Parenting is tough work no matter what. Whether you’re at home planning arts & crafts and doing all the cooking, cleaning and childcare, or rushing home to parent after punching the clock following a full day at the office, we all work hard and face uphill battles. Stay-at-home parents (and I know and love a ton of them) often sacrifice their careers to make sure they can raise their kids right. It’s tough going days without adult contact and dealing with some ignorant people who look down their nose at you because you’re not working 9 to 5 (this is especially true for stay-at-home dads). I’m not sure I could hack it and that’s why I praise all the men and women who choose this route.
But one of the perks of being a stay-at-home parent is exactly what I just mentioned: praise.
Moms who choose to stay at home have long been looked at as heroes. They call it “the toughest yet most rewarding job in the world,” and bloggers fill up virtual tomes with flowery prose about how much work stay-at-home parents do, how it’s non-stop, how they’re under-appreciated, how they make the world go ’round, etc. And even stay-at-home dads—although fairly new on the scene—are now escaping the initial public backlash to their new roles. Public sentiment is shifting in their favor as more men than ever are staying at home with their kids, and these dads are rightfully being celebrated for their contributions on the home front.
But let’s face it, there are certain perks to staying at home.
First of all, there’s no commute. Second, you’re working from home in a non-office environment. And while I totally get how watching Caillou for the billionth time or dealing with a screaming child(ren) can be super annoying, the fact is you’re still watching TV and playing with your kids. Kids who (probably) take naps during the day, allowing you to either catch up on other chores in peace or take a nap yourself. You can leave the TV on, play the radio loud and spend all day in your PJs if that’s what you want. This isn’t me calling stay-at-home parents lazy—not by a longshot. It’s just the truth of the matter.
But working parents don’t have that luxury. My commute isn’t as bad as it used to be, but it still takes up anywhere from 2-3 hours a day. I leave before the sun comes up and get home long after dark. And in between those two occurrences, I’m at the office. I’m dealing with bosses, deadlines, trying to get promoted, trying to make more money and constantly under enormous pressure to produce. Not to mention the pressure that comes with being the primary breadwinner and knowing that if I slip up at work and lose my job, we’re totally screwed.
Then, when I come home, I have anywhere from 60-90 minutes to play with my son. Talk to him about his day, play dinosaurs with him, give him a bath, read him some books and put him to bed.
But guess what? Just because I’m home doesn’t mean I’ve stopped working.
Smartphones and the Internet have created less of a Work-Life Balance and more of a Work-Life Blend. Essentially what that means is to be successful in this day and age, you can’t just check out after 5 p.m. Emails follow me on my phone, my social media responsibilities pop up via Twitter and Facebook notifications as I put out fires and respond to customers in real-time and I take occasional work calls late into the night. All while trying to remain as involved a dad as I can and retain some semblance of being a husband.
The real beauty of being a stay-at-home parent, at least in my opinion, is being able to totally give yourself over to the task at hand. Those who stay at home are doing great work and they throw themselves into it. I know full well the stay-at-home parents in my life give 110% and are absolutely terrific.
But compare that to working parents. We’re still giving 110%, but it’s split between work and home. But you know what happens when you give 55% at work and 55% at home? You constantly feel like you’re not doing enough in either role and you’re perpetually torn between the two. While stay-at-home parents can say with complete certainty they’ve devoted themselves to their kids, working parents are in limbo. They have to work to bring in money so their spouse can afford to stay at home, but they can’t work so much that they become strangers to their families. But the line between work and home is constantly shifting or being redrawn in the sand.
Meanwhile, how many times have you read an article calling for working parents (usually it’s aimed at dads) to spend less time at the office and more time at home? To create more of a work-life balance? To come home after work and immediately go into father/husband mode, taking over chores and childcare duties for the mom who has been at home with the kid(s) all day? I’ve read countless pieces calling for working dads to do all these things, lest they be thought of as slackers compared to stay-at-home moms.
