Sunday, November 20, 2011
I was biking yesterday while watching Ironman Arizona on TV with some other triathletes (what better way to stay motivated to work hard than watching all the exhausted folks crossing the finish line!). Lots of doctors crossed the finish line, military folks, firefighters, business people, and then a guy comes across who is announced as a "stay at home dad". A comment was made from a triathlete about how ridiculous that was, how easy he must have it, having ALL THAT TIME to train. Yes, ALL. THAT. TIME. Again, parents, you can stop laughing.
So, just to set the record straight, let me state uncategorically that being a stay at home parent is the hardest job in the world. It's the best job, for sure. The most joyful, frustrating, wonderful, terrible, exciting, boring job in the world. But hard. Hard, hard, hard.
Just for comparison, when I was a college student I was so poor that I started my day with a paper route at 4:30 in the morning, and ended it working in the computer labs until midnight just to pay my bills and tuition. From there, I went to work for Microsoft, a place renowned for 60 - 80 hour workweeks. A place so rigorous that several of my co-workers and bosses had nervous breakdowns or had to leave, just from the strain. There were days I came home so frazzled that I drove past my own driveway, repeatedly. At the time, I certainly thought it was the hardest and most stressful thing I'd done.
But neither of those is as tough as being a parent. Especially a full-time stay-at-home parent. Yes, you heard me right. You have it easy before having kids, even if you don't know it. The reason? Other than work, your time is your own. When you're working or reading or cooking or sleeping or shopping or driving, no one is screaming in your ear, barfing in your lap, pooping in their diapers, begging for a toy, fighting with a sibling, singing a song, or talking your ear off about Thomas the Tank Engine. When you decide to go for a run after work or on your lunch break, no one has a dance rehearsal they need to be at or homework they need help with. You only have yourself to look after. You get to schedule things and have a reasonable expectation that your schedule will not be obliterated by circumstances beyond your control time and time again.
When you're a stay-at-home parent to very young kids, going for a run can look like this: feed the baby, change the baby, put baby in jogging stroller. Corral the toddler, dress the toddler, get toddler his book, put toddler in jogging stroller. Baby is now crying. Baby just spit up. Take baby out of stroller to clean baby. While doing that, toddler unbuckles and climbs out and is now sitting on his little potty chair singing to himself and reading his book. Twenty minutes later when he's done, you get him back into the stroller. Now the baby is hungry again. Feed the baby, change the baby, put baby in jogging stroller..... IF (and this is a BIG IF) you're lucky, you might get out the door. Then again, you might not.
In the idyllic photo above of my kids when they were much younger biking while I run, it wasn't three minutes later that one of the kids crashed, got a scraped knee, and the run was over for the day. Such is life with small children.
When kids get older, it does get easier in many ways - at least they can feed and clothe themselves. However, they typically fill in this time gap with a thousand activities you need to take them to. If they go off to school, you might have a block of time during the day when, after you get the shopping, cleaning, laundry, driving, chores, banking, and gardening done, you might go out for a run or bike ride. My kids are homeschooled, so I wouldn't know about that whole block of time thing. I do know that when my fellow triathletes were getting up on Sunday, eating breakfast, and getting ready for the day's bike ride, I was getting my daughter ready for a dance rehearsal, making sure she had her pink, tan, and black leotards and tights, her jazz shoes, tap shoes, ballet shoes, and ballroom shoes packed in her dance bag. Making sure she had a lunch packed and her cell phone was charged, and cooking her breakfast as well as the rest of the family. And my Saturday run happened in the cold and the dark on Saturday night because I spent the whole day driving 200 miles roundtrip with my son's robotics team to take them to an event. So although it might get easier at some point (when they leave for college?) it hasn't happened yet.
Just trying to type this out, I've counted eleven different child-related interruptions, but so it goes in the easy laid-back land of the stay-at-home parent. So the next time you see a stay-at-home dad or mom crossing the finish line of the Ironman, or even arriving at the grocery store with matching socks, give them a standing ovation instead of a hard time.
Posted by Robin at 8:17 PM