Stay at Home Mom: Jack of All Trades
When people hear the term at-home mom, they think of a 1950's icon like June Cleaver. They often say things like "Oh, that'd be nice to do nothing all day!" and "Must be nice to just sit around eating bon bons and watching soaps."
I can't help but agree. It must be nice to sit around all day, doing nothing. Too bad it's an experience neither I, nor other at home parents, will ever experience. I don't think it's anything June Cleaver herself ever experienced.
You see, just because I'm not being paid to be in an office or behind a counter doesn't mean that I'm not doing anything. As an at home parent, my job is to save us money. My job is to care for the kids. My job is to take over a little more of the housework. At the same time, my job is to parent the best way I know how. And, frankly, I'm so tired at the end of each day that I can't imagine how anyone finds time to sit around watching soaps.
This one's obvious. As an at home parent, I'm in charge of taking care of the kids. The older they get, the easier this job seems. When the kids were babies and toddlers, this meant I changed diapers, scheduled naps, kept a schedule. The older they get, it entails managing supervision, overseeing chores, nagging about homework, and making sure that meals and snacks are doled out regularly and appropriately.
If that still doesn't sound like much to do, keep in mind that any High Schooler worth their salt would get paid between $5 and $10 for the privilege, and they would likely leave the laundry and dishes for the parents.
It doesn't really matter what I cook or how good I am at it, I'm in charge of the kitchen. There are 4 people in this household, half of us have food allergies, and all of us need to eat 3 meals and a few snacks a day.
As the at-home parent, shopping and lots of meal prep fall to my shoulders. Maybe if I worked outside the home, we'd eat out more. But that would mean dinners ranging from $25-$40 a night rather than $5-$10 with leftovers for lunch tomorrow. It would also mean less healthful offerings.
Of course, it's all in the presentation. So it's my job to make meals and snacks somewhat attractive. I spend an inordinate amount of time in the kitchen slicing and dicing and standing over a toaster oven or frying pan. I keep a mental tally on what treats have been consumed and whether or not a sugary snack is a good call for after school munching. I make cookies and brownies, muffins and pancakes. I provide bake sale offerings, and scout snacks. And since I do have a food allergy kid, I'm also on call to provide emergency cupcakes, cookies or pizza for any and all class parties, sometimes with just a morning's notice. I can reassign some of these duties, choose to purchase pricier convenience foods once in awhile, but ultimately the decision and the food budget is at my discretion.
The National Salary average for a head chef is $25,000. Of course, I'm only cooking for 4, which makes the 'at home parent' more of a personal chef. But a personal chef earns up to four times more.
Whether you're an at-home parent or a paid-work parent, you're on call twenty four hours a day. Stomach aches, sore throats, vaccine reactions and bruises are all part of the territory of growing up and therefore parenting.
Working parents find it necessary to go to the pediatrician when they have to miss work. They can often leave a decision up to a daycare provider...call if they aren't functioning well, and I'll bring them to the doctor. I find that as a stay at home parent, the first visit to the pediatrician is spent saying "I've already done that. Pretend I was here 2 days ago, followed everything you said and we're on the second appointment." Not that doctors like that conversation much, but as an at home parent, I don't need to get a doctors note for work or daycare. I can reschedule my day as necessary to care for kids. And I sometimes do so a little bit instinctively.
I can gauge a fever by a forehead kiss, peer into a throat to see whether there are swollen tonsils or the sore throat is more likely post nasal drip, treat mild dehydration and recognize when that dehydration needs to be treated in a hospital (dry lips, concentrated urine/not visiting the bathroom frequently enough, a gentle pinch that leaves a mark for too long). I know what to do for tummy aches, ear aches, stuffy noses, and headaches. I call the advice nurse and after she gives me her spiel I can honestly say "Oh, good, then I'm doing all the right things. Thanks!" Any parent learns most of these skills. But if one parent is designated as "at home"; then they tend to gain more experience and more skills. The at home parent is also the one stuck cleaning up when dinner doesn't stay down, helping sick kids in and out of the tub, and providing a steady supply of popsicles, chicken soup and cool washcloths.
A pediatric nurse's salary starts around $20,000 a year. And they usually get a break in between shifts.
This is another "duh!" title, but it's true. Parents are the first teachers. And at home parents are responsible for a little extra teaching, since their children aren't going to a daily daycare/preschool center.
As an at home parent, I wove counting and math skills into our everyday lives; made countless trips to the library to support literacy, provided hands on arts and crafts so they could learn fine motor skills, and generally supplied a vague but useful curriculum. We learned about plants by growing a garden, studied bugs and collected leaves. Our home curriculum rivaled any private school's and was spread out throughout the day and applied to our living skills.
Since the kids' started elementary school, my role as teacher has faded more into that of tutor. Rather than hire one of those fancy centers to keep the kids occupied and make sure they have the support they need with homework, I keep them occupied after school and check their homework. It's me who follows up with questions and searches google for complicated alegebra terms; and then translates. I dont do homework or projects for them, but I am the one aware of what's do when and then I'm in charge of making sure project materials are available. Building a mission in fourth grade? No problem...there's styrofoam and paint and sculpey in the cupboard. Need a hundred's day project? Take your pick, the art box is stocked with glue, crayons, beads, and string. I'm hands on enough to keep them on target but need to be hands off enough to let them learn.
A tutor earns about $10 an hour. A teacher earns $27,000-45,000 a year. A parent earns a smile and a hug.
It may not be directly parenting related, but when your kids spent the better part of every day tearing apart your house instead of the daycare center, a once a week scrubbing isn't going to cut it. At home parents are constantly tidying up forgotten legos, train track derailments, couch cushion igloos and forgotten figurine villages.
We enlist the kids help, but in the end the final follow through is ours. And when you can either wait another half hour for them to make sure the pink puppy and the yellow puppy end up in separate boxes tonight because they had a fight earlier, or just do it yourself while the kids start their tub...9 times out of 10 you'll do it yourself. (At least, if your family is anything like mine) And the more times the kids come careening through the living room after searching for caterpillars, the more frequently that living room needs a vacuum.
Maid's salary: $13,000-40,000 a year and worth every penny.
And Then Some...
My hub is getting too long, but as an at-home parent, I'm also a party planner, conflict mediator, schedule coordinator, taxi driver, and economic advisor. There are probably a few more in there that I've missed.
In short, I plan and execute a variety of birthday or holiday parties I might otherwise have to pay a play place for (averaging $250 last time we priced them), I intervene when the kids can't work things out among themselves, I make sure that we are at the ballet studio on ballet day, dressed in soccer cleats on soccer day and that the right kid ends up at the right house at the right time for play dates and get picked up promptly. Some weeks it's a delicate dance that might make a lesser parent's head swim.
I drive carpool and volunteer in my 'spare time'. I'm there for class parties, taking pictures, and serving cake. I applaud for every recital, and I wipe away tears when things don't go as planned. I lead park explorations, museum treks, and zoo safaris. I'm up at midnight when someone has a bad dream, and then again with the alarm to get breakfast on the table and lunches packed in backpacks. I'm at teacher meetings, and scout meetings, and doctor appointments. I've never yet found the time to sit around eating bon bons, or even been remotely tempted to don pearls and heels while I ran the vacuum.
If an at-home parent were paid for each position they hold, they wouldn't have to sit down at the end of every month to balance the checkbook, budget for groceries or wonder how they can afford braces. So give them a little credit...and if you're an at home parent (whether it's a work from home or unpaid parenting position) give yourself some credit, too. We deserve it!