Before I got pregnant there was always this discussion about the difficulties of the stay-at-home parent. Often it was discussed by people who didn’t have kids, ones who stood on the outside looking in while they went on to their 9-5s somewhat envious of the stay-at-home parent for the possibility of sleeping in, staying in your PJs or workout clothes all day, and getting to spend most of your time at parks or other seemingly enjoyable locations.
“What is there to complain about?” “How can a job you do in your PJs possibly be difficult?” “God forbid, I had to spend my days at home binging hours of Netflix?” “What are they complaining about? I would love spending all that time with my kids if I had them?”
These are some of the most common comments you have probably heard.
Well, this is for all the people who don’t have kids and think that parenting 24/7 is such an easy task.
There are days when even parents who don’t intend to co-sleep have spent a whole sleepless night with this child in their bed, little legs and feet in their back, hands thrown over their faces, wishing for just three inches of childless mattress so they can close their eyes enough to make it through the next day. Then, exhausted and sore, they have to get up and go a whole day at the beck and call to their little minions.
There are no sick days, there are no holidays or days where you can phone it in and just go through the motions. Even the routine of being a stay-at-home parent isn’t as much of a routine as you’d like because children are unpredictable. They are living, breathing things that are in charge of every waking moment of your day, no matter how much you schedule or plan.
One of the most tedious jobs I’ve had was working at a Bridal Consultant. I worked at four different wedding gown stores and the job seemed simple enough; help brides-to-be find the gown of their dreams during a one-hour consultation. Usually, you are one-on-one with the bride (and usually an entourage of her choosing) in a room trying to decipher all her contradicting wants and needs. There were honestly days of this job (which I stayed in for over seven years) where I wanted to pull my hair out and burn the boutique to the ground. But, at the end of the day, I got to go home. I got to unload, I got to leave those brides behind for evenings, little weekends, vacations, and completely forget about them.
Imagine having to do your job constantly. From the moment your eyes open until they close and night (and most nights, even after your eyes are closed). There is no clocking out, there are no care-free evenings, there are no vacations.
Don’t mistake me that for meaning that being a parent is awful. It’s not. Most days you smile more than you cry, you forget about the underlying exhaustion while you make playdates, and meet-and-greets, and appointments. You go through 22 hour days without even realizing you’ve taken five mini-naps while your child is eating, or playing, or watching their favourite program. Parenting is a rollercoaster, and for most of it, you are smiling (even when you’re screaming). Saying it’s easy though, is like saying you can wake up today after no preparation and enter a strong man competition… every minute of it will be a struggle.
I think what a lot of people don’t realize is what exactly makes being a stay-at-home parent so isolating. Your social life completely disappears if you don’t have other stay-at-home friends. It’s isolating and lonely, and sometimes all you want is to sit down with any other adult person and have an actual conversation.
There isn’t a lot of support for stay-at-home parents. When the bulk of people out there think that it’s easy, there isn’t a lot of support. Some people say you can lean on your families and friends for the support you need, but sometimes you just crave support from people who don’t necessarily know you. Ones that won’t respond with “Yes, but you’re so strong, you can get through it.” or “I know you, and this is just a bad day.”
Making new friendships is extremely difficult. You spend a lot of time at kids programs and the park hoping to connect with other parents but a lot of them are just out there trying to catch their breath, their eyes glued on their kids and hoping to get a few moments alone before they have to go back in and do a load of laundry, or start dinner, or get their kids in the bath. When you factor in that becoming a parent has most likely isolated you from your social circle if they are still without kids, not being able to make any new friends can be depressing.
Alongside all of that, there is the constant guilt. You feel guilty because your child may not be making their milestones. You feel guilty because you spent those extra ten minutes in the bathroom, or on your phone, or computer ‘ignoring’ your child(ren). You feel guilty about reaching out and asking your partner for help because they’ve been at work all day and you’ve been home. The list of things that trigger guilt in parents is miles long, and new things get added to that list every day.
And all of this is barely scratching the surface. Imagine having a child who requires extra attention. A child with health issues, or developmental issues. Just imagine the constant struggle of being home with them all day, never getting the chance to come up for air.
Parenting isn’t easy.
If it was, there would be a lot more high-functioning, perfect adults running around. The truth is, we never know if what we are doing is right, we just do our best and hope everything turns out.
In a world where the cost of living keeps rising along with the cost of childcare, a lot of parents are opting to stay home until their children reach school age to help with the expenses of childcare, which means there are that many more parents out there staying home and reluctantly signing up for the difficult job of being a stay-at-home parent. So many more single parents that have to get on assistance just to make ends meet.
All of this definitely weighs on the stay-at-home parent. The mental and emotional strain on parents, in general, is immeasurable.
As someone who has always worked with children in one way or another, my eyes have always been somewhat open to the issues and the hardship of being a parent, but becoming one myself has definitely put things in a whole new light.
Parenting IS a job.
For anyone out there that doesn’t think so, they clearly have no idea what they may one day be getting into.