An honest answer to a stupid question posed to stay at home parents
“I have to apologize,” my wife said to me after we put the kids to bed. I racked my brain. What was she apologizing for? Maybe I should be mad; pretty sure I wasn’t. I tried to quickly recall the events of the day to see if I forgave her for this mysterious wrongdoing. She took the day off from work so I could have a surgery consultation for my hernia. (Or maybe not a hernia.) After that, she picked Penny (4 years old) up from school while I stayed home (not doing a whole hell of a lot) with a sleeping Simon (11 months old). The gals got home, we all played blocks, rough-housed, read stories, and had bath time. Other than the trip to the hospital, it was a pretty normal day. Actually, other than that trip to the hospital, it had been a pretty damn good day.
As is usually the case when she’s looking for, rather than giving, an apology, I had to admit I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. “I planned to do so many things today,” she explained. “But between dropping off, picking up, playing with & feeding the kids, I didn’t get to finish the things on my list.” (Note: whereas I’m kind of haphazard and scattershot in my approach to the day, she’s definitely a checklist kind of a person.) She continued, “I mean, I know you do A LOT with the kids, but sometimes I have to admit I wonder why…” she continued hesitantly “… I don’t know, I guess why sometimes more stuff doesn’t get done.” Allie looked guilty that she admitted this to me. “But now, I am kind of getting it.” I responded to this confession with an “uh, okay.” I wasn’t quite sure what I thought about this strange apology. But I shrugged and laughed, because it was absolutely unnecessary and I knew exactly what she meant.
I, and I assume all, stay at home dads get the question, “What do you do all day?” all the time. Sometimes it’s said with a “you must be really bored” inflection, “What do you doooo all day?” Other times it’s accusatory from people who think stay at home parents (especially dads, or maybe I’m just paranoid) are lazy, “What do you DO ALL DAY!?!” The implication being, “…while I’m working my ass off at a real job!” Sometimes it’s genuine curiosity. This question comes from friends, relatives, and strangers. Sometimes, I even have to ask myself (and I believe this is what Allie was thinking when she apologized), “What the hell DID I do all day?” Whoever asks, I always find it a difficult question to answer. (I guess I could just point people to this Good Morning America clip, but not many SAHDs have that option.)
The easy answer is that every day is different, one adventure after another! And, even though though I’m saying this in a sarcastic tone (you can’t hear me, but I am), it is partially true. Like any job, each day presents new challenges, hurdles, and (literally or figuratively) shit to deal with. It is also true that every day can be monotonously similar to the day before it.
Pretty much every weekday goes something like this: Either Allie or I wake up Penny who, in turn, wakes up Simon with her whining about getting up. One of us cajoles Penny out of bed (she, like me, is not a morning person). She picks out an outfit & dresses herself. Allie and I, through a series of nods and grunts, divvy up responsibilities. One of us feeds Simon and gets Penny’s lunch packed (because we inevitably forgot to do it the night before), while the other brushes Penny’s teeth & hair and makes sure we’re not forgetting anything else. We drop Penny off at school. I drop Allie off at the train. Simon falls asleep in the car. I carry a sleeping Simon in his carseat up two flights of stairs. I do some stuff around the house or work on my blog (hey, that’s what I’m doing right now!). He wakes up. We play for a bit. I go to the gym or run an errand or two. I pick Penny up from school. If it’s nice, we go to the playground; if it’s not, we either go home or the library or Barnes & Noble or something else that is fun, or educational, or just kills some time. We head home and probably watch a TV show (heaven forbid!). While Penny’s distracted and Simon’s happy hanging with his sister, maybe I do the dishes I didn’t get around to earlier. We play princess figurines, paint Penny’s nails, rough-house or whatever. I get the kids packed in the car to pick Allie up at the train station. Hopefully there’s some food for me to throw together a quick dinner, which Penny will not eat. Some family fun time. We do the bed time routine. And, hopefully, everyone stays asleep. I forgot to mention: feed the kids, change diapers, arrange & go on playdates, and I’m sure a bunch of other stuff.
Not every day goes according to plan. The days that are the toughest—that I most need a beer or three at the end of the night—are the days when I feel like I didn’t do a friggin’ thing. Or at least nothing I can remember doing. I look back and realize my biggest accomplishment was managing to keep the kids alive for another 24 hours. Huzzah! The fact is that kids require a lot of attention and they, often times, have plans of their own that supercede anything on your to-do list. And, yeah, sometimes it is hard to get shit done! (Sorry, I got a little defensive there.)
Sometimes it’s hard to get things done because it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the fun of parenting. My kids are adorable and hilarious and absolutely incredible! I love playing with them and, as Simon gets older, I love watching them play together. I don’t love doing the dishes.
I wish I was able to keep the house tidier and that I could check more things off my to-do list (you got me… I have one, too) but I have to prioritize. Most important is taking care of the kids. Second is taking care of my sanity. Hence the gym, the time-killing activities, and letting the kids watch a little TV. Third is taking care of the house. Every parent does things differently and I don’t think anyone should apologize for the system that works for them.
—photo by Natapics/Flickr