Last weekend, we were outside enjoying some beautiful fall weather. Most of the neighbors were out, too, giving me the chance to catch up with my neighbor, Tracey. She works full time and has a 10-month-old, so I don't see her as much as I'd like to. We chatted about babies, sleep, going back to work. At one point, she said, "I don't think I could ever just stay home all day doing nothing. I think I'd get bored."
She didn't mean any offense, and I didn't take any. But I realized that there's probably a gap between what working moms THINK we do all day and what we ACTUALLY do with our time. My friend Beth, who's home with her young baby, says, "Staying at home is harder than any job I've ever had. No lunch breaks to get things done, no bathroom breaks by yourself. Yeah, my career was WAY easier than this stay at home mom gig." Tiffany, whose son just started Kindergarten, says, "As if we sit around watching soaps all day!" And my single friend Bobby Jo says, "I don't even HAVE kids and I could never be bored at home. Too many things to do!"
When our kids are babies, there's so much hands-on caregiving that goes into mothering that it's easy to see where our time goes. Our houses don't need to be perfect; our kids take priority. As my friend Maria says, "I didn't give up my law practice to scrub floors. I left work to raise my kids!" Playing with them, feeding and diapering them, reading to them, convincing them that nighttime is for sleeping, not playing, and it's simply not socially acceptable to wake up happy at 5 AM - it's a full time job. We do all the things that a working mom's daycare provider does, but without the pay. Who has time for chores? But once the kids are all in school? Even I thought I'd have tons of free time once my youngest was in Kindergarten. I'd work out every day! Reclaim my pre-baby body! Get manicures! Have a spotless house! Take time for nooners! Put those baby pictures in a photo album instead of in a shoebox under my bed!
Yeah, right. In the past year, I've managed to meet my friend Jennifer for lunch only twice. We're both "home." So where does the day go?
In a typical 7-hour school day, I spend a few hours on chores and errands, volunteer in both kids' classrooms, write, take care of the pets, start dinner, and prep snacks for after school. Then I pick up my kids, and, if they don't have ballet, tap, jazz, musical theater, basketball, soccer, Indian Princesses, or a playdate, we head home for a snack, homework and school projects. Once that is done, I still have to feed them, help them bathe, read to them, play with them, help them choose (age-appropriate) clothes for the next day, make lunches, pack (organic, sugar-free) snacks, clean and fill their (BPA-free, stainless steel) water bottles, sign homework and reading logs (Teachers! Listen up! NO MORE READING LOGS, PLEASE!), sort through school papers and multiple copies of school newsletters, get them to bed with prayers and songs and kisses and drinks of water and one last kiss, please Mommy please! Then my husband comes home, I make him some dinner, we spend some time together, and before I know it, it's 10 PM and I still haven't finished the dishes. Free time, my (still not a size 4) ass.
Working moms, I think you have it rough. I can't imagine working an 8-hour day and then coming home to work at your "other job." You have to run your errands and do your chores on the weekends, or you have to drag your kids around town after a full day of school and day-care. Either that, or hire someone to do it for you. (Not that I'm complaining - if I worked, you'd better believe that I'd have a cleaning service!) You probably sleep even less than I do.
But while you are working and talking to adults and eating lunch with grown-ups (without having to cut anything up for your co-workers), don't make assumptions about what "at home" moms are doing. Just know that many of us "at home" are actually at school, helping your child with reading and math, or planning the Thanksgiving feast, or rescuing lost Kindergartners on the first day of school, or stapling and gluing endless little books, or making copies for the teachers, or checking in library books, or baking 4 cakes for the PTA fundraiser, or even watching your darling kick a soccer ball during recess because budget cuts mean there are no aides for playground duty. If I were working right now, I couldn't do any of it. And when I go back to work, that's it for me. Game over. But right now, while I can be "home", I'm going to do what I can for ALL our kids.
Slacker Mom Says...be supportive of the moms in your life. Working or staying at home, we are all just moms, facing the challenges of raising a family in difficult times. Those of us who stay home choose to be home, so we won't complain about our job. Those of us who work, whether because we have to or because we want to, are doing the best we can too. Motherhood means making sacrifices, but it's also the best job in the world. Whether we work or not, we all give something up - money, time at home, job satisfaction, financial gain, sleep. Whether we work or not, we all get paid for being moms - sticky kisses, warm little hugs, unconditional love. What could be better than that?