I am the always-on-call parent. And if I miss any of it, if I slip up, that's all on me, too.
Being a stay-at-home mom was never my dream. In my early 20s, as I pounded the pavements of Manhattan in platform shoes typing fanatically into a Blackberry, I remember envisioning how one day I'd fit babies into that life with the help of a nanny and the more decent hours that would come with a higher-level editorial position.
But when my husband and I found out we were expecting our first baby right after moving out of state for his job, my options dwindled. I distinctly remember being eight months pregnant and waddling out of what would officially be the last of a string of lukewarm interviews, sitting down to crunch numbers with him and realizing that even if I got the job, we'd be losing money with what we'd pay in childcare. Mutually, we decided I'd stay home with the baby.
Once our daughter came, I flourished in this accidental role of stay-at-home parent. Her coos and cries were my new constant, daily purpose, her late-night feeds my unmissable meetings. I did still work part-time from home, typing blog posts into the notes section of my iPhone at 3 a.m. and taking calls from prospective clients hooked up to my breast pump. But despite my fierce desire to hold on to some semblance of a career, it became increasingly clear that mothering was my new full-time job.
Nearly five years later, we've added another child, and I dream of at least one more. The rhythm of my days (and nights) is predictable in that each day brings chaos. The role of stay-at-home motherhood, I've found, makes you more than a mother — it makes you the go-to person on all the things.
I am the go-to appointment-maker and mess-cleaner, grocery-shopper and laundress.
I am the disciplinarian, short-order cook, and changer of practically every single diaper.
I have to beg, borrow, and steal to make time for myself.
And when I do get alone time, I usually just choose to sleep. Sometimes I daydream about having a commute, just so I could listen to some music by myself and get lost in a thought that has nothing to do with princesses or peanut butter.
Yet, some people don't see what I do all day, every day for what it is: work.
As a SAHM, I am the always-on-call parent. The kisser of every boo-boo and giver of every bath. The one whose brain ticks on at night for hours while the rest of the household drifts off to Dreamland, because every single piece of the day-to-day falls down on me, and if I miss any of it, if I slip up, that's all on me, too. And I'll be the one who has to deal with the consequences.
The work piles up constantly and is reborn unto itself. Many days I power out at full force, scrubbing and mopping, signing and calling, straightening and preparing. I feel the satisfaction of having built the biggest and most beautiful sandcastle on the beach. For just a few calm moments I relish in my success. And then the tide washes up drags my work back out to sea. The organized turrets of sand dissolve into a natural state of disarray. No one saw the castle — it was only mine to admire briefly.
Such is the work of the stay-at-home parent, who cleans one thing or answers one call or prepares one meal only to find a sticky mess in a new corner, an epic battle over a toy in another. A call from a spouse coming through on the line with a whole new set of needs to be fulfilled. All. Day. Long.
I love being a stay-at-home mom. I love being the one to teach them their ABC's and colors. I love baking muffins on a whim and watching them fly high on the swings at the playground. I love being there for the shrieks of delight when I know many of my contemporaries are at their desks, wishing they could be doing the same.
Still, some people act like I'm not working.
Yes, there are playdates and coloring books and a whole lot of laughter. But there is also a relentless, break-free stream of full-time labor. I might be there for all the snuggles but I am also there for every single tantrum, blowout, and meltdown. Every missed nap, the sweeping up of each crumbled snack. And the invisibility of it all is so hurtful, especially when it comes from people who are supposed to care.
I have been asked what I do all day, and if I believe my college degree was a waste. I have been asked "What about your career?" and "Won't you feel useless when they're in school?" Society, and sadly, some people close to me, seem to view stay-at-home mothers as a pack of freeloaders bopping around town in yoga pants having lunch with girlfriends and getting spray tans while the rest of America taps pencils against their desks, willing the hours to move faster so they can get home to their kids.
I get it. Being a mom is hard for everyone. I understand the struggle. But I want my struggle acknowledged, too.
In my line of work there are no breaks, no sick days, and no time off. Though the rewards are vast, there are no promotions and no raises. The work, no matter how exceptional, often goes unnoticed.
I don't resent my job. In fact, I love it.
But it is a job, and I wish everyone could see that.
This story originally appeared on Apparently.