My soon-to-be ex-husband and I have created the most beautiful, charming and, who am I kidding, downright-wild four children together. They are all close in age and none of them have reached the point of elementary school. Therefore, together we decided it would be best for me to start staying home with them instead of shelling out over half of my pay (almost three-fourths) in daycare. It was something we agreed on in unison, but somehow, I felt punished, unworthy and like I didn’t contribute to the family because of it.
Our disagreements steadily circled back to the same hurtful point more times than not — I didn’t work and he did. I was a nursing mother with four under four. I was giving it my everything with leaky tits, clingy toddlers, raging hormones and all. But somehow, to him, it meant nothing. And to so many others I’ve run into since then, it means little to nothing too.
Because as I’ve learned, when you stay home with the kids, it’s almost like you have to justify to others how you’re actually contributing to the family.
“I stay home because it’s cheaper.”
“I stay home because I want to enjoy these moments with my kids.”
“I stay home because I have a chronic illness or chronic pain which prevents me from working.”
”I stay home because _____.”
Whatever reasoning you may have used to fill in the blank, whether staying home with the family came by choice or not, it shouldn’t matter. You are contributing to the family, and your justification is unnecessary.
I’m convinced there will always be others who try to degrade the stay-at-home-parent’s self-worth by something they stupidly mistake for mundane. But staying home with the family is strenuous in every way, shape, and form.
It’s lonely. Never-ending on those long nights. And the most difficult part of all? It’s often thankless, expected, and unappreciated.
It’s become the norm to believe that the parent who leaves home everyday has had it the most difficult, while the parent whose still in yesterday’s sweatpants with kids dangling from their every limb (and sometimes tits) has it easy. And there’s got to be some kind of balance in the way each kind of contributing parent is perceived.
Being a mom or dad is strenuous no matter the individual’s role. Staying at home with the kids is as much a “real job” as those which are structured from 9-5. But somehow, it’s easy for those staying home with the kids to fret over the fact that others might not view their role in the family as enough. Ultimately leading to the overcompensation of doing and giving more than what’s needed as an added attempt to try and prove some type of already proven worth.
Which means more housework, more homemade meals (okay, maybe not, but it’s a good thought), more laundry at a speedy pace, and more and more pieces of ourselves. And sometimes, it means all of these things plus more in a time when the working parent is at home, sitting on their ass, readily available, but “too tired” to pitch in.
And every single bit of it adds up until it completely sucks the stay-at-home parent bone-dry.
But being a stay-at-home parent is more than just cleaning messes that are made, doing laundry and catering to everyone else’s meals while forgetting your own three times a day. It’s not about scheduling all of the doctor’s appointments or being the only one whose held responsible for grocery shopping and every single bill that’s stamped and marked paid.
Although there are tasks that should and do get done by the end of the day, being a stay-at-home parent should not feel like merely a to-do list. Of course, there are schedules with kids and in all areas of adulthood. And yes, it’s realistic to say that there are times when you have to tell the kids no more playing because you have areas of work which need finished.
But there are those rainy mornings when you feel obliged to partake in the spontaneity of lounging around all day in pajamas while still knowing that you’re doing your part in contributing to the family too.
Because, sometimes, the kids just need the you version of you. Not the cleaning, grocery shopping, frantic laundry-doing you. They just want and need you. The one who crawls into bed and reads a million stories (okay, maybe it’s the same one on repeat) while ignoring every other demand that’s piling high against them.
Being a stay-at-home parent is a fleeting gift — both to the parent and the child(ren) — one that feels like the rest of the world almost wants us to apologize and work ourselves to death for. But it’s not something to take advantage of.
If you were choosing a daycare provider for your children, you wouldn’t choose one with workers who are already exhausted and too busy running the facility to pay attention to the actual kids in that facility. Because children deserve more than a depleted caregiver — and it shouldn’t be any different when that caregiver just so happens to be their parent.
So regardless of whether you are a working parent or a stay-at-home parent or a work-at-home parent, know that you are valued and valuable. Because contributing to the family comes in lots of varieties, and doesn’t always include a paycheck.