“What do you do all day since you don’t have a job?”

“What do you do all day since you don’t have a job?”

That question was recently asked of me by one of my son’s friends.  From the mouths of babes, eh?  It is, however, just a much more blunt and direct expression of the same sort of conversation I have been having intermittently with people over the past two years.  It seems that in a suburb where most households are dual income, people find it most peculiar that we have chosen for me to be a full-time stay-home parent.

Our move to America two years ago initiated my first experience of being “just” a Stay At Home Mother.  I write “just” to be clear that I do not disparage the role of the SAHM.  There is nothing simple, easy or straightforward about making the choice to step away from a career and be with your kids full-time.  I also think it is a brilliant thing for women to be in a position to make an active choice as to whether they want to be parents or not and, if they are mothers, what balance they wish to strike between paid employment and raising kids.  However, our immigration was my first experience of being home with the kids full-time, with nothing else going on in my life, and I admit it has been a bit of a tricky transition.

I had actually only been in paid employment for a fraction of my years as a parent even in Scotland.  However, even when not in paid employment, I had a pretty demanding but rewarding voluntary job, serving on my local Children’s Panel, and I was also involved with various groups in the community, serving on different committees.  All these commitments and obligations kept my brain stimulated and ticking over during the baby years, gave me a welcome break from household chores and childcare, and permitted me to feel as if I was still contributing something to society – even after I stepped away from my teaching career.  All the volunteering was like keeping if not a foot then a toe in the door of employment, and gave my life an additional dimension that made it easier for me to transition into being a SAHM.

Perhaps because I was always so busy or perhaps because I lived in a more traditional community, nobody back in Argyll every queried our choice for me to be home with the kids.  It might not have been their choice but they understood it and respected it.  Moving to the Philly suburbs, therefore, has been an interesting experience in that it has been not only my first experience of being “just” a SAHM but also the first time I have repeatedly had to explain and even justify that choice.

It feels harder to justify these days too because none of my kids are babies any more.  Nor are any of them preschoolers.  Since September 2014, all four of my kids have been in full-time education.  I, therefore, have a good chunk of the day when school is in session where I am not actively fulfilling the childcare element of my SAHM role.  Of course, six people generate a lot of laundry and other mess and require a whole load of cooking to be done so I am kept plenty busy.  Now that I have the kids in school though I am able to grab just a wee bit of time for myself each day but I don’t think an investment of time in self-care needs to be justified.  Still, however, when people – and obviously I meet a lot more new people than I did back in Argyll – do that whole small talk thing and inquire as to where I work or what I do for a living, I detect something in their unspoken reaction that makes me feel they think I ought to be justifying my role as a SAHM.  I think some people regard it as a luxury whereas I regard the ability to make the choice the luxury.  Of course, choice is defined by context.  I might be considering a return to paid employment now that we are pretty settled in America if circumstances and our family dynamic were different.  Between me needing to convert my qualifications, the high cost of childcare and – mostly – the demands of my husband’s job, there seems little opportunity for me to return to paid work outside the home at this time.

Ultimately, as tricky as I have found the transition to being “just” a SAHM – largely because it has formed part of a larger process of change – it is our choice, mine and my husband’s, and is therefore, of no concern to anyone else.  Really, therefore, the answer to the question of what I do all day is that it is none of anyone else’s business.  It’s a household and family dynamic that works for we Picts, all six of us, and that is absolutely all that matters.

25 thoughts on ““What do you do all day since you don’t have a job?”

  1. I think you forgot to mention the inestimable value of the family having an anchor – the person who is available when needed, when things go wrong, when knees are scraped and homework help required. The person who keeps the home heart beating in a healthy way and who is the calm centre in any storm. Parenting is hard work! It is becoming more and more obvious that a parent whose work is in the home raises children with stronger senses of self, sociability and the ability to commit to nesting themselves when an adult. I know it is seen as a choice, and certainly society has strong expectations about us all having lots of stuff that has to be paid for thus requiring the necessity for two incomes, but really – your kids are yours for such a short time and those years can never be recovered. I’d want to know my kids are getting the best care and attention, are getting the experiences and the values I want them to experience and are having the loving attention peppered with all the humour, impatience, in-jokes and understanding that a parent can dish out.

    This isn’t intended as a put down for working parents, it’s intended as a shout out and hurrah for you ‘just-a-stay-at-home-mother’.

    • Thank you! And goodness knows we parents who choose to stay home certainly need a pat on the back. One of the most difficult things about stepping away from a career is not having that feedback, not having anyone to tell you that you are doing a good job.

      I think probably the best parents are the ones who know what works best for them and for their family dynamic and commit to it. For some families, that means having both parents in paid work – and not just for financial reasons – and for others it means one parent choosing to stay home. There are other dynamics too such as living in a multi-generational family community or finding a work from home opportunity.

      We have made lots of sacrifices in order for me to stay home and certainly one was to balance out the benefit of me being home with the loss of disposable income that could be invested in the children and benefit them in terms of resources and experiences. However, while I am aware of those sacrifices, I have no regrets. Stepping away from doing the huge amount of volunteering I was doing has definitely been a transition for me but I am quite content to continue being a SAHM for now. As you say, their childhoods are so fleeting.

