Before I had kids, I wasn’t a huge fan of spending time alone. I liked being around others, and particularly hated it when my husband would ruin my life by going away for business, leaving me at home by myself (save for my dogs, who were basically people as far as I was concerned anyway, so I guess that doesn’t even count). I rarely needed time to be completely on my own and just assumed that was who I was as a person, and who I would always be.
Fast forward a couple years, and the idea of having time alone has become something I dream about. A solo vacation maybe, or just having some space somewhere that is JUST-MINE-NO-ONE-ELSE’S. I still enjoy my husband’s company more than anyone’s, but these days, the most romantic thing he could do for me would be to send me off somewhere for a night of solitude – a fluffy king-sized bed, a soaker tub, room service, a little Netflix.
The thing is, I really love being home with my kids. If I had to work outside the home full-time, I’d be pretty devastated. But as a person who is responsible for keeping two small, daredevil humans alive – two humans who, I might add, can do practically nothing for themselves – I find myself craving opportunities to just not be quite so needed all of the time.
I used to hear mothers say things like this and think, “but you CHOSE this!” Why would you complain about having to take care of your children when it’s what you wanted to do? We talk about stay-at-home parenting as though it’s little more than a frivolous luxury, something that’s not ACTUALLY necessary, something that really could be done by a nanny or a daycare provider and it would pretty much be the same thing. We might talk about motherhood being the “world’s toughest job,” but rarely is it considered to be the world’s most valuable.
But the thing about being a stay-at-home parent is that it goes beyond just basic childcare. Being a stay-at-home parent requires a shift in the way you view yourself, the way your partner views you, the way in which your entire family functions. You have to think at all times about your children’s well-being along with your own: their needs, their wants, the big picture and the tiny details simultaneously. While your partner is focused on providing, you have to focus on holding other people’s hearts in your hands and not dropping them, like a race with eggs on spoons. There is no coffee break, no punching out. There is no off switch.
I don’t at all think that being a stay-at-home parent is more important than being a working parent, and I don’t at all think that the parent who shoulders the bulk of the childcare is any more or less valuable than the one who makes sure the bills are paid. Every person/parent/family has their own arrangement that works best, and that’s the way it should be. But I do know now that the one thing a stay-at-home parent has to sacrifice more than anything else is the basic need to be alone sometimes. And that’s why no matter how privileged we may be to get the chance to be full-time parents, we’re still going to dream about taking a break. (Preferably in an empty bed we don’t have to share and/or make the next morning.)