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A few months ago Democratic strategist and working mom Hilary Rosen said that Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, a stay-at-home mom, "never worked a day in her life." The backlash was immediate. Never worked a day in her life? The woman raised five boys! That's a major accomplishment, nannies or not.
Rosen ought to be darn thankful she didn't say something like that to me. I work hard at homemaking and I will have respect. Recently, when my husband dared to eat my lovingly home-cooked dinner without praising it effusively, I threw the entire roast chicken across the kitchen in a fit of rage. But more on that later.
Bottom line, Rosen's comment touched off yet another round of the Mommy Wars: working moms versus stay-at-home moms. And as always, emotions -- and sometimes chickens -- are flying fast and furious. I've done the mom thing both ways and I'm here to say that being a stay-at-home mom is the hardest job ever.
I went over to the stay-at-home side a few months ago, when I got laid off. No biggie, my husband consoled. We'll get rid of the childcare costs and we'll manage on one paycheck. You'll spend more time with Will (our 6-year-old). You'll cook more (good-bye take-out bills!). You'll take care of the house (good-bye cleaning lady!). What he actually said was, "You'll be a domestic goddess and make our home an oasis of calm and order."
Who knew oasis-building was such a soul-sucking endeavor? Cleaning is beyond boring, of course, but it's more than that -- I don't like doing things I'm not very good at. I'm not a great cook. I'm not crafty. I don't have a green thumb. Entertaining frays my nerves. And my idea of organizing is making sure there are no pizza boxes on the floor. Basically, I just don't have the skill set for this line of work. I miss my office job!
Yes, I'm thrilled to do the school run every day and to be able to spend more than just quality time with Will, but that is one of the few upsides of my new life. I miss working with other adults. I liked having a desk full of papers and memos and spending my days thinking about how to solve office-related problems, no baking required. That's where I excel. As a homemaker, I suck.
It's stressing me out, big-time. "What did you do today?" my husband asks. It's an innocent question, I guess, but I snap: "Why? Do you want me to fill out a time sheet?" (Count to 10. Breathe.) "Oh, you know, I shopped and cleaned and picked Will up from school and took him to tae kwon do and made him do his homework and gave him a bath and fixed his dinner and threatened him about veggies and, well, that's about it. Oh, and I forgot to eat lunch. How was your day?"
Expectations are higher when you're a SAHM. If you are not running on all cylinders -- raising the happiest, most accomplished, nicest kids, feeding them the healthiest, most delicious food, providing the family an oasis to come home to -- then you're a failure. I mean, that's your job. Plus, this new division of labor means I've suddenly become my husband's assistant. "You've really got to get Will's room in order." (Okay, that's fair.) "You've really got to get him to do his homework." (Well, you could help.) "You've really got to get him to bed earlier. (Again, could use some help here. I'm pooped.) "You've really got to put things away!" (I know! Shut up!) And, believe it or not: "You really ought to get a pedicure."
He probably means, "Pamper yourself. You deserve it." But what I hear is: "You really ought to make yourself more attractive for your husband." (Hey, maybe then he'll run away with me -- his secretary.)
When you're a full-time homemaker, just being a mom and running your household isn't enough anymore -- there's all this other stuff that your husband, your school, your community, your working friends, and your mother-in-law expect you to do. You've got the time, they figure. You're not working, right?
As far as I can see, SAHMs pick up the slack (and the dry cleaning) for a lot of people. Moms on the PTA practically run the education system, for heaven's sake! I don't know how they do it. I find it overwhelming, and I've only got one kid.
When I went to an office job, I managed to get the laundry done and dinner on the table. But now that I have all day long, the drudgery seems to expand to fill the time available. The piles of laundry are endless, getting meals together is exhausting, and keeping the house in some sort of order is practically impossible. I'm sure it's psychological. I'm not feeling engaged so I'm not able to be efficient. There's no work-life balance. And since I'm doing a crappy job I feel permanently frustrated. As my family can tell you, I'm yelling a lot more.
So, no -- becoming a SAHM didn't exactly turn me into the serene domestic goddess my husband envisioned the day I got laid off. Case in point: the chicken incident. It was my second week at home and I thought, what says "oasis" better than a roast chicken? And I wasn't going to make just any roast chicken, but the most succulent, amazing homecooked roast chicken my husband had ever tasted. I devoted the day to it and totally outdid myself. Or so I thought.
That night, when my husband did not acknowledge the chicken's amazingness, I was livid. "I made you dinner," I said through gritted teeth. "I cooked."
"It's good," he grunted, cluelessly.
I was sweaty, grumpy, annoyed, and in need of a lot of praise. This wasn't so much a chicken as it was a cry for help, a huge "Notice Me!" sign, and silly man, he just...ate it. In a moment of high domestic drama, I picked up the bird and, well, you remember the rest.
I know, I'm a drama queen and a big whiner. I can hear you saying, "Get over yourself! You can't possibly be spending every minute of your day shopping and cleaning and trying to cook. Make the time to do something else! Charity work! Help out at your son's school! Take cooking lessons if you can't cook. Blog!" And I'm starting to do all that. I'm getting there.
All I'm saying, I guess, is that this is a huge adjustment. I worked hard at my office job. And I'm sure my experience has a lot to do with how pathetic I am at homemaking. But I almost feel like, before becoming a stay-at-home mom, I never really worked a day in my life.
When she's not throwing poultry at her husband, Barrie Gillies spends much of her time picking Legos out of the laundry.