I think it’s fair to say all stay at home mothers hate the phrase, “What are you up to today?” Even broached innocently (which it probably is 98% of the time), we automatically take it as a hostile interrogation intended to expose us for the frauds we worry we are. So when my husband asks it nearly every afternoon during our lunchtime phone call, I find myself automatically switching into defensive mode where suddenly the smallest details of a perfectly ordinary day are exaggerated for maximum effect. “Well Chase had a huge blowout and he’s been really cranky all day—his teeth are bothering him again—and he barely napped at all,” I recap in a huffy rush. “Plus the checkout line at Walmart took forever and he basically cried the whole time.”
I hear myself saying these things and I realize that I’m glossing over all the other details that made up a very pleasant day—the giggles while we sang songs in front of the mirror, the walk we took by the beach with the wind blowing through his white-blonde hair, the two whole hours he napped and I got to write or finish the dishes or watch just one teeny episode of Property Brothers (OK, maybe two.)I don’t talk about that stuff because I worry. I worry that if my day doesn’t seem hard enough or chaotic enough, I’m not doing it right. I worry that my husband (and maybe the rest of the working world too) thinks I’m getting a free ride on the gravy train. I worry that someone is going to come and revoke my stay at home mama card.
I know. When it’s written down, staring me in the face in black and white, these words seem ridiculously hyperbolic and just plain crazy. I’m fully aware that this doesn’t make sense and there are no stay at home mom police waiting to slap the cuffs on me and drag me away because my son is an agreeable child with a penchant for taking long naps.
But some days when I hear other moms talk about how hard it is being home with their kids, I feel like I’m doing something wrong. I mean, my husband works a regular 9-5 job, doesn’t travel and has barely missed more than a doctor’s appointment since our son was born. While we’re far from rich, we have enough money to afford two cars and I have the freedom to leave the house when I need to run errands or meet up with friends or bring Chase to an appointment. I’m luckier than many of my friends who have more kids, less time with their husbands, only one car to share or all of the above.
I constantly feel the need to prove myself. To my husband. To other moms who work. To my friends who don’t yet have kids. Prove to them that my work is hard too, that I’m not just milking the system. I feel this need to prove myself because the truth is, some days, being a stay at home mom is really freakin easy.
And on those days, I feel guilty.
I picture my husband busting his ass at work, looking over really boring, complicated diagrams (or whatever it is that an electrical engineer actually does), staying late to impress his new boss while his wife whines in his ear about getting poop on her shirt. I envision my friends who work all day and then have to pick up the kids at daycare, cook an edible meal, give baths, check homework, etc. while half their brain is still thinking about the proposal they have to give in the morning. I think about my friends whose whole world is conference calls and productivity meetings and expense account lunches, whose workdays are long and demanding and certainly no afternoon walk at the beach with a happy baby.
And then I remember what it’s like to work in a real job. I remember that sometimes people bring cupcakes into work. And sometimes you kill an hour looking at dumb memes that someone emailed out to the whole office. Sometimes your boss lets you cut out a little early because it’s Friday and he wants to go home, too.
I remember that when you work in an office you get sick days and vacation time and no one poops on you. I remember that, at most real jobs, the client doesn’t wake you up in the middle of the night because his teeth hurt or he peed the bed. I remember that a regular job, your work is still work, not the all-consuming, terribly important work of being responsible for someone’s whole childhood.
And then I remember that, even on the easy days, I’m still at work, too.
The perks are just different.