time in the car during your commute.
But then I remind myself that my current life affords me the flexibility to volunteer in my kid’s classroom and go on a field trip, to declare PJ days whenever I want, to stay at home with a sick kid or on a snow day without the stress of scrambling to find child care. I don’t have the pressure my husband has to support us all on his salary and benefits, or the guilt I’m sure he sometimes feels when his job takes him away from spending time with his family.
In the end, life is filled with trade-offs and we all need to do what is best and works for our own family. Your fulfillment in life can come from a career or being a stay-at-home-parent or a combination of the two. As long as your children see that you are working hard to give them the best life that you can, then rest assured, you’re doing a good job.
Now I’m off to mediate an escalating trade negotiation, finish my fourth load of laundry, prepare the 30th meal of the day and probably wipe a butt. Somehow I don’t think this is for what my liberal arts education was intended.
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