Stay-At-Home Vs. Working Parents: Why Neither Has It Easier

by Christie Megill
Jodi Jacobson / iStock

I woke up at 4 a.m. this morning to the grin of my fully awake infant, who prefers not to sleep for stretches exceeding two hours. Across the world, my husband is enjoying a lavish business lunch in an actual castle in Slovakia. I stay at home with two young children, and my husband works a full-time job. Awash in sleep-deprivation, screaming tantrums, and clinging neediness, I had been building up the belief that my husband was living the good life while I was held captive at home by two tiny, yet demanding, little creatures.

Not too long ago, I had been grumbling with a bit more vehemence to my husband and friends about the difficulties of motherhood. I hadn’t been particularly focused on taking care of myself or my needs, something nearly impossible to do with a newborn in the house. On one hand, I think it’s important to vent about the challenges of your life. On the other, with too much negativity, it’s easy to just become angry.

One morning as my husband was hurrying to leave the house for a Very Important Meeting(™), he stopped rushing around the kitchen and looked at me. I was wearing pajama bottoms, sitting on the couch, and eating oatmeal while balancing our cooing baby on my leg. My other son was leaning against me reading a picture book to himself.

Without a trace cynicism, and in the spirit of pure curiosity, he asked me what it was like to be on my own timetable with the kids. He wondered aloud if I liked creating my own structure. I paused, but not because I needed to think about an answer; of course I enjoyed being in charge of the day’s routine. I paused because in all of my recent thought patterns about staying at home with kids, I had not been acknowledging that there were, indeed, parts of it that were amazing.

I told him that I did appreciate being on a timetable all of our own.

“It must be nice,” he said kindly before he kissed us all goodbye and ran off to his office.

With that exchange, my perspective shifted. I started to notice all of the things I love about being a stay-at-home mother. I stopped taking notes on what I didn’t have.

There have been too many days when I’ve let a small but nagging resentment grow, because of what my husband was doing while I was not—having intellectual and adult conversations all day, going for long solo midday walks, finishing a complete thought without being interrupted. With this shift, I began to see things from his point of view. I saw what I had and that which he did not: control over my schedule, leisurely time talking with my children and watching them grow, freedom to take off on an adventure with the kids.

My husband does not have it easier. He travels constantly, he works long hours, and he’s tired most mornings, too. He misses the kids when he’s away, even when he’s just at the office.

It’s hard for both of us, because parenting is hard. Caring about, and caring for, a child is hard work. Neither of us has it easier; neither has “more.” This whole parenting thing is hard for both my husband and me and for parents everywhere. Of course, some have it harder than others. I know many have it more difficult than I do.

Now I’m better able to look at both my husband and myself with compassion. Like with most situations, a little empathy goes a long way. We’re both working hard and both missing out on certain coveted things, but we’re both savoring our different individual privileges. I’m steeped in gratitude for what we all, as a whole family, have.

Soon enough, the kids will be older and our family rhythm will be different, or everything could change right now in an instant. With the constant evolution of daily life with small children, these challenges are only temporary, anyway.

I still woke up at 4 a.m. this morning. But at least I had nowhere to be but right here at home with the kids.