Recently when I still homeschooled my kids, friends of mine who work would sometimes comment on how lovely it must be to be at home all day. I’d look at them in surprise, and they’d continue.. about how wonderful it must be to have all that time to clean the house, have some time to myself, go out for coffee with friends, shop, gym, drive kids around to sports, and just have a life while most people work all day.
It always surprises me when I hear them say that. They really don’t have a clue, I think, while picking kids paint off my jeans and scratching at a dry patch of baby porridge on my left sleeve.
The truth of the matter is, being a fulltime stay at home mom is hard work. There’s a whole lot less free time than any working person could imagine. Your day starts with busyness – hungry kids and missing shoes and little teeth to be brushed. Nothing a working person doesn’t do either.
But while a working parent drops off their kids at school, drives to work, pours that second cup of hot coffee and sits in silence checking emails, or stands on a balcony talking to colleagues, back at home a SAHM is standing in a busy kitchen, with the washing machine going, wiping kids faces, doing Maths verbally with an older child at the table, while washing dishes. Her coffee is in the microwave, getting cold for the third time, and a toddler has just knocked over the bag of dog food, which has spilt all over the kitchen floor. While the baby cries in her high chair, mom sweeps the dog food up, gets food on her pants while wiping kids mouths and hands, can’t hear the news on the radio over the noise of many little voices talking and crying, and she manages a bite of cold breakfast as she picks up the crying baby, and carries him outside with a basket of washing to hang. It’s messy, it’s loud. And the coffee is cold.
Lunchtime comes, and at work, the pressure is on. There are calls and emails and meetings.
At home, the SAHM has just finished school work with some older kids, is picking up a baby who’s crying in his cot after a nap, and is worrying over whether or not her oldest child will ever grasp the concept of fractions. She’s feeling insecure, but determined, mulling over whether or not to look at a new curriculum for Maths, which might be better suited to her child’s learning style. Then she thinks about finances and weighs up if it’s doable or not. She gives the baby kisses on his tummy while changing his nappy and laughs with him, relishing a sweet moment, and then piles all the kids in the car to buy some groceries. The drive is a noisy one, with everyone talking, two kids fighting and mom shouting at the fighting kids. The baby has a pooey nappy that leaks, and she spends ten minutes outside the store in the parking lot, wiping a car chair with wetwipes, looking back constantly to make sure none of the kids are running in the street. After cleaning the seat, and a nappy change, everyone’s good to go. Mom needs to find a bathroom to wash her hands, and the kids have grimy hands from touching the car tires. After finding a bathroom, wiping handprints off the bathroom walls, and getting everyone’s hands clean, mom goes shopping and the kids fight again, asking for treats every few breaths. Baby pulls a pile of baked bean tins into the trolley while mom’s mulling over which brand of cereal is the healthiest. She’s trying to recall what the brand is she saw advertised on TV the other day, that helps with energy and is low GI. She’s concerned about her oldest child, who she suspects has stomach issues, and a wave of worry consumes her. She thinks about the budget, crosses two items off the list, and puts in the expensive but healthy cereal.
It’s loud and messy and mom wishes she could have a hot cuppa. Mom talks to the older kids about self discipline, and not walking away from her trolley and out of sight, and calmly talks to a younger child about not asking every five seconds for treats. She’s irritable and tired, but she keeps it together.
They leave the store, and sit at an ice cream place for ice creams. A few coins left over for a treat. The kids are excited and mom pauses in her tiredness and noise overload to share in their excitement and enjoy the moment. Their cute happy faces and their loud voices as they talk to each other excitedly, are very cute to watch. She’s going to miss these ages one day. They are divine. On the way home, a middle child pukes in the car.
The working mom is stuck in traffic. She has a headache, the sun is scorching hot, and she just wants to get the kids from aftercare, get home and shower.
The SAHM mulls over the stove, wondering what foods which kids will eat, and what foods everyone will moan about, and starts cooking with her oldest child. She talks to her about the chore chart on the fridge, and sends the kids off to do their chores while she cooks. Once dinner is ready, she goes around the house, and teaches each child how to do their chores a little better, but affirms them with hugs and gushes and thanks them for trying and doing so well. Training needs patience, she reminds herself, wanting to do everything herself in a tenth of the time. She wipes squirted detergent off the basin and wall, sweeps up a random missed bit of dog food, wipes a section of the counter and then dishes up. She’s tired, her feet ache, she still has food on her sleeve she forgot about this morning, and her hair has pulled out of her ponytail slowly and looks a mess. She warms up her coffee from this morning, and starts drinking it while everyone eats. She makes sure everyone eats dinner together as a family, and even though feeling asleep on her feet, starts a conversation with her kids about their day, reads an article to everyone about self discipline and then spends ten minutes discussing examples with them. They come up with some good points, and discuss how they could practice it in future, in different circumstances.
By this time, the working mom is home, doing dinner too. She’s tired, her heels are killing her, and she tucks her kids into bed, checks their homework books, puts on a load of washing, hangs up the load from this morning and starts the dishes. Exhaustion.
Being a working mom is hard. I am one, I get that. I have been a SAHM and a working mom, and know both. They are both hard. But I have to say that there are moments of peace and silence and productivity and sanity I get while being a working mom, that I didn’t get while being a SAHM. And there are many sweet moments and moments of training my kids, that I miss being able to do with them now that I work. Being a SAHM is hard, in a word. It’s constantly busy, messy and LOUD. Very noisy. It’s a constant tweaking of systems and routine, constant training and very little to no ‘me-time’. It’s constant weighing up things you worry about, wrestling over insecurities, making progress in relationships. It’s also full of random moments of wonderful time with the kids, relationship building, kisses and hugs and moments together.
So the next time someone who works asks me what a SAHM does all day, I wish I could put all that into one easy sentence. I just say that it’s hard, not as easy as one would think, but so very rewarding.