All parents face challenges. Whether you're a young mom struggling to fit in with your kid-free peers, or you're one of a growing number of stay-at-home dads, or you're a working mom figuring out how to balance work and kids, you know that no matter your circumstances, this business of being responsible for a small (and disastrously naive) human (or humans, bless your heart) is going to test your patience, your limits, and your soul.
After the birth of my second child, I left my office job to become a stay-at-home parent. There's a lot I love about my new gig, but a lot of it is thankless in ways that I don't think I would have been able to relate to before I actually did it myself. Because, yeah, before I had kids, no one threw me a parade every time I cooked dinner. When I worked in an office, I didn't have medals pinned on my blazer for every report I submitted on time. But in both of the aforementioned instances, there was some hope of being thanked for a particularly delicious meal that I was not required to create or an email from the CEO telling me how great the latest proposal looked. Being a SAHP means you're constantly and exclusively doing a series of tasks that are so basic to everyday existence that it doesn't strike anyone to thank you for it. The line between what you "do" and what you "are" is blurry and that can be confusing or even deflating.
Obviously I'm not the first person in history to point this out: The hard work of stay-at-home parents is touted on many a Facebook graphic in overwrought language that makes it seem like SAHM stands for "stay-at-home martyr," which is how all of us feel in very isolated moments, but is pretty much not how any of us feel all the time or in general. Still, I would like to point out just a few of the things (of varying degrees of severity) that stay-at-home parents are rarely, if ever, thanked for — but definitely should be.
Children are grody as hell. Between body functions and the weird sh*t they do with food, there's virtually no hope for a SAHM to get through a day without having at least one or two really good smears of some foreign substance on them. But no one ever says, "Thank you for willing to be covered in schmutz to keep those kids safe and happy."
Ever try to clean a house with a child in it? It's like sweeping in a hurricane... especially if the hurricane hit a Goldfish cracker factory. But here's the conundrum: If we don't try, at the end of the day our house is going to look like the big junk heap Sarah lands in after that ballroom sequence in Labyrinth. This means one of two things: 1) the entirety of our "after the kid goes to bed" hours will be spent cleaning, or 2) we live in squalor for the next 18 or so years. So... sweep in the hurricane it is.
This dog is the best representation of my fashion soul I can conjure right now. Haphazard. Confused. Awkward. Desperately trying to get by. This dog gets me in ways my husband, parents, brothers and sister, and best friends never could and never will.
Go on all you want about how stay-at-home moms don't have to have bad wardrobes, but the truth of the matter is that no stay-at-home parent's wardrobe is going to improve once they start spending 80-95% of their waking hours in the company of their children. I'm not saying you have to dress like you crawled out of a dumpster or anything, but you're probably not going to dress as nicely as you did before you had children. Whether that means you have a closet full of beautiful office apparel languishing in your closet (because when the hell is it feasible to wear a pencil skirt anymore) or that you've moved from jeans to yoga pants for practical purposes, things are more than likely to be a bit... less stellar.
As a former clothing fiend and fashion-lover, trust me when I say that this is a blow to my damn soul, and no one has ever thanked me for it.
My son has loved Curious George since before he was 2. He is currently 4. I have seen every one of that mischievous monkey's hijinks at least 20 times each. There are 108 episodes. I watch the Halloween special from July through October and the Christmas special from November through March. April, May, and June are spent watching Curious George Swings Into Spring. Repeat this same general process with Sesame Street, Wild Kratts, My Little Pony, and all the Tinkerbell movies. Why don't I just introduce him to a wider variety of shows? 1) You don't know how kids work, do you? They thrive on repetition and would choose the same thing over and over anyway, and 2) Watching "Curious George Sinks The Pirates" for the 45th time is still better than watching 1 episode of Barney or Paw Patrol or a whole bunch of other shows out there. I know what I'm doing. I've picked my poison.
Not only does opting out of the workforce for however long we're doing it have an effect on our likelihood to be hired later on, but working outside of the home can be a tremendous source of satisfaction for a lot of us. That's not to say we regret our decision to "lean out" or that we don't enjoy staying home with our children...but it's a sacrifice, though it's rarely perceived as such. More often than not, we're told how lucky we are that we get to stay home. Well, sure, but it's usually much more complicated than that.
Whether we have to attend to a child as our lunch gets cold and stale or we are required to get our children seconds before we've had even two forkfuls of our meal, stay-at-home parents are guaranteed a life of hunger and disappointment in the food department. Working parents at least have the possibility (usually) of a lunch or dinner break during their shift away from home. Us? Not so much. Pretty much all our meals are eaten in the company of our children, which, in addition to the aforementioned issues, usually means we have to "share." Of course it's only ever "sharing" when they want what you have. They're Karl Marx when you have something they want. If you want a bite of their pizza all of a sudden they're oligarchs.
Many of us have just given up and eat whatever our kids leave behind: PB&J crusts, half-eaten baby carrots, a slightly chewed banana, residual yogurt clinging to the side of the container. Fortunately for us, children are wasteful and will inevitably ask for at least four things they have no intention of actually consuming. Our meals are unsatisfying, but at least we won't starve.
All parents are susceptible to this terrible affliction, but there can be no doubt that SAHPs receive this wounds at higher rates than working parents since we are in the house most of the time. We get the Legos jammed through our feet so you don't have to.
If something for the good of the family or household needs to be done at the DMV, or the bank, or the mechanic, or the kids need to go to the doctor or dentist, this will automatically fall on the stay-at-home parent. It makes sense, of course: SAHPs are not tied to particular schedules whereas working parents would have to take time off to run said errand, but jeez Louise, it's still super annoying. The DMV is annoying enough in and of itself, but managing DMV wait times with small children? That's an even deeper ring of hell.
"Oh, that won't be a problem. My partner will be home, won't you honey?"
Wait, remember how I was just discussing all those annoying errands that need to be run and I'm the only one able to do them? (And those are on top of the usual errands, like shopping, picking the kids up from school, going to the laundromat, etc.) Now you want me to just sit around the apartment all day waiting for someone who, let's face it, may well call 15 minutes past their scheduled window to tell me they'll be there between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. the next day? And let's forget about the errands for a second: you want me to keep these crazed children inside all damn day? No park? No outing? Nada?
You know what? Fine. Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnnneeeeeee.
Your youngest is napping and your preschooler is quietly occupied with a coloring book. You're all excited to enjoy a nice hot cuppa when suddenly the baby starts crying. Then your preschooler needs help cleaning up a bottle of shampoo that "accidentally" spilled all over the bathroom floor. Then your baby starts crying again. When you finally get down to your tea, it's tepid at best. Such a minor thing, but so very, very demoralizing.
It. Just. Never Ends. And when it does? Well that's when it's time to start over again. Repeat this cycle for the rest of your godforsaken life.
Even though we desperately want to.
For two reasons.
Everyone has their problems, and stay-at-home parents probably don't have more than most, but everyone is entitled to their complaints. So, if you get around to it, go ahead and thank a SAHP, if for nothing else than that you'll want someone with laser vision on your side at some point.