By Molly DeFrank
A few months ago, I made a pretty radical career move.
I turned down an offer to nearly double my old salary. Instead, I opted for a job with no salary at all. A job with no benefits, no vacation days and terrible hours.
I am a stay-at-home mom.
The average itinerary of a stay-at-home mom looks something like this: wake up to chatty toddler and crying infant. Nurse infant. Cross fingers that toddler is entertained by Barney episode until nursing is complete. Unsuccessfully burp infant while preparing breakfast for toddler. Burn toast while cleaning spit-up off your shirt. Rummage for clean shirt for self and infant. Reassure whiny toddler that breakfast will be ready soon. Change mom shirt and infant onesie. Burn second piece of toast. Forget the toast. I hate toast. Pour cereal. Awkwardly guide infant’s bow-legs through Exersaucer leg holes so you can secure toddler in high chair. Pour milk into cereal bowl. Turn around for .3 seconds to grab spoon. Fail to intercept cereal bowl before it hits the floor, courtesy of overeager toddler hands. Reassure crying toddler that accidents happen. Clean mess, pour new bowl of cereal. Hope kids can entertain themselves for 20 seconds so you can microwave your coffee for the 3rd time that morning – and wonder why they haven’t invented an iv coffee kit yet.
And that’s just the first 15 minutes of the day. Every. Single. Day.
I’ve actually always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. Ever since I can remember, I have pictured my adult self in head-to-toe June Cleaver garb, seamlessly balancing playgroup, cleaning and baking. My pearls would lay neatly above the neckline of my flowy summer dress as I hung laundry on the clothesline outside. The children would run around laughing and blowing bubbles and I’d be living in a 1950s Tide commercial. It would be awesome.
But here I am, a dozen years and two kids later, feeling like I deserve a medal if I’ve managed to have us all showered and dressed before 9am. Our clean laundry sits in baskets throughout the house, old, wrinkled, waiting desperately for June Cleaver.
I’ve never had a job that has kept me so continuously busy and yet provided such little evidence of having worked non-stop (see laundry piles).
In case you are currently working full-time and want to know how your life might be different if you decide to make this radical leap, here are some ways I have noticed that stay-at-home-mom-ing differs from working in an office full-time:
When people ask you what you do for a living, do they sound interested or impressed when you tell them? Yes? Ok, now imagine the opposite reaction of that, and then an awkward “Good for you!” that sounds exactly the same as when your 3rd grade PE teacher congratulated you for finishing the mile run 10 minutes later than everyone else in your class.
Do you currently feel a tremendous sense of gratification when you complete a work assignment well? Do the people you work for give you a pat on the back when you do the right thing? In your new position, when you do the right thing, like refuse to allow your toddler to drink windex, your good deed will be met with lots and lots of yelling. Right in your face.
Imagine having a college roommate who was drunk all the time. She spills snacks and drinks all over the place. She leaves her stuff everywhere. She is emotionally unstable, laughing hysterically at things that aren’t funny (like, I don’t know, say, a giant purple dinosaur on television?) and then, 10 seconds later, crying over things that aren’t sad (like when you run out of Cheerios). This is your life with a toddler.
In your current job, do you find that random passers-by critique your work methods and tell you how to do it better? Stay-at-home moms get lots of free advice from people everywhere: at the grocery store, in the mall, in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. Sometimes strangers even stare at you with disapproving frowns instead of verbalizing their suggestions while your child throws a tantrum in the market because you won’t open the giant bag of m&ms.
Does your existing job allow you to use the ladies room without bringing along your entourage? Do you currently realize at 11am that you still haven’t had a chance to empty your bladder since you woke up? This will happen. Every day.
The actual experience of parenting my children all day, every single day is exhausting and difficult. It is, hands down, the hardest, craziest, most unpredictable and thankless job I have ever had. But each day is interspersed with indescribably magical moments. Like when my 21-month old tries to count to ten. (“one, dooo, vree, four, eeet, seven, eeet, seven, eeet…”) Or when my 6 month-old laughs uncontrollably at his sister’s dance moves. Or when my daughter hears my stomach growl and says, “Airplane!”
This job makes me feel wonderful, awful, exasperated, fulfilled, heart-broken, panicked and thankful. Sometimes all in the same day. Sometimes all within an hour. Parenting full-time is better – and harder – than I ever could have imagined it would be. Despite the qualitative differences between pay-checks and poopy diapers, I can say with confidence that I have one of the most difficult professions in the world.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Molly recently traded in her suits and heels for jeans and TOMS and moved to the ‘burbs. She spends her days chasing after her 21 month-old daughter, Selah, and 6 month old son, Jack. A former press aide to Governor Schwarzenegger and Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, DeFrank now spends less time putting spin into the news cycle, and more time putting laundry into the spin cycle.