Every weekday, all day, I parent small children. I wipe faces. I wipe butts. I fetch drinks and meals. I read aloud. I chauffeur people to various activities. We do school, and all it involves reading and writing and coercing children to write, math on the computer and intricate science experiments. I give hugs. I keep them from hitting each other. I arbitrate disputes about Legos and bug toys and wooden spoons. Sometimes I hide in the bathroom. Someone always finds me. I eat children’s leftovers for lunch. And this in between letting the dogs in and out, in and out, in and out.
And at 4:30 p.m., my husband comes home. We put on the TV and lay flat-out on the bed. Then he parents. He cooks dinner. He also wipes faces and butts and stops people from hitting each other. I may go-go-go all day. I may get tired. I may be ready to give up.
But I’m not a single parent.
I wake up slowly, whenever the kids wake up. I don’t have to drag my kids out of bed at 6 a.m. because they have to be at day care at 7:30 because I have to be at work at 8:00. I don’t work out of the home all day at a job I might hate — at least, my single-parent dad friend hates his, in part because he’d rather be home with his kids. I don’t have to race out of work so I miss traffic and hence miss day care late fees. Then, when it’s all over, I don’t have to meet all the needs of my children and household entirely alone. I am in awe of single parents.
There’s a lot of talk about the mommy wars, about stay-at-home moms versus work-out-of-home moms (which should really be “parents” because plenty of dads have a stake in this stuff too). There’s a sense that we’re against each other somehow, that we disagree with each other’s choices, and that we’re judging one another for our different situations.
Honey, I don’t judge you. I applaud you. Really, truly.
I don’t know how you parent without a partner. I bitch mightily when my husband leaves for the weekend, and though we do okay, it’s nowhere near the same as working and parenting all at the same time. I don’t know how you parent without the chance for a break. Without that sure knowledge that no matter how bad it gets, someone else is coming to relieve you. That if it really sucks, you can take a nap or a drive or something. That if you get sick, you can stay in bed and moan while someone else takes on the daily tasks. I take these things for granted.
The rumors state that stay-at-home moms deplore day care. I couldn’t care less. I know it’s a necessity on your part. You have to put the kids in day care, because where else are they going to go? You do your best to find a good place, a good fit, with people who care about your kids, and that’s all you can do. It’s a lot. It’s a tall order. I can’t imagine the trouble of finding a good place for your kids, and I can’t imagine what a giant pain in the ass it is when they close down, say, between Christmas and New Year’s, and you’re forced to find childcare on the spot for an entire week while maintaining a tight budget.
And I can’t imagine a long day’s work, coming home, and doing it all over again without any help — without any respite. Suddenly there’s the face-wiping. The cooking. The lunch packing. The cleaning the whole house, because who else do you have to help you clean? Not to mention the laundry. You do all the laundry: wash, dry, sort, fold, insert into drawers. I complain and get stalled at drying.
You don’t have that luxury. You lay out your clothes; you lay out the kids’ clothes. You are the sole keeper of socks. You make sure they have enough clean underwear. It’s those little details, the making sure you have enough ketchup, that everyone’s shoes fit properly, the times you realize you need to buy more bread, and it’s 8 p.m. and you have to load up everyone and go so they can have lunches tomorrow. These are the moments of heroes. The real MVPs.
All this, and you keep your kids full of food, feeling loved, educated, and taken care of. I have help and support with all of these things, and I still feel overwhelmed, exhausted, burnt-out. You likely feel this way too, because that’s the reality of parenting, but you can’t tap out. You keep going.
So let’s put down the truncheons of the mommy wars. Let’s stop bitching about formula or breastfeeding or day care or preschool. We are all rolling our eyes because we are so burnt-out over these internet bitch-fests anyway, am I right? Let’s stop castigating mamas and daddies who may miss a birthday party or a sporting event. Many of us don’t know this struggle. I don’t know this struggle. But I can look at your happy, healthy kids, and I know that you’re my hero.