Before I became a parent, I had all sorts of ideas about what parenting would be like. Now, nearly 10 years into this parenting gig, many of those ideas are laughable. Similarly, before I became a SAHM, I thought I knew what that would be like as well. Again, laughable.
Even while I was a SAHM to newborns and then toddlers and then preschoolers, laughing and crying at how ridiculous my assumptions had been about being a SAHM, I subconsciously (or maybe even consciously) carried assumptions, and maybe even a few judgments, about what being a SAHM with school-age children would be like. You know, the proverbial soap opera-watching and bonbon eating kind of assumptions that have been harbored since the beginning of time. Laughable, I tell you. Laughable.
“What do you do all day?” people ask in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I get it. We SAHMs are an enigmatic bunch to those who aren’t at-home parents. Even more perplexing are stay-at-home parents with kids in school. I mean, seriously, what could we possibly be doing all day between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. while other people are tending to our children?
Well, since you asked, I’ll tell you.
Some of us are racing home to our other job, the one that pays the bills (or some of the bills anyway). That woman you see walking her dog or gardening in the middle of the afternoon might actually be consulting with clients in between PTA meetings and playdates. She might turn on her computer at 8 o’clock at night after the kids are in bed, working until she falls asleep with her computer propped on her knees. She might return emails while waiting in the carpool line. She might write articles on her phone while her kids play at the park. She might be researching new vendors for her start-up company while waiting for her son to finish soccer practice.
Some of us are spending hours coordinating doctor’s appointments and dealing with insurance companies to get our kids’ medication or medical procedures covered. We’re meeting with teachers and behavior specialists. We’re washing and folding and putting away mountains of laundry. We’re making 17 trips to the grocery store so that we have enough snacks to feed the gaggle of kids who will come over after school for the playdates we host on the regular.
Some of us are escorting our aging parents to their own appointments or teaching them how to use their new iPhone. We’re driving 45 minutes round-trip to pick up the special orthopedic shoes our son needs. We’re volunteering at soup kitchens and in our kids’ school and at our church. We’re going to the store again. We’re listening to our sisters and girlfriends cry on the phone about marriage and children and how hard it all is. We’re planning family vacations and picking up dry cleaning. We’re coordinating fundraisers and advocating for change in our communities. We’re making another trip to the grocery store.
And yes, sometimes, when the work and the errands and the caretaking are done, we might do other things. When the conference calls are finished and the deadlines are met, we might meet a friend for lunch because we like to have adult conversations every once in a while. We might indulge in a pedicure so that our feet don’t look like gnarly lizard claws or get our hair colored because the stress of the past decade has brought on a case of the grays. We might dawdle for a few minutes in the bookstore looking for a juicy romance novel after we buy a new chapter book for our son. We might go to the gym and work up a sweat because endorphins make us less stabby and more tolerable around other humans. We might take a long, hot shower because after years — years, dammit! — of dry shampoo and showers that lasted approximately 2.4 minutes, we fucking deserve a long hot shower once in a while.
Yes, our children — those tiny humans who consumed so much time and energy over the past few years — are now in school for seven hours a day. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing anything, that we’re living a life of leisure, or that we are available at the drop of a hat every time they need volunteers to help at school. We are not doing nothing. We are doing things. Lots of things. Important things and trivial things. Hard things and easy things. Meaningful things and indulgent things.
My assumptions about being a SAHM were crushed pretty quickly after my first son was born, and now that my children are both in school, my assumptions and judgments about being a SAHM with school-age kids have been similarly shattered to pieces pretty quickly.
My day is filled with freelance assignments, emails with clients, and conference calls as I work to rebuild my career. I run errands that would have been nearly impossible with two rambunctious kids in tow. I am re-learning how to cook meals other than mac and cheese, frozen waffles, and dinosaur chicken nuggets. I’m volunteering more and taking the time to tend to relationships that drifted to the back burner during those years when I was functioning with a deficit of time and energy. And yes, I might even indulge myself from time to time, meeting a friend for lunch or getting a manicure or taking a long walk.
But contrary to popular belief, I am not doing nothing. And I am certainly not watching soaps and eating bonbons every day. Puh-lease.
It’s The View with a Kit Kat bar from the back of the freezer, thank you very much.