But why doesn’t anyone suggest these stay-at-home parents go work part-time jobs and contribute financially once they’re done taking care of the kids for the day?
That clicking noise you just heard was the collective sound of stay-at-home parents everywhere cocking their proverbial guns in preparation for my execution. I know no one is supposed to say anything that even remotely criticizes stay-at-home parents (especially moms), and that’s really not my intention. I understand every family situation is different and no two circumstances are ever the same. I get it. Decisions to work or stay at home are most often a joint decision based on what’s best for the particular family in question. And I’m not knocking that decision either way.
But it just really irks me how stay-at-home parents are afforded sanctuary from criticism and are seemingly beyond reproach, while working parents are automatically expected to simply suck it up and pull double duty.
Stay-at-home parents are celebrated for their devotion and self-sacrifice. And if those parents do decide to enter the workforce, they’re celebrated again. Moms especially, as more and more studies show women have a stronger desire to take on more responsibility as they become breadwinners. And while dads who decide to be full-time stay-at-home parents certainly face some discrimination and snide looks, the tide is turning and public sentiment is in their favor. They’re being rightfully praised as progressive and involved.
But when it comes to working parents (again, I’m focusing mainly on dads here), I read articles like this one that bash working dads who come home and don’t immediately do the laundry, the dishes and mop the floors after a full day at the office. They even advocate women withholding sex as punishment for not helping out. You know, because sex between married people should totally be used as a weapon.
Then there’s statistics like this one from Salary.com (where I work full-time as a content manager for full disclosure), in which 2,000 people were surveyed. While 2/3 of all men said they’d be willing to support a stay-at-home parent, only 35% of women said the same for men. And nearly 1/3 of all women said they would flat out refuse to support a stay-at-home husband.
Talk about your mixed messages. Some people are saying we’re working too much, yet the age-old pressure to be the breadwinner and provider is still very much in effect.
And while being with my son is my top priority when I get home from work at 6:30 p.m. before his 8 p.m. bedtime, the dishes are not. The laundry is not. Vacuuming is not. Because you know what? If you’re a stay-at-home parent that stuff should be mostly done already. Yeah, I said it. And I don’t feel bad about it one bit. When you choose to be a stay-at-home parent you’re committing to taking on the bulk of childcare duties and household duties. The cooking and the cleaning. Case in point, MJ is out of work right now and stays at home while going to school once a week. Assuming she didn’t have anything out of the ordinary going on, should I expect her to have dinner prepared, the laundry done and have the house in order? Hell yes! Why shouldn’t I? I’m not talking about sparkling floors or building an addition on the house mind you, but stay-at-home parents should absolutely be taking care of household duties.
Working parents should pitch in and do their part, no question. But if a working parent is expected to earn 100% of the money, why is it out of line to expect the stay-at-home parent to do 100% of household duties? It’s the very definition of a double standard, but no one ever addresses it because it’s not politically correct.
And before you get on me, it would be the same for me if I was at home and she was working. This isn’t about gender, it’s about a division of labor and responsibility. I just find it highly questionable that working parents are fully expected to come home and “relieve” the stay-at-home parent, but if you suggest to the stay-at-home parent he/she should find a part-time, paying job at night, you’re suddenly an asshole. It doesn’t make any sense.
The point of this post is not to cause further division between the two sects or diminish in any way what stay-at-home parents do. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, my wife is now (at least for the time being) a stay-at-home mom and I’ve connected with so many wonderful men and women who have chosen this route. You all work hard and your efforts are unbelievably appreciated.
But my point is I’d like to see a little more love for working parents. Instead of telling us we don’t do enough, how about the media and the blogosphere thanks us for the contributions we are making. The money, the security and providing the opportunity for one parent to be home in the first place. Working parents are feeling the squeeze both at the office and at home, stressing themselves out at the thought of having one foot in each world at all times and worrying we’re not doing either to the fullest extent.
Anyone who can walk that tightrope is just as worthy of being celebrated as the esteemed stay-at-home folks.