It’s really easy for stay-at-home moms to feel kind of bitter about Father’s Day. I mean, if one of us deserves a day of rest and pampering it isn’t too hard to prove that it ought to be the mom. The dad spends nine hours a day alone in a room, sitting at a desk, staring at a computer. The mom spends twelve hours a day running around after the Tasmanian Devil. He spends forty-five minutes each way on the train reading his book and listening to podcasts. She spends forty-five minutes reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar and listening to fart noises. His day is quiet, calm, orderly. Hers is loud, chaotic, and messy. He has time to think. She can’t complete a full sentence. It’s hardly a contest.
But that kind of comparison between his job and hers (his job and mine) is a false one. It assumes that the measure of how hard we’re working, or the contribution we each make to our family, ought to be the same for both of us. Which one of us is more physically tired? Which one of us hasn’t had a moment to ourselves all day? Which one of us had poop in her hair in the morning, and mushed up peas down her back at night? If you’re measuring a father with a ruler meant for mothers, of course he’s going to come up short. But he isn’t a mother. His is a different job altogether.
Being a stay-at-home mom is a job I chose. I left a job I loved, to do one I love infinitely more. It’s what I believed was best for me and my child and our family. And I was right. My husband wasn’t sure at first. He’d assumed I’d keep working. But he sees it now. How right this is for us. And I see what he does to make it possible.
I have placed on my husband’s shoulders the sole burden of keeping our family financially stable. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the roof over our heads are his responsibility. There’s no safety net. No room for mistakes. That forty-five-minute train ride, those nine hours at his desk, that second train ride home make my dreams of staying home with my children a reality.
My husband’s sometimes-boring work day allows me to experience the terrifying, exhilarating, moment my son climbs to the top of the biggest climber at the playground all by himself. The time my husband spends in his quiet office allows me to run across the grass, my son at my side, belting out a song he made up this morning that makes no sense and makes us both laugh. My husband’s train ride home allows me to kiss wet, and tousled hair, to receive pajama-clad hugs, to give millions of snuggles. His job makes mine possible.
The question is not which one of us is more tired, which one of us deserves some time alone, which one of us should get to go hang out with friends. The question is, do we both deserve some recognition? And the answer, undeniably, is yes.
Ours is a division of labor. In choosing to stay home, I voluntarily took on the mess, and the housework, the many, many hours alone with a person whose reasoning skills aren’t so hot. I gave up daily adult company and frequent intellectual stimulation, quiet, and calm, and order. He took on the daily grind, the constant pressure to exceed expectations, the financial responsibility. He gave up being our son’s constant companion, wearing casual clothes, and having a flexible schedule.
And his day must also somehow squeeze in time to get down on the floor to play with our son, listen to his incomprehensible stories, read him a book, tuck him in bed. Which he does with cheerfulness, kindness, and love. (My day doesn’t necessitate squeezing in time at the office!) Do I envy him some things? Does he envy me others? Yes, of course. But he loves his job. And I love mine.
If we both did a job like his, then I’d expect us both to also do a job like mine. I’d expect him to clean, to cook, to do the laundry. Because I’d be spending just as much time outside the home as he was. We wouldn’t be dividing the labor, so much as sharing each aspect of it. And that would be a perfectly acceptable way to do things too. But it isn’t our way.
Father’s Day is about appreciating the things that dads do for their families. Which means lots of different things for different people. But, for stay-at-home moms, it literally means everything. What does the dad do in a family where the mom stays home? Well, he makes it all possible. And, if that’s not worth celebrating, I don’t know what is. Happy Father’s Day.