In Annabel Monahgan hilarious article, “An open letter to my husband, don’t ask me what I’m up to today” she highlights how staying at home isn’t all “naps and brunches.”
Whether you are a professional mom on maternity leave or a seasoned Stay at Home parent of multiples, you quickly find out that staying at home with your child is often not as glamorous or as easy as it sounds. Also, the better the parent you try to be, the more work it is (and the less you productive you actually feel)!
Staying at home with your child can be the best job in the world; you get to spend more time with your baby or older kids, no business trips or early morning conference calls to deal with, you can wear anything you want, right? But sometimes it can be the most frustrating and undervalued in terms of feelings of accomplishment and value with no regular office hours and no paycheck to take home. Kids can be more unruly than coworkers and there is nowhere to hide and no one else to blame when things get rough or go wrong. You assume as a woman that mothering and homemaking come naturally so there’s no major learning needed; women have been doing this job for years so how hard can it really be? It’s not like you can get fired, right? But that whole assumption is a myth at best, you may not get fired but your family can give you a lot of grief if things start going haywire so that you wished you could get fired. Staying at home is a job and it is truly a labor of love that often goes unnoticed and underappreciated for all the work it is, mostly by the person doing the work herself.
After reading the satirical article by Annabel Monahgan where she details a few typical days of herself as a SAHM, I could not stop laughing at how closely it resembled many of my days at as a stay at home parent and probably the life of most of the SAHMs I knew. I promptly mass mailed it to everyone I knew who was a fulltime at home parent. Soon afterwards my inbox was flooded with exclamation points in vigorous agreement on the validity of this author’s humorous rant.
My husband did not think Annabel’s article was the least bit funny, and he seemed a bit insulted that I thought it was, that I maybe felt underappreciated in my job as a SAHM as he never minimalized my role (nor did he ask me to be a SAHM, I decided that one myself and spent a good couple of months convincing him and everyone else, namely myself, that it was a good idea).
I told my husband that the point of the article was not about blaming the husband for assuming he is quietly judging the SAHM wife for being unproductive or useless, the husband was in fact the “straight man”, even the “good guy” in this story and never showed any hint of disappointment in his wife’s chosen role, it was about the SAHM wife herself trying to justify her existence and sense of accomplishment in her daily life as it appeared she was doing absolutely nothing (as she was still in her pjs with dirty dishes and needy children at the end of the day when her husband returned home as she was at the start of the day when he left). She had in fact done plenty -racing around kids in and out of school to doctor’s offices, making meal, running necessary errands, doing the dishes, just nothing that seemed very important at the time. Everything she did and needed to do fell below the radar of even mentioning to her husband over coffee on most days of the week unless it was attending a School Board Room Meeting, where she would proudly enunciate Ex-ec-u-tive as part of her title in her appointed position as a school parent on the Board. However, the majority of her mundane and seemingly silly repetitive or stress inducing tasks were highly necessary in order to raise healthy, productive, nourished kids and to keep the house and everyone’s lives running smoothly. This in itself is a daily miraculous feat for any of us although it’s easy to not see or appreciate the effort that goes into this arduous task until you personally experience it first hand, everyday.
What really struck a chord with me (and other SAHM who responded to this article) was the lack of visibility of accomplishments in the mom-job. This is actually true for both working and stay and home moms. The difference is that the fulltime SAHM, unless they are highly secure evolved individuals, not in need of positive reinforce or monetary reward and who truly understand the meaning of life and their important place in the world, have very little tangible and visible day to day proof of their hard work.
For example, unless your house has gone from very messy to clean over the course of the day (which begs the question as to why you allowed it to get messy in the first place or why you haven’t better trained your children put away their clothes and clean up their toys), you generally don’t have a lot of “proof” of your accomplishments from that day, and you certainly don’t have a paycheck to show for it (although you might feel the need to justify the kid’s new spring wardrobe or even worse, new additions to your own wardrobe).
