Dear stay-at-home moms,
After 31 days sheltering-in-place with my three sons (ages five, three and one), I’ve never had more respect for you than I have at this moment. While I always knew you had a tough job, on behalf of working moms everywhere, I'd like to say that I honestly have no idea how you've been doing this.
To be clear, this current pandemic life—with many of us juggling work and kids—is not the same as regular life for anyone. But for some work-outside-the-home moms, this has been our only glimpse into the labour- and joy-filled days at home with our kids. You are definitely more than “just a mom.” And if you’ve ever felt under-appreciated, marginalized, or criticized by anyone—especially by a working mom—let me officially say, I see you and admire you. Here's why.
The sheer volume of food and dishes we have gone through in the last month is stunning. By the time a meal has wrapped up, the next one is thawing or marinating. The kitchen never seems to close. There’s pre-breakfast for the baby, my husband’s breakfast before he goes to virtual work, the kids’ breakfast, a midmorning snack, lunch, an "I’m-bored" early afternoon snack, an actual late afternoon snack, dinner, and a slew of "I-don’t-want-to-go-to-bed" snacks. (Clearly my family has a snacking problem.) Paper plates have become an “essential purchase” and eating a peanut butter sandwich straight from the counter is now seen as completely acceptable, because it’s one less dish. Desperate times, I guess.
In my professional life, I’m a high school teacher. I have a Master’s degree in education, for goodness sake. And yet even I am totally overwhelmed with the sudden shift to homeschooling my children. You’d think teaching is teaching, but instructing high school kids versus working with a five year old who has no interest in learning his letters are totally different. I’m seeing the neighbourhood stay-at-home moms sharing brilliant activities with each other to keep their kids’ minds moving—but after virtually teaching, writing and keeping everyone alive and fed all day, I lack the time, creativity and motivation. Even if you have the most exciting sight-word board game on the planet, getting a pre-kindergartener to care about it for a millisecond more than Legos is an impossible task. During shelter-in-place, one stay-at-home mom friend took her child on a guided tour of statues around our town. Another has created a collaborative daily number and letter guessing game in her windows for the entire neighbourhood. The energy, stamina, and creativity going into these projects is a full-time job.
Just a few days into spending more than double the time with my children than I usually do, I realized I’d answered some seriously profound meaning-of-life questions. “Mom, how did God beat the double?” (That’s two-year-old speak for “the devil,” apparently.) “Mom, if these flowers are about to die, why did I pick them? Can I put them back? Are they dead now? Do they hurt?” This line of questioning continues throughout the day, bordering on requests only Gandhi or Mother Theresa could answer. Switching from coordinating a grocery list and a two-week meal plan to answering life’s biggest questions in an instant—and being expected to come up with riveting answers on the spot—is a small but important aspect of all-day parenting I didn’t see coming.
About three times a day at our house, all three kids are crying, whining, or searching for something different at the same time. Usually, it’s a diaper, a snack, or a shirt with a different superhero on it. Or two have collided and are crying from their bumps and bruises, and the third is trying to climb out of his high chair alone. As a member of a two-parent home in which both people are working from home right now, I can still yell for my husband to mitigate one of the crises, or he’s already on it. But what I can’t get past for you SAHMs is the eight-hour stretch of being on your own, day after day, to solve problems, wipe noses and cook healthy meals. My stay-at-home friends have described this as loneliness, which sounds about right. Being with all these little people all the time has me slightly off my rocker by 5 p.m.
All-day parenting has brought me much closer to my kids, and also made me want to run far, far away from them (just kidding...mostly). And it's only been a month. The fact that you, stay-at-home moms, excel at the hundreds of jobs involved in parenting week after week, year after year, speaks volumes to your character.
Work-outside-the home moms and stay-at-home moms have unnecessarily competed for decades over which is harder and which is the “right way.” It took a global pandemic for many of us to come together and appreciate that both are exceptionally difficult, and rewarding, in their own way.
With love and admiration,
Working moms everywhere