    • Thanks, Laura. It just struck me that people interrogate the choice here, where I live now, in a way that they never did in Argyll. It’s made me reflect on our decision to a degree I had not been prompted to before.

  2. I used to be asked this question, but it was so dependent on the culture of the area we lived at the time. When surrounded by other SAHM’s, it was never challenged. We knew it was a privilege, and accepted it as such. When we moved to an area where 2 working parents was the norm, for economic reasons, there was a lot more skepticism, and I dare say…a bit of jealousy.

    I found a lot of satisfaction in volunteering in my children’s schools, and it led to some regular substitute teaching gigs. No regrets. I didn’t go back to work full time until my first born was a senior in high school, and that was mostly to deal with impending empty nest issues.

    Live your life your own way, Laura. You’ll never be sorry for decisions that benefit you and your family…they will thank you some day.☺

  3. I was home for the first ten years as a full-time. I went back to work (part-time) when my youngest began prek. When he was in middle school I went to work full-time. At that point it was clear I needed an escape plan from a marriage I stayed in far too long. We all do what is best for our own families. Many forget the cost of child care, extra car (or payments/upkeep on second), wardrobe for work, loosing pay for sick children – loss of “head of household” when filing for taxes. Loss of being there to raise little ones who cannot yet even speak. Enjoy your time with your family. If you think you’d like a career one day, volunteer again so you have at least that for a resume. It was not easy being out of the workforce for ten years. When I went back to work it was for a dollar an hour more than I had made ten years prior! Ouch!!! 🙂

    • Thank you for stopping by my blog and sharing your experience. I absolutely agree that everyone needs to make the decision that best suits them, their circumstances and dynamic. There’s no one size fits all to life. That’s why I wrote that I considered the freedom to choose to be the luxury and privilege. Not everyone has the freedom to make the choice.

      I would love to go back to work at some point. I have the added complication of needing to convert my qualifications for their American equivalents and my experience being of English and Scottish systems making me less competitive in the workforce. I’m sure I will find something when the time comes. I’m just not sure what.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting.

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this matter Laura. I very much agree when you said that is was you, your husband’s and the whole family’s decision that you stay home. I have not been blessed with a child and I am a stay at home wife of 14 years now. I have dealt with the question you posted from the very first day my husband and I decided that I could stay home and care for both of us, to be our family’s representative in any occasion my husband cannot attend to, to be our family’s caregiver whenever necessary and to be our family’s whatever – whatever role is necessary. Our choice for me to be at home with only a husband and myself to take care too is not anybody’s concern and that is always my answer even to family members who constantly tell me the big monetary return if only I return to practice my profession. And when people I meet out of the home ask me the same question, I just tell them that its a family’s decision and that I am happy with it.

  5. Laura, my short answer is: You’re an artist mom! You are committed to both art and home and, I think as the years pass, people who know you will respect and admire you. I stayed home with my children until the youngest was 10 (when I went to grad school). I wanted to be at home, I needed to be at home and in my studio and I loved knowing and caring for my children so deeply. One of the greatest compliments I received from my children (now 30 and 26) was the surprise they felt when they went out in the world. They had experienced a kind of commitment, love and attention that is hard to find in today’s busy world. I admire you for holding to your values.

  6. People who judge often are not feeling great about what they themselves have chosen and take it out on you. It would be better if they kept their opinions or thoughts to themselves but they don’t, and that is rude. Do what’s best for you and your situation and as long as you are feeling that you are giving your most to what you have chosen, well, you have done what you need to be doing and that’s the end of it. Becoming selectively deaf is helpful, too, and if people persist in wanting to chew over your decision, there is nothing like changing the subject abruptly (and it can be very rewarding in terms of watching the confusion on the rude person’s face).

    Go your own way, you’re on a good path.

    • Quite right! I find the majority of people aren’t being judgmental or critical (the select few who are tend to be very vocal about it, of course) and its usually more a lack of comprehension or a sense of bewilderment that I’m met with when I tell people I’m a stay home parent. There’s the odd person who asks, “But don’t you get bored?” and I just laugh and explain that boredom is a luxury I’ve yet to experience.

  7. I’ve always felt defensive about being a SAHM. I sense that people think I am hiding away from life and/or wasting my education. I did hold down a part-time job for a few years but found the compromise to home-life very stressful.
    I have a job and I want to do it as well as I can.

    • I believe friends when they tell me they are better parents because they work outside the home. I just know that I gave my all to my job when I was teaching and that I would find work-life balance extremely difficult because of how I operated as a teacher. When I did the part time job, once I had four kids, it was only possible because my husband had access to flexi-time in his then employment and I had a network of friends to help me out with the four kids if I had a schedule clash. Our dynamic is just so different here that I couldn’t manage that. Ultimately parenting is the most important job I will ever do and I want to get it right – or as right as I can achieve. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. It’s good to know I’m not alone in being challenged over my choice.

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