Tell me this isn’t a question every stay-at-home mom or dad hasn’t heard a few times before.
And almost every single one, I’m sure, feels compelled to defend themselves and list everything they do all day, especially since these folks generally don’t have an “end of the day.”
They work all day long and into the evening. Some are even at it in the middle of the night. I mean, the partner that has to go to work in the morning shouldn’t have to get up with the sick / scared / troubled / unable to sleep children, right?
And yet this question continues to pop up. From the spouse, parent, sibling, friend, neighbour, old college buddy, spouse’s boss.
While they don’t usually intend any malice, why is it so important for those who work outside the home to understand what those at home do all day?
Do those that are at home ask of those working outside the home what they do all day? I don’t know about you, but no one has ever asked me what I did at the office all day.
Nowadays, there are so many other folks who get that same question: what do you do all day? Those who work from home; are self-employed; are retired; are sick, disabled, or injured; and those that have been laid off, which is a great many in this city.
So how do you answer this question without conveying irritation or defensiveness? How do you keep from letting this little barb turn into a poisoned spear?
Having experienced every side of this issue now – first being a stay-at-home mom for ten years, then working full time while going to university and being a single mom, then working full time and mommying, then being laid off – I have the unique opportunity to see many aspects of this silly question, and that helps me to understand it. The bottom line? Jealousy.
People who ask this question are simply jealous. They don’t, usually, intend to be mean or hurtful. And they don’t in most cases realize they’re jealous. But think about it: wouldn’t everyone like to work in their own comfortable environment, or be their own boss of their own day, or spend more time with their children or families? Wouldn’t everyone like to skip that maddening commute twice a day and send out their morning emails in their pajamas?
As a stay-at-home mom, I didn’t understand. I felt as though I were being attacked or looked down upon, as though I were somehow less than those who went to work, even though I had three children in three years and two of them were chronically ill. I was forever justifying my day to other parents or family members. I even felt I had to justify myself to my husband, regardless of the fact that I hadn’t slept a whole night through in an entire decade.
Once I had to leave the home to head to work however, I understood pretty quickly. I was jealous of all the moms who were able to stay home with their children. I was jealous of all the time they got to spend with their kids, taking them to school, taking them to the park, making cookies with them.
All of a sudden I could no longer do that every day. No longer could I pop in to school to drop off something they’d forgotten or run in to take care of a medical issue. No longer did I have the luxury of working out while they played beside me. No longer was I able to make grocery shopping fun, taking the kids shopping in the middle of a weekday morning when there were no lines and grabbing a cookie at the end of the trip.
Even when I was working jobs I really liked, it didn’t stop me from feeling horribly envious listening to cousins or sisters complaining about all their laundry or how they never get to leave the house without the kids or the hours upon hours spent cooking. I wanted that, and as far as I was concerned, they had no idea how great they had it.
Whether working at a job I liked or a job I didn’t like, I still wanted to work from home. It’s not that I, or anyone else who wants to work from home, doesn’t want to work. You just want to do it in comfort and on your own terms, right? Of course I wanted to pay the bills too, so that only served to increase my jealousy of others’ ability to stay home.
I promised earlier to share how to deal with this question without creating a combative atmosphere. Because you know the person asking it is jealous, you already have the upper hand – you have what they want. Therefore, you don’t need to detail everything you do in a day. You’re already aware that you truly spend every day doing a million things, and most of them go unnoticed by everyone else even though if you were gone and they didn’t get done anymore, they’d surely get noticed then.
Once you know you’re actually the one in the enviable position, you can remember that and share your happiness with the asker. Rather than the sarcastic, “I sit in my pjs eating candy and watching soap operas,” you can simply reply with “every day is full: I wake up happy and fulfilled, and I go to bed happy and fulfilled.” Then move on to another subject or excuse yourself from the conversation. Perhaps your response will even be enough to encourage them to make changes in their life if they aren’t happy or want to be at home.
But here’s the hard part of your answer. Admittedly, we are all unhappy with something in our lives. It’s hard to say you wake up happy and go to bed happy every day when you’re only remembering your lack of sleep; your screaming, fighting children; your endless chores; your lack of funds; your worry over finding a job; your frustration at not having enough freedom or not achieving the things that you want to achieve in your lifetime.
They key is to change your thinking. You can honestly be happy and convey that to the what-do-you-do-all-day quizzers if you focus not on your disappointments and frustrations and worries but on your benefits: not having to ride on the rush-hour rollercoaster twice a day, not having to make appointments only on your lunch break when many professional offices are closed anyway, not having to eat another stupid sandwich or salad that’s all mushy or wilted because that’s all you time had time to make the night before and that’s all you have the time to eat.
Yes, you’re exhausted after being up all night cleaning up kid puke. Yes, you worry every day that you won’t be able to pay the bills soon. Yes, you wonder if you’re actually doing everything you can with your day and your life. But those worries will always be there in one form or another.
So remember all the wonderful things that you have that those envious folks don’t have and confidently answer their question.
Every day is full: I wake up happy and fulfilled, and I go to bed happy and fulfilled. J