Can I relate to a stay-at-home mother yet? I was kind of hoping for something easier to write about. Like, top 10 tantrum triggers, or biggest dadding fails. Instead she asks me something thoughtful. Though I’ll have to come back to those other two, now that I’ve thought of them.
So can I relate? Yes and no. Let’s start with the yes part.
I remember BB being quite sad about heading back to work when Hurricane turned 1 and again with Chaos. She referred to them as her little sidekicks and as a massive sufferer of FOMO she didn’t want to miss any of the little developments they were going to make. The funniest thing about being the at-home parent is seeing your little progeny mimic you. And because I’ve got them at a very formative period in their lives they are picking up heaps of my language and behaviours. Hurricane got me a corker the other day when he told me I “needed to chill out” after Chaos emptied the contents of their clothes drawers all over the floor for the second time that day. Really that was my fault for tidying them up the first time. Rookie.
During my time on duty Chaos has started to speak properly and hold conversations, gained way more confidence in her physical capabilities than she has the right to, and developed a gorgeously cheeky sense of humour. Hurricane meanwhile has turned into a sprinter, learned how to tackle me around the legs and now has amazing recall. If I’ve forgotten something, I can often ask him as he generally remembers everything.
And I get to do pretty fun stuff with them here (like go to the mini train show). All these things are priceless, so even though I am not a particularly emotional fella, I understand why mums can be so torn up about going back to work.
But on the other side of the coin, I also remember coming home from work on many an occasion and walking into the kitchen to find BB preparing dinner, with a whining child attached to her leg, looking utterly harassed and most definitely in need of some relief. It is one thing to see it, it’s another thing to live it.
Children are annoying little creatures. Any parent who says otherwise is lying to you. Actually anyone is annoying if you spend too much time with them. BB and I travelled for a year together back in 2012 and we knew we had to build in away days to escape each other. It doesn’t matter how much you love someone, if you spend every waking minute with them the little things become intolerable and you end up abandoning them while they are trying to get lunch at a bakery in Split (Croatia), leaving them without a map or any form of communication in 40 degree heat. BB can be ruthless…
The at-home parent doesn’t get many away days from the kids. It’s more like away hours. But to be honest, even an hour off will often make the difference between a good day and bad day, because it helps with the tolerance and energy levels. And the truth is that you typically set the tone, so if you’re in a good mood and keen to do stuff, then often the kids will be too. But even on the good days they can still physically wipe you out, and you’ll be left wanting to do nothing but sit on the couch with a bucket of ice cream and pretend that if you close your eyes for just a minute the bombsite of a house will be magically cleaned ready for another day of carnage. Rinse and repeat.
The bad days, well the worst part of those is the mental exhaustion. By the time you get to dinner you don’t care about what they’re eating, so long as something is stuffed in their mouths to drown out the whining. I won’t bother mentioning the lack of sleep.
So I can relate to all of that and everything that goes with it. It’s hard. Way harder than paid work, if only because of the social interaction you miss out on by not being in a workplace.
I’m not sure if a lot of what is hard for me is because I’m doing this away from home base. How much difference would it make if I was able to take Saturdays out to play sport with my mates, or head up to see my sister on a Sunday afternoon? I suspect quite a bit. I think more time off would make for more energy, which makes for the more likelihood of good weeks.
But there is also plenty I can’t relate to. Being a dad is very different to being a mum, because men and women are simply different. Some will argue that’s because of ingrained social structures that led to defined gender roles, and there is an element of that, but there is also truth in that those gender roles are based on natural differences in our dispositions that go back to Adam and Eve. I like those differences because they complement each other so well. For example, BB is far better at reading our kids’ emotions, so when she’s here they typically look first to her for emotional support. They look to me for physical support. I can’t imagine that’s unusual.
It’s true that people generally have different expectations about how mums and dads look after children. Because mums delivered their child into the world, and (most) are naturally gifted nurturers, they are deemed to have the most responsibility for their child’s welfare. As a result, mums are judged more, typically by other women. I can’t relate to those social pressures because they aren’t really applied to me. Random busy-bodies aside, I have no idea if people I know are judging how I parent, or how I look. I don’t care either. Whereas I know a lot of mums feel like they’re always being judged and it makes them question themselves all the time. There’s an entire section in book stores built on society’s judgement of mums. If there were only dads in the world, there would be one book: “How to keep your baby alive”, and most of us still wouldn’t read it.
So yes, I can very much relate to the day-to-day side of being an at-home mum, but the emotional side is a different beast. Always will be.