I recently spent some time with a group of parents of young children. As the little ones explored the new toys and each other, the parents sipped on coffee and remained poised to wipe drool and catch stumbles.
One mother was commenting on how difficult it has been to adjust to “not having a job” after transitioning to being a stay at home parent of three children. As I watched her littlest crawl and wiggle her way to the edges of the play area and keep going, I knew that this was not an entirely accurate statement.
As soon as we start school, we receive feedback in the form of grades and report cards. When we begin our first jobs, that feedback continues, perhaps in the form of an annual review. These systems are certainly not perfect, but they do profile a way to score yourself—to take note of your triumphs and to identify areas for improvement.
Even better, in many professions, you set attainable goals.
My own children are now 6 and 4. You may think that I would have adjusted to being a mostly stay at home parent by now. You would be wrong.
In my former career as a scientist, I had a running list of tasks to perform, experiments to complete, data to analyze. When things were finished, I could *see* my progress. I could hold something in my hand and say “I did this.” I may have spent 12 hours on the confocal microscope in the last two days, but I took this image which will be used for our manuscript that will be submitted for publication in a scientific journal. And that would feel pretty darn amazing! Not to mention the fact that I have been lucky enough to have some fantastic bosses that would actually say ‘thank you’ and I would feel appreciated on top of productive. Wow!
It feels so good to reach a goal!
Life as a stay at home parent is...different.
My to do list still never ends, but it is also hard to see any actual progress. To achieve any goals. The laundry, dishes, and grocery shopping is a never-ending cycle. There is no end goal, no true completion.
If I made a list of my daily accomplishments, it may include a tally of snacks served, butts wiped, games played, hugs given. Sure, these things mean health, cleanliness, fun, and comfort for my kiddos and, you know, those are important things.
But I am not earning praise, a raise, or extra vacation time. And my “bosses” are not exactly the most appreciative. And I know yours are the same.
Our reward is that we get to do it all over again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.
No breaks. No weekends.
Working parents, I see you too. Whether you are working a paid position in or out of your home, full or part time, I know that you do not get to clock out when you have fulfilled your weekly quota of on-the-job hours. That is just when your “home work” begins.
Whatever job title we may hold, our work as parents means that we share many of the same struggles.
This work is hard!
While it may not be a job, in the traditional sense of the word (since “job” implies that compensation is received), parenting is most definitely work. The hardest work that you will ever do. Simultaneously the least and most rewarding work, depending on what type of measure you use. Work that never truly ends.
So listen, parents! It is okay to want and need a break from your tiny bosses. It is okay if you just need to lock yourself in the bathroom for a few minutes of alone time. And it is okay if your favorite time of day is bedtime!
You are doing so much WORK.
Traditional or in the home, paid and/or unpaid, I know why you are exhausted. I also know that you love your kids. You are strong and courageous for continuing to do the work, day after amazing, impossible, joyful, exhausting day.
So, let me assure you that you are doing the right things.
You are a valuable member of the team.
Keep up the good work.
Written by: Kirsten