Parent vs. Parent: Being a stay-home parent sucks

Filed under: Work Life

When my husband and I began talking about having children, I announced that OF COURSE I would stay home with them. And yes, you should hear me saying that in the most sanctimonious voice possible, because ten years ago, when we started down the road to having a baby, I was one of Those Women, the ones who couldn't possibly understand how anyone could leave their Preshus Baybee with a daycare provider.

Looking back, I would like to smack that much younger me. Or, perhaps more usefully, I would like to tell her what I've learned. I've been a stay-home parent for nearly seven years. Until I started writing for ParentDish, in February, I hadn't worked at all since May of 2000. And while I have no regrets about my choice, being a stay-home parent has quite honestly not been what I expected. Being home with my children has been rewarding, yes, but it has also been isolating and incredibly stressful. And I don't think I'm the only one who feels that way.

We live in a culture that romanticizes parenting in general, and particularly motherhood. Babies are soft and sweet and, if you believe all those baby shampoo commercials, always sleeping or cooing happily. Toddlers entertain themselves for hours on end, and when your kids get into school, why they will read! and do crafts! and play nicely in the yard without ever getting dirty or hurt! And of course, when they do get dirty or hurt, you, as the mom, will inevitably be patient and cheerful because what's another load of laundry when the kids are having fun?

Right.

What you don't see on TV is the baby who crawls away while you're changing the poopy diaper, or the toddler who uses the toilet brush to paint the bathroom wall, or the preschooler who draws a picture on the wall in his bedroom with a Sharpie he found on the desk. You don't see the days where one or another of the kids is crying at every turn, where no one naps and everyone has to be carried or held, where the only adult you get to talk to is the grocery store clerk who doesn't really care that your birthday is on Tuesday.

There are a lot of days like that.In general, I have a pretty great job here; after all, I play with kids all day. I enjoy hanging out with my sons, and I was particularly touched by Roger's admission that he wishes he had more time to play with Sara and Jared at the end of the day. But I do not have an endless supply of patience (who does, really?) and sometimes in the fourth hour of building Lego towers for the superhero action figures to jump off of, I start to think, gosh it would be nice to have a job, one where I got to talk to people about politics or books without pictures or the R rated movie I watched last weekend. Small children, even the brightest, most charming of them, have limited conversational skills, and it's a long day when you're playing pass-the-block with a two-year-old who only knows a few dozen words and mostly uses them to describe Elmo.

It's not only the kids who don't have much to say, though; when you're a stay-home parent, particularly of very small children, other adults don't really want to talk to you, either. I am still shocked by how the admission that I stay home with my kids could render me essentially invisible to other adults, but it was much worse when my children were babies. People would ask, "What do you do?" and when I would tell them, they would quite literally turn away, assuming that I had nothing interesting to say to them. Or worse, they would pat me on the arm and say, "Well isn't that wonderful," and THEN turn away. Or they would insistently chatter about diapers and Gymboree and birthday parties and schools, because they assumed that was all I was interested in.

These days, when people ask what I do, I say, "I work from home," and the conversation is entirely different. I get asked about what I'm reading and what movies I have seen and who I will vote for in the Presidential primaries. I'm still the same person (although probably less tired, now that everyone sleeps through the night) but that small change of status--working from home--changes how people see me.

It seems like a very dangerous thing to say that being a stay home parent is difficult. I am aware of how fortunate I am to have been able to stay home, without working, for so long; I feel fortunate now to be working in the minimal way I am, more for my own entertainment than out of any economic necessity. I know how few parents are able to do that, and I don't mean to belittle the opportunity I have here. But despite the fact that we tend to put stay-home parents on pedestals, there is nothing magical about being home. Being at home is isolating and frustrating. It is also incredibly rewarding and tremendously fun. What has been hardest for me is acknowledging the former at the same time that I relish the latter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.