My husband and I fully recognize that our arrangement at home is less than traditional. We live tiny, we homeschool our son with behavior disorders, and I — the mom — work outside of the home. In our house (read: camper), my husband is a stay-at-home dad and he rocks it.
I am motivated by communication and interaction with others. I am passionate, and I have a big and loud personality while my husband is kind, caring, (usually) patient, and incredibly gifted at everything outdoors. With him at home, our little people might eat more food out of a package and I may come home to more of a mess, but I know that our kids were eating that bag of mini pretzels while riding bikes, climbing trees, and learning about flowers, leaves, and bugs while on a hike with their dad.
My desire to pen this letter comes from both an intense love and admiration for parents whose jobs are at home raising the next generation of tiny humans as well as an undeniable urge to give voice to those of us who sneak out with our breakfasts and briefcases (or hard hats, or tool boxes) before those bedheads rise and go do our 40-plus hours to ensure that our babes get the best care possible — from you!
Dear Stay-at-Home Parent:
Your job is hard. I mean it is hour-after-hour, day-after-day of unforgiving, relentless need fulfillment. You are not only tasked with keeping the miniature people alive by feeding them and making sure they are somewhat clean and disease-free, but many of you are simultaneously teaching them. And you are doing all of this under the pressure to measure up to glittery, Pinterest-perfect moms (and dads) who seem to never miss a school event or celebration.
This is the battlefield, and you are on the frontlines. We salute you.
Those of us who leave the trenches with the sunrise to drive into town and answer calls, attend meetings, lead classrooms, or run machinery never want to downplay your survival skills. You should wear your “Stay-at-Home Parent” badge with honor.
However, if we are being honest — I mean really, deep down, uncomfortably transparent — there are some things we wish you knew. Keep in mind that I am a mom working outside the home, but it should be noted that I also have many friends who are dads working outside the home, and these are our collective thoughts.
So, stay-at-home moms (and dads), go heat up the coffee you poured yourself 12 hours ago and were distracted from drinking while it was hot, change into your “good” sweatpants, and get comfy. I hope these truths will resonate with each of you.
1. We miss you.
I mean, we genuinely, sincerely miss you while we are at work. While you are wiping snotty noses, kissing boo-boos, and having to play tea party for the fourth time that day, we are doing our best to keep our eyes open while the board of directors drones on and on. All we can think about is coming home to your smile and those grubby little hands that will hug us and wipe some questionable stickiness on the collar that you likely cleaned for us.
We look forward to hearing our overwhelmingly excited 6-year-old tell us what he learned about outer space from you today and how you built a moon rover out of Legos, all while we eat a dinner that you (with or without our help) lovingly cooked (or ordered out because cooking is exhausting).
We have been thinking about coming home to a house full of your laughter (or crying or yelling — because anything is better than listening to Nancy tell me about her cats and their medical conditions one more time) since we left the office. You guys are the center of our universe, and that is what we think about whenever our brains are allowed to wander outside of our lesson plans or driving routes or computer codes during our shift.
2. We wouldn’t do this if we didn’t have to do it.
Many of us live each month with a mental countdown clock to the next long weekend or family vacation because we don’t want to be crunching numbers or designing buildings as much as we want to be watching Moana for the 146th time or having dance parties in the kitchen. Even those of us who sincerely love our work would still rather be hanging with you.
Please know that your simple text or silly picture in the middle of the day is what keeps us going through the workday. It is the reminder we need to keep trudging along because you are why we’re there in the first place. We cherish those little surprises.
3. You look incredible.
Seriously, whoever these 1950s “women should be in the kitchen” soapbox speakers are who volunteer their unwanted commentary on how stay-at-home (usually) moms should wear makeup or fix their hair before their husband comes home so he can remember why he fell in love with her obviously weren’t married to you!
You look awesome, and we love you. Seriously. The yoga pants (or gym shorts) look great. Besides, who doesn’t want to be comfortable when they are chasing a 1-year-old to the park and back? To us, that Cheerio we just lovingly pulled from your hair is a sign that our kids were well-fed today, and we hope you were too.
It is important to have quality time with our partner, whether that looks like date nights on the town or binge-watching Netflix in our pajamas. So if you are the dressed-up type, by all means, dress up for that type of thing. But please don’t feel obligated to reapply lip gloss or spend time changing into skinny jeans before 5 p.m. unless it makes you feel better.