It seems the bar is always being raised for moms, not only are we expected to take care of the kids and their meals as a woman might have over 50 years ago who stayed home with her kids, we are also supposed to prepare meals that are properly balanced in the ever changing food group ideal and prepared according to the current guidelines of what is considered “safe” and “healthy” for your family to consume without some fatal allergic or carcinogenic ingredient. Even if ,say, you cooked a new dish for dinner that was properly organic , glutton free and vegan with the right balance of carbohydrates and protein according the food pyramid du jour, you have not really nailed it completely as a model SAHM. To be truly accomplished in this endeavor you must encourage your kids and husband to sit down at the table together politely and with good table manners (that in itself a monumental task), have everyone enjoy and eat all of the said meal while remarking nicely over its flavor and finish said meal on time before carting the kids off to their next activity or helping finish a homework assignment and or get kids showered and changed into pajamas AND get all of those dishes and counter tops cleaned up before bedtime before it could really be said to be a job well done with today’s high standards and expectations for parents, particularly moms. But you ask yourself as devil’s advocate, isn’t feeding your kids and family a nutritious meal on time just part of the job description of SAHM, not something you should get kudos for – just feeding the family dinner right? It’s not like you got a raise, promotion or invented a patent…
Of course the professional parent has the same dilemma for mealtime, but I know when I was professional parent I cut myself a lot more slack and leaned on my husband a lot more for meal preparation. It really boils down to self-assessment and expectations, which can feel insurmountable if we believe the myths of our culture.
So the measure of success is difficult for a SAHM and since no one is really interested in measuring it besides you, it usually boils down to you yourself being your own boss and oftentimes a pretty tough one when it comes to self-reviews of job performance. It’s a very ambiguous area, although it is clear when you are truly slacking and have missed the mark in certain areas…Like when the school calls to tell you that Johnny has been waiting at the school office to be picked up for the past 45 minutes and you forgot it was Tuesday when he doesn’t take the bus home. Now not only is Johnny late for soccer practice he is pretty grumpy at being forgotten and abandoned at school when you yourself told him you would arrive early to get him first thing in school carpool pickup lane that day. Instead he had to sit glumly as the minutes ticked away on the big school office clock as an unclaimed child next to the humorless office clerk who was not too thrilled with his humorless company either.
Or, you know you missed the mark when you get a stack of library notices in your kids’ take home folder that indicate that every one of your children have overdue books from the beginning of the school year that are not to be found in your house ANYWHERE at all. None of them. Also you owe the library double the costs of each one of these books although they would really prefer that you find and return the actual books themselves. But they are NOWHERE. You have checked in your kids’ backpack and all over your house, every room, drawer, under the kids’ beds, bookshelves, laundry bins, trash cans, outside in the backyard sandbox, nowhere. How big of a personal check do you need to write the library and how big of an apology do you need to give to the homeroom teacher and librarian to cover this mess of incompetence? Should you buy all the books on Amazon with overnight shipping to quickly assuage this debt to the struggling school library and your struggling ego as a responsible parent? Heck, this sin cancels out your week of volunteering at the School Book Fare last month!
Or how about the day when you forget to pack your child’s snack AND lunch which you only happen to find out about en route to dance class when your daughter casually mentions to you that she has not eaten ALL DAY as she did not have a lunch or snack at school (or think to buy one on credit or have the school call you) and is REALLY hungry! When you return home later you discover the untouched lunch box and pristine brown snack bag sitting innocently on the kitchen counter where it was neatly packed that morning and where it was unclaimed by your child and never placed in their backpack as they were running late to the bus that morning. It was also never noticed by you in the midst of your whirlwind morning routine. How did this slip through the cracks?
Or worse, your kid comes home sunburned from school and you later read the teacher email sent out to all the class parents cautioning that the kids should be sure to wear sunscreen to school along with their long distance running shoes with the current surprise heat wave that’s going on and with outdoor PE at noon as they are still running laps on the black asphalt on Wednesdays despite the warmer weather. You KNOW the email is targeted to you alone and that every parent on the mailing list who picked up their child at school that day MUST know it too as they have also seen your red-faced blond headed child sitting on the curb at the afternoon carpool pickup. Yes it’s easy to get a little paranoid or self critical. These are the days that you feel you have truly “failed” on the job and there are no two ways about it, because on these days even the President knows you do not deserve your title as “Mom” and the school principal himself must be calling Child Protective Services at this moment. But somehow the sun goes up the next day and you have a blank slate to start the day with and a chance to raise the bar and tally up some “Good Mommy Points", although only you are really keeping score, right?
So it goes in the life of the Stay at Home Mom. But again, this is often a self-chosen profession, so no pity parties here and most of us are grateful for the privilege, although we do have our days in our pjs doing dishes at night when we wonder, what did we accomplish today? Just remind yourself, plenty.