I know that anyone who frequents any social media sites are likely up-to-their-eyeballs sick of divisive articles that pit one group against one another, particularly parents. You’ve got the groups that think breastfeeding in public is a disgrace, and the group that thinks formula feeding is poisoning children. You’ve got one group that tries to convince others that not vaccinating your kids is the most irresponsible thing you can do, and the other group claiming vaccinations are unnecessary and we’re, again, poisoning our kids. And let’s not forget the natural birth = warrior mama vs. c-section birth = the easy way out debate. And then, last but not least, we have the groups that claim working parents are neglecting their kids and are selfish to want a career, and others who think stay-at-home parents are on one extended vacation. Enough, right?
Well, maybe one more…
Because I’ve made it abundantly clear to anyone who will listen that I am not going back to teaching in the foreseeable future (and by foreseeable, I mean ever), I’ve had plenty of conversations that have progressed in the same way:
Me: “Yeah, I think I’m done with teaching. It’s just not what’s in my heart anymore.”
Other person: “Huh. Ok. I get it. But what will you do then??”
Me: “Uh. This. What I’m doing now.”
Other person: “So, like, just staying home.”
Me: Smirk. “Yeah, Just staying home.”
Because, you know, all I do all day is hang out and eat bon bons. Don’t all stay-at-home-parents? No? Bummer. What did I sign up for then?
For the record, I can’t speak to any other family’s situation, and I’m not here to write my defense of what I do all day. I’m writing this to perhaps illuminate a topic that is incredibly misunderstood.
What is the role of the stay-at-home-parent, Mergler Style: Get up; feed the cats; feed the birds; wake the older child, make sure she gets out of bed, dressed, and having put on deodorant and clean socks (Trust me, that’s a feat all in itself); entertain all manner of questions and comments as younger child follows me around the house; make sure the third child…er, husband is awake and getting ready for work; make lunches; feed older child; brush older child’s teeth; do older child’s hair; get children dressed to go to bus stop; go to bus stop; come back and make breakfast for younger child; eat breakfast myself; shower (if I’m lucky); get younger child dressed; brush his teeth; treat his eczema; pack his bag; help him get dressed to leave the house; drive him to school; take him to his locker and help him unpack; take him to his classroom; give him ten thousand hugs and kisses; go back home; clean the house; do laundry; go grocery shopping; run errands (all of these in any particular order or day); try to squeeze in time for reading or writing; go get older child from bus stop; go pick up younger child from school; come back home and help older child with homework; make children snacks; make dinner; clean up after dinner; family time; bedtime routine–both children because husband is tired from working all day–brush teeth, get in pj’s, read books, hugs and kisses, lights out; hope for time left to interact with husband and maybe read; go to bed. Get up the next day and do it all over again.
Now, do other parents do this and more? Of course. One of my good friends teaches full-time and is a single-parent. And I’m well aware that working parents still parent as well. But just from my experience alone, I can say that very rarely did all of these things get done in one day, particular without one or both parents getting testy.
I don’t know about you, but nowhere in that list do I see eat bon bons. 🙂 Do I have some free-time most days? Yeah, of course. I’d be lying if I said otherwise. But in that free-time, I’m focusing on doing what I can to make sure I’m as rested, stress-free, and happy as I can be because I know that my mood directly affects that of my family. And I know that when I’m feeling frazzled, so much less gets done. I’d bet anyone any amount of money that if you asked my family if life is better now, that we’re happier now that I’m not working, that they’d definitely say yes.
But yet, for so many people, this is not enough. Having a well-run household and family life is not enough. Having my kids never wanting for attention or help is not enough. Having a daily existence that is 90% stress-free is not enough. Because I should be doing something else. And why wouldn’t I want to?
I admit that for quite a bit of my life, I felt that to be a strong, independent woman, I needed to be reliant on no one but myself. I swore I’d never let myself get in a situation where I was monetarily dependent on my husband. I felt it was the opposite of feminism. A feminist can stand on her own. She runs her life, and doesn’t need anyone.
Now I have come to believe that the most important aspect of feminism is the presence of choice. I have options. I can go back to work if I’d like. But instead I choose to be a stay-at-home parent. And it’s in this choosing that I think I’ve found the same amount of power, control, and independence that I once did while having a career outside of home. Not to mention, I’ve matured enough to realize that depending on someone else doesn’t make me weak, it makes me human. And depending on my husband just means he is an integral part of my being and necessary to my happiness. I see nothing wrong with that.
Ultimately, I think we’re all just trying to do our best. We’re doing what we feel is best fo ourselves and families. And as far as I’m concerned, I’m not looking for anyone else to validate my way of life. I am happy. My family is happy. That’s the only validation I need. But I will put out a plea for others parents. I know many people–men and women–who are stay-at-home parents and who would appreciate just a wee bit more respect. Being a parent is, in my opinion, one of the hardest, but most amazingly rewarding jobs there is. And no one has to agree with me on everything, but I think we can all agree that it is work, and that we all deserve a little credit for doing it.
So please, all you lawyers, teachers, bankers, tradesmen, etc., please don’t ask me what I do all day. And please don’t ask me what I’m going to actually do in the future. I’m going to do this. Exactly what I’m doing now. And I would never dream of asking you the same question.