Have you ever sat at your desk, bleary-eyed as you gazed at your overworked computer and thought to yourself, "Man. I would give anything to switch places with my stay-at-home partner right now."? Perhaps you've thought these words in irritated, jealous frustration as a big deadline approaches. "How come they get to be home with our beloved children while I'm stuck in the seventh circle of hell that is my office?" I've been there and, yes, I get it. Thanks to decades of sitcoms and laundry ads, "stay-at-home mom" is an easy gig to romanticize. Careful though, because there are some things a grown-ass man never says to a stay-at-home mom.
My partner was a stay-at-home parent to our son for two years and then, after our daughter was born, we swapped: he went to the office and I've been home ever since. We talked a lot about the challenges of being on both ends of the spectrum, and so I thought I was in pretty good shape to know what was ahead of me. The reality, of course, was that I really didn't have any idea. The difficulties were very different from the ones I faced as a working mom. Some things were easier, like accommodating the kids' school schedules and appointments and the mom guilt wasn't as intense and I wasn't required to put on pants every day which, you know, is the dream. Other things, however, left me feeling completely lost. I didn't know how to deal with the overwhelming feeling that I had accomplished nothing at the end of the day, despite moving or working non-stop from the moment I woke up to the moment I fell asleep; I didn't know how to deal with the isolation from other adults; I didn't know to manage a day of tasks with two little ones constantly underfoot, often undoing what I had just accomplished.
Fortunately, having done it himself, my husband understood my struggles and knew what I was doing every day and realized that while being a stay-at-home mom is different from being a working mom, "different" definitely doesn't mean "easier." He'd been there and he knew what to say and, perhaps even more importantly, he knew what not to say, to his stay-at-home partner:
"What Do You Do All Day?"
A SAHM's work is oftentimes invisible and difficult to measure. A lot of the time, it's not so much what she accomplishes as it is what she keeps from happening and enables to happen. Let's put it this way, if she stopped doing what she's been doing all day, it wouldn't take you long to notice all the things she's constantly doing. In fact, you'd probably see the smoke and hear the sirens before you even walked through the door.
"What Do You Mean You Didn't Have Time To...?"
Just because a SAHM is home, doesn't mean she's void of plans and/or isn't occupied during the time you are at work. I mean, remember that really annoying co-worker who constantly hangs out by your desk and doesn't allow you to get anything done? One child is like ten of those co-workers. Throw more than one kid into the mix and things can real, real fast.
"The House Is A Mess"
Duh. There have been 2+ people in it all day and at least one of them has no real concept of tidiness and even less investment in keeping things clean. Also, speaking from personal experience here, there are days when I clean the same room, no joke, three times and it's still a complete disaster area by the time my husband gets home. Children, while adorable, are basically nothing more than extremely expensive sticks of dynamite.
Well if you'd like to divide a family up into a,"who does what to enable all of us to live a particular way" dynamic, then fine, let's play this game. Your children need to be cared for while you go to work. So go ahead and give me half of what you would pay for daycare (we'll assume my labor constitutes my half). Additionally, I will need payment for the cooking, cleaning, and special projects such as errands, driving the kids around, scheduling their doctors appointments and unforeseeable circumstances. If we own a pet, you also have the additional expense of pet-watching. In other words, it's not smart to play the money game because, well, you can't afford a SAHM.
"I'm Not Doing That, That's Your Job"
... and also your job. Because guess what? You're a parent now, and any parent has a 24/7 job. A stay-at-home mom' job is 24/7 all in one place (at home) doing the same thing that whole time (caring for the children and house). If you are a working parent, your time is split between your outside-of-the-home job, that provides money for your home, and your job at home; caring for your children and house. SAHMs are not asking you to do anything they are not also doing. Buckle in, buddy, because you and your partner are both working doubles for a long time.
"Well, I'VE Been Working All Day"
And I've been... what? No, really. What do you think I've been doing? Wait. I'm going to get popcorn because this is going to be good (also because I haven't been able to go to the movies for about two years and this is as close as I'm going to get).
"Must Be Nice..."
Sure. There are aspects of being a SAHM that are nice. Like, sometimes the kids play in the backyard and I really like watching them; Sometimes we get a really fun arts and crafts project going; Sometimes, though very rarely, both of them nap at the same time and I can actually read with a cup of tea. But ther are other aspects of being a stay-at-home mom that are hard as hell. Certain parts of your job sound pretty damn nice, too, dude. Lunch breaks, surprise donuts in the break room, opportunities to go online uninterrupted for a little while. Would it be fair of me to assume your job is easy or "nice," based exclusively on the nice little breaks and perks you get? No. That would be ignoring a lot of your responsibilities. Same goes with SAHMs.
"I Don't Understand Why You're Saying You Can't Run This Errand For Me"
Again, it's not like I sit around all day begging for tasks. I've got plenty. I may even have plans and running to the store for you and picking up your dry cleaning just might not be in the cards. Also, have you ever tried running errands with a kid (or kids) in tow? It takes at least twice as long.
"Can't You Get Dressed Once In A While"
You will pry my yoga pants out of my cold, dead butt. Move along and never, ever suggest this again.
"It's Not Like What You Do Is All That Hard"
Oh honey. Shhh. No.
Being a SAHM is hard in ways that a lot of people can't really conceive, because there's not much you can compare it to. That's not to say working a job outside of the home and coming home to children isn't hard, too. It is! I've done it and I know. It's draining. However, being a SAHM is also draining and exhausting and isolating and emotionally taxing, and being second guessed or gaslighted on these truths isn't helping matters.
So the next time you question what a SAHM does or why she doesn't do more or start to the think the work she does has no value; stop, pause, and talk to her like a grown-ass man so you can learn more about her world. Chances are, she hasn't had an adult conversation all day and would be more than happy to chat.