It happened all the time. Everyone told me how lucky I was to be able to stay home with my kids — family members, friends who also had kids but worked full-time, pretty much anyone who had never been a stay-at-home mom felt the need to inform me that I was “lucky” and I was doing “the right thing.”
The problem with telling a stay-at-home parent he or she is lucky is that it is patronizing, condescending, and it’s not true.
It’s also one of those things that’s so easy to say, people don’t understand why it would be offensive. In that way, “you’re lucky” is kind of like, “everything happens for a reason.”
Luck is something that happens to you, not something in which you take an active role.
Being born beautiful is lucky. Winning the lottery is lucky.
Luck is not a choice and it usually doesn’t involve sacrifice.
People whose partners earn enough to pay the bills without their income become stay-at-home parents because they made a conscious choice to do what they thought was best for their families, even though in many cases, it wasn’t the easiest thing for them.
People who stay home because their jobs didn’t pay enough to cover a babysitter or daycare still sacrificed what income they did have, whether or not it felt like a choice. Even a minimum-wage job covers certain expenses, gives you an identity, and usually involves a social aspect more crucial to your mental well-being than you realize until you don’t have it anymore.
I say “people” rather than “women” who stay home because there are a good many stay-at-home dads, though I believe women are much more likely to stay home because their jobs don’t pay typically pay as much as men, even when they are assuming the same role with similar (or more) experience.
According to an article from the Pew Research Center, 4-7% of dads stayed home with kids in 2016, while 27% of mothers did.
I can’t tell you how many people gave me their blessing to stay home with my kids because, well, they didn’t think my job paid enough or was important enough to justify the expense and hassle of daycare.
I was a newspaper reporter.
When I spoke with a woman who ran a daycare facility known for providing quality care to infants and toddlers, she asked me what I did for a living and questioned whether I made enough to bother adding my son’s name to her waiting list. Male colleagues with similar incomes didn’t have experiences like that.
Why? Because it’s insulting. I suspect it was also because, as fathers, they were not tasked with making childcare arrangements at all. Their wives did that.
It’s been said before, but bears repeating, staying home with small children is hard. At times it feels like an experiment in psychological torture. You’re sleep-deprived and spend your whole day cleaning up after people who may be cute, but also cry, fight, and poop way more than any of your coworkers ever did.
It’s kind of like being quarantined. When you’re a stay-at-home parent, there are a few places you can go, but half the time you don’t because it’s too much work.
But I do have some good news for stay-at-home parents of small children: It gets easier.
When my son was about three months old, I remember another mother looking deep into my eyes, asking, “How are you doing?”
“It never gets any easier,” she told me as her sons, who were about seven and ten, played ball.
But that has not been my experience.
My kids are now 11 and 14. Since we’ve been quarantined for coronavirus, my biggest challenge is getting them off their devices long enough to take a walk with me.
I get lonely and bored and I look to my kids for conversation. And they’re pretty good company. I still don’t get enough sleep and I haven’t written the great American novel, but it’s no longer because my kids require constant care and supervision.
Truly, being quarantined with tweens is easier than being a stay-at-home parent to toddlers.
My thoughts are with parents quarantined at home with very young children. I cry for you every time I walk or drive past a playground that’s been taped off so kids can’t use it.
It will get easier. It will get better.
And I am not going to tell you you’re lucky.
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