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I Tried Being a Stay-at-Home Mom for a Day

Photograph by Twenty20

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I’m not entirely sure where this desire came from. Growing up, all my friends' moms worked, so it’s not like I ever saw a real-life example of what a stay-at-home mom was. I myself got my first job as a restaurant hostess at 15 years old and have never experienced a day of unemployment since; I’m college educated, with dreams and aspirations that certainly extend beyond motherhood.

But still, I always saw myself staying home once I had kids. I saw myself being the one who would provide my babies with all the love, nurturing and educational enlightenment they might need throughout their days—certainly in the early years, at least.

So it was with great remorse that I signed my daughter up for daycare at just 5 months old. As a single mother, I didn’t have much of a choice. I had to work, and despite having given it a valiant effort her first few months of life, I discovered pretty quickly that I couldn’t work and take care of her full time.

Day care was pretty much a necessity in our life.

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I cried a lot that first week and even a handful of times since. In my perfect world, I would have the flexibility to spend those days with my daughter. But I don’t. And the truth is, I’ve come to appreciate daycare for what it has to offer—for the opportunity it provides for my daughter to interact with other adults and children who aren’t in our immediate circle of friends. And for the chance it gives me to come home and do the work I love in peace.

All these years, I’ve continued to struggle with that part of me that always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom.

I’ll let you in on a secret, though: All these years, I’ve continued to struggle with that part of me that always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I’ve wondered what it would have been like to raise my daughter as my sole responsibility. And I’ve wished that we both could have more time with each other than we do.

I’ve long looked at my stay-at-home mom friends with envy, jealous that I couldn’t be in their shoes.

Recently, one of those stay-at-home mom friends of mine needed an emergency appendectomy. Our circle of friends immediately jumped into action, divvying up days to help with her three boys (ages 1, 3, and 5) so that she could recover without worrying about chasing after them.

Because we have kind of an amazing village like that.

Since I do work from home, I have a bit of flexibility with my own schedule. So it was simple enough for me to give up a weekday of work one day so that my daughter and I could play hooky and go take care of my friend’s kids instead.

Which meant it was me and four kids, aged 5 and under, from 9 in the morning until my friend’s husband made it home a little after 5:30 p.m.

No big deal, right? I’m a good mom, and I’ve spent a ton of time with these boys. I even stayed with the older two for a few days when their baby brother was born—I totally had this.

The youngest was waking up right around the time my daughter and I arrived, so I sent her off to play with the older boys as I gathered the little guy and set about getting some food on the table for all those little bellies. I had big plans for our day. We were going to get their tummies full, then we were going to walk to the park and spend a few hours there. We would come home just in time for lunch, then nap (during which time, the oldest kiddo and I would play some games and have some fun one-on-one bonding), and after that finger painting!

When my friend came down and tried to show me how to work the television, I shooed her away—we weren’t going to need that! It was going to be an intense day of playtime with auntie!

Of course, everything began to fall apart shortly thereafter. Fighting broke out over a toy as I was attempting to put breakfast on the table. I swooped in and declared it now off-limits, patting myself on the back for a quick reaction time before turning back to the food. But by then, the baby had managed to pull a cup off the table and spill milk everywhere. So I launched into cleaning that, even as I heard another fight starting up in the other room.

By the time I finally got everyone to the table to eat, no one wanted what they had been served and bartering began for other options. I was so focused on helping the little guy (who had just recently had cleft palate surgery and wasn’t allowed to use his own spoon yet) that I gave in much sooner than I probably should have, pouring bowls of cereal without putting up much of a fight over the abandoned pieces of fruit left on plates.

When we finished up breakfast, it was already half an hour past when I had been hoping we would leave for the park. And I still had to clean up.

You see where this day was going, right?

We never did make it to the park. By 11 in the morning, I had put a movie on—mostly because I just needed some quiet. The only kid I managed to get down for a nap was the youngest, and I’m fairly sure I left quite a few dishes in the sink for their daddy to deal with when he got home. And oh my gosh, the toys—the toys were everywhere!

I really and truly am in awe of you. Your job is non-stop, with no breaks in between. You are “on” from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed.

Just a few hours in, I was exhausted and desperate for my computer and my quiet days spent working.

So to you, my stay-at-home mom friends, I raise a glass. Because your job is hard; way harder than mine. Yes, I technically do all the same things you do when it comes to caring for my kid, but let’s be honest ... I get hours upon hours of silence in between those care-taking shifts every day. I get a chance to work on something that is independent from my motherhood. I get a break from the pressure of doing and being everything, as I am able to confidently trust in the fact that my daughter is socializing and learning and well-taken-care of while she is away from me.

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I get to breathe. And truthfully, stay-at-home-mommies, I wouldn’t be shocked at all if you told me you don’t feel like you get to do a ton of that.

I really and truly am in awe of you. Your job is non-stop, with no breaks in between. You are “on” from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed. You work so hard to give your kids your everything, and you rarely get the credit you deserve for that. Yet, despite how hard you work, those of you I know personally almost never complain. You are fully aware of the privilege that grants you the ability to stay at home, and for that, I am perhaps even more impressed by you.

I really do think my stay-at-home mom friends are superheroes. And so, just in case you don’t hear it enough, know that I look up to you. And I’m inspired by you.

Despite the fact that I can now definitively say, I wouldn’t want your job. Because holy crap, do you ever work hard!

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