Several months ago my husband and I were out at lunch when one of our former coworkers approached us. This was someone we knew for years when all of us had worked a retail job, so we took some time to catch up. This coworker spent a lot of time talking to my husband, asking him about his new job. Before I knew it, they were in an animated discussion about my husband’s daily job functions.
Several minutes went by before our coworker turned to me.
“So are you just staying at home then?”
I’m glad I had just taken a bite of food and couldn’t answer for a moment. I swallowed, took a breath, and said simply, “Yes.”
He nodded. “I think that’s great you can be home with your daughter.” With that, he turned back to my husband to ask him some more questions about his job.
Here’s what I wanted to say to our old coworker:
I know you mean well. I know you aren’t implying that I’m just hanging out at home, sipping hot coffee, and spending my husband’s money on online shopping. I know you’re aware that I quit my job as a registered nurse a while ago. And I actually work 15 to 20 hours as a freelance writer, putting in work during naps (when my daughter cooperates), and on weekends and evenings.
Even if I didn’t have a career as a writer, the comment he made could have rightfully made me seethe in anger.
Instead, I wanted to cry. Because I’m exhausted.
Because my daughter was going through a sleep regression, and I was up so much of the night. Because her naps were awful and finally getting her to sleep for more than an hour felt like a gold-medal-worthy feat.
Because the only time I had to myself was spent scrolling through Facebook on the toilet. Even then, I wasn’t technically alone because she weirdly wanted to hang out in the bathroom with me.
Because almost all the housework was falling on me. Because as much as I cleaned, the house remained littered with toys and random kitchen objects. As my therapist pointed out when I lamented the fact that I could never seem to get my act together: I’m home with a girl who is constantly messing up things that I tidy. I’m cleaning the kitchen after three meals. Parents who both work outside the home return to a house that’s exactly as they left it that morning.
Because, even though I love spending time with my friends who are also stay-at-home mums, I was working my ass off rushing to playgroups and free events to make sure my kid was properly socialized.
Because even though “stay-at-home” is in my job title, I needed to get out of the house with my daughter as much as possible during the day to keep my sanity.
Because I spent my day playing with dolls for hours on end and meticulously wiping watercolour paint off the dining room table when I used to save lives and wear a stethoscope around my neck.
Because by the time my husband came home, I had to make an effort to let him touch me since I was being climbed on and screamed at all day.
Stay-at-home mums—and dads, because whether you realise it or not, they’re out there—don’t “just” stay home. There’s no “just” in anything we do.
I overheard an exchange a few weeks ago between two couples. They were discussing work, and at one point one of the women remarked, “So your husband gets to stay home with the kids? That’s so great!” It was hard to hear those words. Because no one ever asked me if I “get to” stay home with my daughter.
This has been my life for more than two years now. I wouldn’t change it for the world. If I weren’t working as a writer, I would be doing something else that fulfilled me as I raised my daughter during the day. I think there are many of us like this.
The word “just” diminishes what I do, and who I am, and how difficult it is to be around kids all day without a break. I’m working so hard to hold my family and household together.
I regret not giving that perfect reply back to my former coworker. Because we stay-at-home parents owe it to ourselves to stick up for our roles more than we do. Because there’s no “just” about any of it.