4. You are rockstars, and we are your biggest fans.
Seriously. There were days on maternity leave when I would meet my husband at the door as soon as he would come home from work. I would say nothing, just hand him the baby. I felt like I was good for nothing but feeding, changing, clothing, and cleaning up — like I was somehow less than an actual human.
It’s hard not to lose your identity when you are momming (or dadding) so hard all day. Many of you are up with kids all hours of the night and yet somehow manage to pack lunches, drive carpool, make it to appointments, and no one dies. How do you do it!? Seriously, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies could take notes from some of you stay-at-home parenting wizards.
We brag about you as often as our office friends will let us. You should see the faces of other women when I tell them that my husband stays at home with our kids and homeschools our son. It makes us feel like the groupie who got invited to the afterparty when we get to tell a story about the super-creative art project you did with our son or the killer way you save us so much dough at the grocery with your couponing skills.
Bonus points here to stay-at-home parents who parent children with disabilities or extreme behaviors. Staying home with our son is a roll of the dice every day. You don’t know if he will wake up Prince Charming or the Hulk. Regardless, you were chosen for your specific parenting duties for a reason, so consider yourself a professional — an expert in your field. As you manage meltdowns, change feeding tubes, or distribute meds, we are thinking of you and cheering you on.
5. We try to speak your language.
We know that you’ve had a long day, because….kids. If you were unable to escape the confines of the house, you haven’t had a conversation more adult than quoting Disney classics or trying to decipher your 1-year-old’s nods and grunts. We feel honored that you want to tell us about your day and brag on the kids’ accomplishments from the day or trust us enough to unload the ways they might have fallen short.
No need to tell us you are fine if you aren’t fine. We care about the fact that our boy skinned his knee riding his bike, but he almost has the no-training-wheels thing down to a science. We want to see how our daughter lined up all of her stuffed animals by color because she is so proud of herself. But we also want to know that you had to peel her off of the germ-covered floor in Target because she had a meltdown after dropping the popcorn that you only bought her so she might let you shop the dollar bins in peace for five minutes. We’re here for you. We are on your team.
Side note: Fellas, if you are reading this and your wife stays at home, you should be making your best effort to speak her language. If not, get a book about it or call me. I will personally help you stop acting like a Neanderthal. She needs you on this one.
6. We need you to speak our language too.
After you tell us about your day, or as we are interrupted while you attempt to tell us because our 4-year-old is staaarrrviiinnng and just can’t wait five more minutes, we need to take a breath.
It is hard to transition from our work mindset to playing with the kids. For some, it is almost impossible to compartmentalize our job stress when we are bombarded before we get out of our car with how that jerk had the nerve to cut you off in the Kroger parking lot and stole the last space in the Mothers With Small Children section.
We aren’t diminishing your feelings or trying to put you on hold. I promise that every detail of what you have had to deal with today is meaningful to us. Just try to remember that we are shifting major gears here and might need a minute to pump the breaks (and occasionally just flat-out need one of those emergency runaway truck ramps).
I’ll admit that sometimes when my husband would go off to work in those later days of my maternity leave, I was a little jealous. It seemed like he got to go on some glamorous day trip to a land of adults where intelligent conversation and hot coffee actually existed.
Now that I am the one out of the house all day, I see the look of desperation on his face some days when I get home. I know what that look means, and I know that he needs me to listen — to really hear him. But he gets me too.
Starting this new job hasn’t been much of what I had expected. As a borderline neurotic Type-A personality, I need to be prepared and feel like I am ready for anything. The last three days I have come home so mentally exhausted that it was all I could do to smile, squeeze my kids, and attempt to emphatically respond to the endless stories of how much fun they had exploring our new city. All I could think of is how much I wanted to just crawl into bed and pretend the day hadn’t happened. I needed a do-over.
We all need do-overs some days. What will get us from one redo to the next is the ability to rely on each other, to be transparent, and to help to pick each other up when we were knocked down by a bad meeting, a or that time our kid told the lady in the grocery line in front of us that he just farted.
This is real life, and it is messy. We need each other.
So stay-at-home moms and dads, keep killing it. You are some of the strongest people alive. We are here to support you. If you can, do your best to dust us off once in a while, too, because we miss you and we need you. We really do.