I was a full-time stay-at-home mom for about ten years. I’m still kind of a stay-at-home mom because I work from home, around my kids’ schedules. But my kids are school-aged now, and there are at least six blissful hours a day – plus a few hours in the evening when my husband takes over for me to finish up work – that they are out of my hair.
While I don’t consider myself a full-time SAHM anymore, I sure remember what it was like. I don’t regret the years I was my kids’ everything, but I can’t say it was easy. I was exhausted already from dealing with babies and toddlers who didn’t sleep. And while I loved those moments of closeness and connection, my memory is of a life revolving around naptimes, sippy cups, endless snacks, quelling tantrums – and doing it all with very few breaks and little outside support.
Again, I have some lovely memories of those years, and I can’t honestly say I’d want to do it any other way, but I pretty much met the stereotype of a disheveled, unshowered, exhausted, under-appreciated SAHM whose house was covered end to end in Cheerios and Legos. And sometimes I found the whole thing downright depressing.
That’s why I’ve been sort of taken aback the past few summers as I’ve watched my husband do the stay-at-home-parent thing, because it all seems to come much easier for him than it ever was for me.
My husband is a teacher, and while for many years he worked at camps and summer schools during the summer when I stayed home with the kids, for the past few summers, I have been the one working, and he’s been the one in charge. Granted, it’s just for a couple months, and our kids are older and SLEEP now, but it’s still a lot for him to do.
This time around, we haven’t even enrolled our kids in many outside activities, so it’s all him. We’re calling it “Daddy Day Camp,” and my husband is spending his day motivating our kids to get off their screens, planning and implementing fun activities for them each day, feeding them constantly – all while keeping up with the basic daily chores around the house.
He’s doing a fantastic job and I feel lucky to be able to wake up and get to work without worrying about the house or the kids. My husband has slipped into the role of stay-at-home parent rather seamlessly … but that’s where things have gotten weird for me.
I see his enthusiasm – the way he eagerly waits to tell me what adventures he and the kids had that day, or the way he seems to come up with an amazingly fun thing for them to do each and every day – and I think to myself, “Why is this so much fun for him?”
My memories of having to think of fun things to do with my kids each day felt like chores – like work. And while there were certainly days when I would come home and tell my husband about some cool thing we did, most days I was just counting down the hours until bedtime.
I find myself asking what I was doing wrong, but I also keep thinking about how even though I was “good” at being a stay-at-home mom – I kept the kids mostly happy and the house in order – I just didn’t enjoy it as much as he did. Then I’ve started to wonder if I was a worse parent or just a bad person …
Just typing these words out now I see how ridiculous they are. The mom-guilt truly never ends, does it? I also see how my years as a stay-at-home mom were actually profoundly different than my husband’s summers as “Daddy Day Camp” coordinator.
First of all, I did it for years, not just a summer, and I think the accumulation can really wear on you. And also, my husband worked outside the home and didn’t have an extra person around to hold down the fort while he was on the toilet or out to run an errand like he does now with me working from home.
But I also think that maybe I am misremembering things to some extent, because when I brought all this up with my husband the other day, he didn’t really know what I was talking about.
“You were the most amazing stay-at-home mom ever,” he said. “You offered our kids a supported and loving start to their young lives, and you always did it with much more patience than I’ve ever had.”
It’s funny how those kind of things work, isn’t it? He saw it totally different than I did, bless his heart.
I think maybe the bottom line is that the difference between my husband and me – besides the sheer fact of how many years I did it and how much younger my kids were, both of which are huge factors here – is not necessarily that my husband is a “better” stay-at-home parent than I was. I think it’s that he doesn’t put as much pressure on himself to be perfect, or even to enjoy it. He doesn’t analyze his every move wondering if he’s a “good” or “bad” parent. He goes with the flow more than I ever did. “Good enough” really is all it takes for him to feel successful as parent.
Of course, if he were doing this every single damn day for years, that might have changed. But I think it’s an important lesson for us all, and one I could have used when I was deep in the throes of stay-at-home momming.
I also think it points to the fact that there is a lot less pressure on dads to be “good” at parenting, because just showing up gets them a lot of accolades. I can’t tell you how often my husband comes home from an outing reporting praise from strangers that I never get. And even if it comes from outside sources, we tend to internalize what we hear, so maybe that’s another factor that keeping my husband so damn happy.
In any case, this is probably a good time for me to remind myself – and you, too, if you need to hear it – that I really am a great mom, even if I don’t always see it, and even if many days have felt long and tedious and endless. What kids need most is a parent who shows up each day, and who cares deeply about their kids. Even if I’m not perfect, I’m definitely all those things. And maybe that’s good enough.