You have the hardest job.
Before having a kid, I used to think I’d continue working. My husband and I would take turns picking up our kid from daycare, make dinner together, go to the farmer’s market on the weekend, and somehow balance the whole work-life situation. I had that good old-fashioned millennial self-assured smugness about me – the kind that doesn’t let you eat gluten even though you have no idea what it is or does anyway. In the thick of my pregnancy (real thick), I started to think other thoughts. We had to consider our situation and think about what we wanted as a growing family. We weighed our options and changed our minds. Ultimately, our perspectives had shifted with time. And lo and behold, I am a stay-at-home mom.
It’s taking everything in me to hold back on laying out the very explicit, totally non-lazy, super reasonable reasons why I decided to stay home. It’s taking everything in me to not justify my position or spew out my accolades because that’s what I feel like I need to do with other women. Because girl power. Because postmodernism. Because grit. Because feminism. Because women’s rights.
I’ve rehearsed in my mind how I could introduce myself in social circles when the inevitable question of “What do you do?” comes up. I made it sound resolute and powerful, but it came out like I was yelling, daring someone to say anything. I made it sound nonchalant, but it came out like I was embarrassed or bored. I made it sound joyously emphatic, but no one likes the person who actually loves what they do. No matter how I managed to get it out, though, another inevitable euphemistic phrase would always get put out in the universe.
Well, you have the hardest job of all!
In my short time being a parent, pregnancy included, this is the singularly most obnoxious thing to hear. Take into consideration all the opinions about baby names, all the unwarranted advice, all the passive-aggressive comparisons. Yes, I think it is that annoying. Never mind the fact that it’s not even a job. It’s just…life.
These three years that I’ve been at home, I can say that I thoroughly enjoy being at home with my kid while he’s young. Don’t get me wrong. We’ve had our share of downs on this roller coaster, and my mind has spiraled in a million different what-ifs. With time, though, I can say that I enjoy life to a point where I can see life vividly every new day and count my blessings every night. My husband has been supportive either way, even picking up a ton of slack when I tried a short stint of working from home. Our marriage is strong, and our conversations about life can go deep into the night. I also love and admire how he’s flourished in his own career, and I feel really good about making that possible for him. And the world is still my oyster. All this gradually came to be, as contentment and fullness became our norm. I understand all of this is privileged, and I don’t take it lightly.
So, when other parents say that staying at home is much harder than being a working parent, why do I suddenly feel like a loser on the playground?
Parents who may have experienced some of that stay-at-home sweetness with maternity/paternity – well, no shit it’s hard because you’ve only stayed at home with a newborn while having to transition into an extreme life change overnight. And then you have to speed up the transition with some semblance of sanity so you can get to work on time after being sleep-deprived for three months. I mean, it is hard. But it’s not the kind of hard that you can qualify. Like, you can’t say that being a stay-at-home mom is harder than being a working mom, but not as hard as having cancer. When you qualify its difficulty, the role is irrevocably diminished just by having done so. It doesn’t feel like real kudos for making “the tougher decision” to stay at home because I’m so much braver and stronger. When a working mom tells me that I have the hardest job of all taking care of my own flesh and blood, I’m not thinking – Well, for sure, I’ve beaten you in this game of life. Because why would millions of moms continue working and choose “the easy route?” They don’t have what it takes, that’s why. And I am of the elite who’s got it. Right. Okay.
When a working mom tells me that I have the hardest 24-hour job with no pay and no sick days, it feels more like someone giving you an award for just showing up because they don’t want you to feel bad. Or getting a condescending pat on the head. Or like someone humoring a child for five minutes until it’s time to turn around and get back to the real grown-up stuff. Because, really, do these working moms actually think they are the suckiest people in the world for working and hanging up their mom hats for about eight hours a day? No, because in tandem with telling me I have the hardest job in the world, I hear justifications like, “I’m no good staying at home. How do you stay home all day? I need to be working. I need to be hustling. I can’t not work. I want to be an example for my kid.” On top of that, it’s a trick because you can never really take off your mom hat. It’s kind of crazy-glued to your freaking head amidst glitter that will never wash off.
This thing we say. It feels so disingenuous. Why even say it anymore? Why keep up our pretenses? What’s it to you? So much of what we say and do – or say and say – don’t add up. (I won’t even begin to talk about systemic shortcomings that have set us against each other.) Listen, ladies, we all out here. Whether you really think it or not about yourself, I would never think you’re a sucky person for being a working parent, and I think you’d do just fine if you really wanted to stay at home with your kid. You don’t have to cover your ass and give me any superlatives. But I also don’t want to feel like I’m not setting an example for my kid, too. More than doing away with insensitive things we say, though, let’s do away with this strange hierarchy. Let’s do away with the patronization. Let’s do away with our judgments and justifications. Let’s do away with our walls and defensiveness. Weapons down. If we’re really in this together – our village – then you really have let people in and cut the crap. Who wants to deal with any more crap than you’re already dealing with at this point.