During one of our recent girls’ weekends, one of my girlfriends, a stay-at-home mom, shared that her (mostly) teenage kids made their own breakfast. I would say she confessed, but that would imply she had any level of regret or shame about this — and she did not.
This fact became a topic of conversation for the rest of the weekend, with very polarizing opinions about how she chooses to run the morning routine at her house. More than one of our friends was horrified: How could she not make her children breakfast? (gasp) And it’s not like she was even rushing to get herself out the door. (gasp again) What was she doing while they were making their breakfast (answer: she’s reading the paper or checking her email).
I wondered why we had been being so judgmental of her. We have all been friends for over 30 years. We know she’s a good mom, raising great kids. And she has solid reasons for this decision. She wants to teach her kids independence and self-sufficiency; she wants to raise kids who are strong and not entitled. Like many of us, they feel fortunate for what they are able to provide their children and don’t want them to be spoiled. Besides, why can’t they pour their own cereal or make their own scrambled eggs? These are tasks they are capable of doing, right? Yet she was still judged, especially since she stays home with them. Wasn’t that her job?
My kids are 6, 8, and 9, and I also put them to work. They tidy up their rooms, clear the table of their dirty dishes, and put away their own laundry (albeit very sloppily). Basically, I give them chores so they understand they are contributing members of our household. So I wasn’t one of those who was appalled.
But if I’m being totally honest, I have far too often judged other stay-at-home mom friends in the past. I can remember many a girls’ night out, listening to them “complain” about how “rough” their lives were. Grumbling about how they were constantly driving their kids everywhere, how they had to juggle it all — homework, sports, activities, blah, blah, blah.
At that point during the night, my eyes would start to glaze over, as I would think self-righteously, “I do all that, and I work full-time. What do you have to whine about? So you’re in the car a lot. I am too. I am taking conference calls on my way into work and on my way home, so that I can make it to my daughter’s soccer game or my son’s hockey practice. You’re not the only one who is carting their kids all over the place!”
I would (usually) bitterly think all of us moms have the same responsibilities — doing laundry, making dinner, helping with homework, wrangling kids into the bathtub, the list goes on and on. But I also had another job on top of that, which required a minimum of 50 hours of my time per week. How could they think they had it harder when they had only one job, when those of us worked outside the house, effectively had two?
And then it happened: I became “one of them.” I too am a stay-at-home mom.
A few months ago, I stopped working for health reasons. I am now home all day, every day with no kids around for most of the day. From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., it’s just me and the dog. And much to my own surprise, she and I find lots of ways to pass the time.
To those friends I secretly rolled my eyes at: I get it now. And I am sorry. There is plenty to do all day. Granted my situation is slightly different than the average stay-at-home mom. My primary job is to focus on my health. But like many of my newest peer set, the hours of my day fly by in a haze of doing laundry, cleaning up, scheduling doctor’s appointments, helping out at school — the list really does go on and on.
I often try to remember how I did all of this when I was working full-time, and it’s a bit of a blur. I know that I did it, only I can’t remember how. And now I can’t imagine it any other way.
I’ve come to realize being “just a stay-at-home mom” has been both the most exhausting and rewarding aspect of parenting so far (I say this knowing the teenage years are right around the corner…). I get to put my kids on the bus every morning and be there as they leap off the bus at end of the day. I get to be the one who can tell by the swing of the backpack if it’s been a good day or a bad day.
My new job description states I am the homework police, snack dispenser, and taxi driver. I would, however, like to debunk some of the usual myths (mostly perpetuated by my own children) about stay-at-home moms. Believe it or not, I do not watch Netflix on their iPads all day (in a nasty plot to drain their batteries), nor do I sleep all day. And I’m pretty sure they don’t even make bonbons anymore.
I am lucky — I’ve had it all. And by “having it all,” I mean the opportunity to have a career I loved as well as this time to be home with my kids. I am grateful to be able to focus on my health and be with my family more. However, none of this changes the fact that I still miss my career and doing work I love. That I still wish there were days I had to get dressed up for work (though I must admit yoga pants are pretty comfy, even if not quite a legitimate fashion choice). That I don’t long just a teeny bit for those days when I was worrying about balancing it all.
What I’ve found is whether I am working or staying at home, I am still a highly imperfect mom. Some days I kill it. Just the other day, the sun peeked through our usually dreary winter weather, and the kids played happily outside for hours (no devices), I pre-cut veggies they noshed on for a snack (no Cheese Doodles or Oreos today, my friends!) and bedtime was a breeze, filled with lots of snuggling and even a few books — and I didn’t yell once all day. Yeah, that’s right. All damn day.
And then, there was the next day. My youngest got off the bus crying over some perceived kindergarten slight. The veggies had all been eaten the day before so they broke into the snack drawer almost immediately (hey, Oreos can be quite soothing when someone didn’t share their crayons with you!). They reached for devices almost the minute homework was over (probably before if I’m being honest, but even I have some rules!). And that non-yelling streak? Lasted just that one day. Oh, and despite me being the one home with her every day now, my older daughter informed me that “Daddy is the nice one.”
I’ve now been in both roles and I can honestly say, whether you spend your day working out of the house or driving around in your car, we are all just doing the best we can. I’m pretty sure most of us think we are screwing things up more than we ever imagined possible. So let’s stop assuming the grass is always greener. And let’s please, please stop judging each other.