I’m a stay-at-home mom. That description of myself generates a mixture of praise and sympathy from those who inquire about my occupation. The depth of their reaction only increases when they hear that I have a Master’s degree and gave up my teaching career in order to stay home with my son. I must admit that when I step back and try to view my new occupation from the standpoint of a neutral observer it does appear quite lackluster.
I mean, my sense of accomplishment at the end of any given day doesn’t come from the number of students I’ve taught, papers I’ve graded, difficult parents I’ve dealt with, or e-mails of praise that I’ve read. Instead, it comes from scrubbing grimy dishes, washing smelly laundry and poopy diapers, lugging bags of groceries up 32 steps, wiping curdled spit-up from every possible surface -well, I’ll stop because you get the picture. My schedule revolves around feeding times and nap times instead of class periods and staff meetings. I don’t get paychecks or holidays; rather, I try to make every day flow as smoothly as possible by keeping up with my chores, and I also try to find ways to reduce our household expenses because I do not have a salary. Yes, in a society that lauds the career woman and pities the housewife my life does sound like one day of drudgery after another.
The irony in this system of patting the working mom’s shoulder as she heads out the door is that teachers and childcare providers are praised as saints for their ability to care for children on a “full-time” basis. We admire chefs for their skills in the kitchen, hire housekeepers and gardeners to maintain our homes, and long for time to slow down so that we can savor it more. And that is what you don’t see about my life as a homemaking mom. I have the full-time occupation of spending every moment with my baby son. I can sit and study all of the expressions his little face can make; I notice the new sounds he utters as he experiments with his vocal chords; I can tell when he recognizes a routine or a familiar face and when he discovers a new object in his environment. Cooking for my family is not a chore because I have time to make a tasty menu each month and practice new recipes. Grocery shopping is an adventure as I stock my purchases in the kitchen I have carefully organized. House-cleaning is rarely daunting since I have time to space it out during the week. Carefully planning out my schedule each week enables me to have time for the extras that are easily overlooked.
Relationships are neglected in our busy world, and I believe that stay-at-home moms are those most aware of that. Rarely does someone send me an email or give me a call just to say hi. The social contact I do have is usually of my initiation. And that is because I have time to do so. There are times when I feel sad or resentful that the relational ball is always in my court, but perhaps it is my role in this crazy busy world to ensure that the relationships entrusted to my care thrive.
The occupation of staying home is not for the faint of heart. Those who choose it pay a high price: no breaks, few accolades, frequently left out of the social circle, a lot of hard work. But I can’t think of anything more satisfying than being able to be there for the ones I love most.