In Defense of the Parent at Home

I remember when I was starting out my job as a quality assurance specialist for the Department of Defense.  I talked to my parents weekly back then (as opposed to now:  they call me after a few weeks of wondering why I’ve fallen off the planet).  I remember telling my father on my one year anniversary on the job that I felt like I still had so much more to learn.

In hindsight, my 23-year-old self’s naivete is painful, but I digress.

My dad laughed and told me it takes about five years to really get the hang of a job.

I’m not sure if this is entirely true for every type of job.  Some jobs change often, requiring much more flexibility in terms of responsibilities and skills.  There are probably some jobs that truly keep you on your toes almost all of the time.

Air traffic controllers:  I’m looking at you.

As my oldest child rounds the corner toward her fifth birthday, I keep hearing this statement my father made to me years ago.  Do I feel like I’m getting the hang of this job?  This motherhood gig?

I have been a stay-at-home mom for just over four years now; my first year of motherhood was spent working 40 hour weeks while my husband played Mr. Mom (hopefully minus feeding the baby chili).  There are definitely aspects to this job that I feel I have gotten the hang of.

Cloth diapers?  I can use them, wash them, get poop off of them, use them on outings if I need to, etc.  Nailed it.

Breastfeeding?  Check.  I haven’t had a baby that didn’t love nursing.

Reading to Kids?  Got that one down.  I start reading to my kids in the first month of their lives, and it’s one of the things I do most consistently.  I love children’s books, and we visit the library often so I can get my fix.

There are other tasks that I am not so fantastic at when it comes to motherhood:

Baby nap schedules?  I am the worst.  Well, maybe not the worst, but apparently not as good as my husband.  I have had my two youngest babies home with me from the time they were teeny newborns, and I wasn’t able to get either of them on a consistent nap schedule before six months old.  My oldest, raised by her daddy for the first 10 months of her life?  That girl napped like it was her job and slept through the night at 6 weeks old.

Ugh.

Disciplining preschoolers (especially dramatic ones)?  I struggle with this every. single. day. of. my. life.  I have one child that simply doesn’t like to hear the word no or to be told what to do without a full written explanation.  Somehow I feel I have to justify myself to someone who can’t manage to remember to go to the bathroom when they are excitedly playing with friends.

I still find myself researching different aspects of motherhood, trying to improve my game at home, so to speak.  Of course, every once in a while I come across articles like this one, and it blind sides me, causing me to re-think my existence.

The reality is that I struggle with my worth and value as a stay-at-home mom more days than I don’t.  My days are filled with menial tasks:  cleaning, cooking, changing diapers, picking up toys.  The in-between times are filled with book reading, tickle fights, walking the dog, gardening, and sometimes reading.  Do I see real completed work on a day-to-day basis?

Absolutely not.

Unless you count a clean sink at the end of the night real work, I’m really not accomplishing much in the course of a day.  I am simple doing a lot of little tasks that help to maintain the health and well-being of my family.

The author in the above article is of the opinion that this type of work is a privilege and should not be considered a real job.

Although I will agree that being a stay-at-home mother is not a job in the traditional sense, it is certainly hard work, and for many, it is not a privilege.

I had recently had a conversation with the grandmother of one of my daughters’ friends.  She helps care for her three year old granddaughter on a daily basis while her daughter works outside of the home.  She brings her granddaughter to the park, to the library, to doctors appointments, plays with her, and cares for her needs throughout the day.  She is her nanny, in a true sense of the word.

This grandmother has three children of her own, and while she raised her own children (in a country with centralized government childcare and schooling) she worked full-time outside of the home.  This woman confessed to me that as a young mother she felt she was “doing it all”; because she was both a mother and a contributing member to society bringing home a paycheck, she felt that she truly was working twice as hard.

I have heard this argument so many times from working mothers.  They do all the things stay-at-home mothers do, but they work a full-time job on top of that.

But wait, this grandmother let me in on a secret:  she felt that her current situation, being the sole caretaker for one preschooler, was much more challenging than working full-time while having children.

Of course, age is a factor here.  She is at least 30 years older than the last time she had children of her own to care for.  Her point, though, remains valid.

Staying home with one’s own children, though it is something to be thankful for, can be a very difficult job.  Throughout the course of the day, stay-at-home mothers have to do many things that working mothers miss out on:  making three meals a day (probably from scratch to save $$$), reading aloud, planning any day trips, teaching/doing preschool activities, kissing boo-boos, playing, and cleaning up after all of these activities.  Working mothers, who do work very hard, I know, pay some one to perform these tasks while they work and earn a paycheck.  If the care and teaching of children isn’t considered work, why do working parents need to pay someone to do it for them?

There is another contributing factor to the debate of whether or not staying at home with one’s children is considered work:  the value placed on mothers who choose to stay home.  I find that there are two kinds of stay at home mothers:  one stays at home for a short period of time, anywhere from 2-5 years until her child(ren) go to school, and the other stays home for the foreseeable future to care for and nurture her children as long as they need, often taking on the task of homeschooling them.

It is in the first category of mothers that I often see women who feel de-valued.  They see their time at home with their children as a break of sorts.  Or at least they see it as that before they enter into the reality of life at home with children.  They feel they are on some sort of work hiatus, and some don’t recognize the work they are doing that is contributing to their child’s well-being and to society as a whole.

There are definitely mothers in the latter category that succumb to these feelings, as well, but more often, they see the longevity in their work and focus less on the menial, day-to-day annoyances.

I would venture to say that many of the mothers who feel their work at home is not contributing to the world around them jump at the chance to find employment outside the home when they become available for it.  They put less effort into their work at home, and they may be less intentional with the time they spend with their own children.

In short:  not considering the work done with children on a daily basis as “real work” allows one to settle for a lower standard of quality.

Those mothers who see their work at home as valuable and their position as important often spend more time planning and working to create experiences, routines, and opportunities for learning.

This friends, is where I often find myself.  At this crossroads of valuing vs. not valuing my work at home.

Some weeks I feel desperate to seek outside employment or to do anything but be home.  I want more than anything to earn a real paycheck, to make things, to do things, to complete things, and to pee alone.

But lately, I find myself being challenged to put value into the work I do at home, especially as I grow into the role of teacher with fall and homeschool kindergarten quickly approaching.  I hope that as I learn to value my work at home, and my role as stay-at-home mom, I will be better equipped to handle the tasks that this position requires.

One thought on “In Defense of the Parent at Home”

  1. Beautiful! And I definitely feel the same way! There are sooo many joys in motherhood but I do often feel the desire to DO something (in peace and quiet and glorious uninterrupted concentration!) and enjoy the visible reward of my efforts. Some days I wonder why in the world I had kids and other days I feel overwhelmingly, undeservedly blessed!

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