Friday, 30 November 2012

The myth of the stay-at-home mom

"Well, that's easy enough for you, you're at home every day... I work, so I can only get anything done on the weekend."

Heard that before? Does it make you want to tear your (unwashed, because you haven't even had time for a shower) hair out of your head?

It's enough of a problem being a stay-at-home mom and trying to explain to people how busy you actually are and how much you actually have to do during the day, when most seem to think it means you're a lady of leisure - or, in my instance, a work-at-home mom, doing everything a stay-at-home mom does plus running a company, which people seem to think operates itself while I live this life of leisure mommying my three boys - but at least other parents get it. They may think that they have it harder, being a working parent (which I actually disagree with - I've been a working-out-of-home mom, a working-in-the-home mom, and a non-working stay-at-home-mom; I can state unequivocally  that being a working mom is no more challenging than being an at-home mom) - but at the very least they do understand what's involved in parenting.

It's the people without kids.

It's your girlfriends without kids who look at you with naked envy when you tell them you've finished your Christmas shopping or hand them their tin of Christmas cookies - "Oh, I'm so jealous, I'll probably be at the store Christmas Eve. I wish I could get it done earlier, but there's just no time with work." - the implication being that you have endless amounts of time for that sort of thing because you don't spend eight hours a day in an office. They don't seem to understand that the Christmas shopping gets done at ten o'clock at night after homework is done, dinner is eaten and the kitchen is cleaned up, we're home from soccer practice and swimming lessons, the two older kids are showered and read to and in bed and Baby has been bathed and changed and nursed and put to sleep.

Working adults without kids get home at six or seven or even eight - and then have what to do? People without kids don't realize yet that literally every second that you are not on call being required or requested to do something is free time. People without kids who get home from the office and feel busy because they need to make dinner, do the dishes, run a load of laundry think they have no free time.

To a mom, getting to make a meal or do the dishes or laundry without children around IS free time.

My "me time" is doing the laundry, cleaning and shopping after the children are finally in bed at night.

When I was working out of the home - before my youngest was born and after my older two sons started school - I had that late-night time as well as the commute to work. Sitting alone in the car, listening to my favourite music without interruption, planning out my workday and making a mental grocery list, was bliss for a mom unused to five minutes without cries of "MommyMommyMommy!"

I actually have no idea what I did with my "free" time before I had kids. No idea. But I know I felt busy - which is why I don't blame those without kids for not understanding what it's like when you're a parent.

Someone without kids works eight, ten, maybe even twelve hours a day, five days a week - leaving twelve to sixteen hours each and every weekday and the entire weekend of "free time." Sleep has to fit in there somewhere, of course - say six hours of uninterrupted sleep a night, for most. But all the rest of that time is free time - time to take care of errands, chores around the house, and just hanging out. Moms "work" twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

As a mother of three young children, I have perhaps seven hours between when my oldest child goes to sleep for the night and my youngest wakes up for the morning. This is when I can do the laundry, dishes, housecleaning, and any odds-and-ends shopping. This is when I take care of paperwork for my business. This is when I return emails and messages and write my blog. And then - and only then - I get to sleep - at which point there are four or five hours left before Baby will wake up for the day. But then there are at least four or five wake-ups during the night after I've gone to bed that need Mommy - Baby needs to nurse; one child has a bad dream, one has an accident; Baby needs to nurse again; one child wants company for a bathroom and water break, one wants a snuggle; Baby needs to nurse again. I'm lucky if I get three or possibly (if I'm very lucky) four non-consecutive hours of sleep a night.

Working non-parents think they are wonderful multi-taskers. I know I did. It wasn't until I had children, when I had to balance Baby on a boob and my laptop on the arm of the nursing chair and the phone against my ear, calling out directions to my eldest for where to find the cereal and bowls for his bedtime snack while emailing payroll and records of earnings out to my staff and dialing my best friend for our weekly night-time phone date (my once a week hour of "social life") while nursing Baby to hopefully fall asleep, that I began to understand what multitasking really meant. It's not until you have children that you realize how much you can get done in a mere fifteen child-free minutes, and how much time you must once have been frittering away without even realizing. I have been known to spend an extra five minutes in the washroom when I take my Saturday morning shower and my husband is downstairs with the kids - because for a mom, those five minutes all alone, even if it's just spent deep-conditioning or applying lotion, are an almost unheard-of self-indulgent luxury.

I wouldn't change my life for any amount of free time and I would never want to go back to a child-free lifestyle - but I find it very frustrating when childless friends say they have no free time. Guess what? If you find yourself alone in a room for five minutes - even if you have a list of things you need to do - that's free time, and a luxury most moms rarely find. Especially those that stay at home with their kids.

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