Sometimes I get to the end of the day and feel like I’ve been through a mangle. Having two boys makes for a very physical life, and taken alongside the mental challenges of being a stay-at-home mother (yes, there are quite a few, despite those well-meaning questions from others along the lines of ‘wouldn’t you like to get a [paid] job so you can use your brain?’), I can feel utterly drained by tea-time.
The physical exertions of parenthood are manifold. A stay-at-home parent generally does a lot more moving around than any office worker; they walk their children from one activity to another, carry their babies and toddlers around in their arms, and battle with them over the smallest mundane task. Just getting sun screen onto my two can finish me off for the morning.
The mental challenges might be less obvious to the childless bystander, but I would argue they are more tiring than the physical. This reminds me of advice doled out by some ‘parenting experts’ who say you shouldn’t treat being a parent as a job. I have never quite understood this. I might not be being paid for what I do, but if looking after my boys isn’t a job, then that makes me unemployed, and that is the last adjective I would use to describe me and my fellow stay-at-home parents.
Surely not treating full-time childcare as a job is a fast route to lounging about in front of daytime TV and staying in pyjamas until two in the afternoon (only permissable for students and mothers of newborns, surely). Besides, if it isn’t a job, how can we feel confident enough to prove our worth to future employers? There are many parallels to be drawn between my former job and my newer one as a mother, and I’ll be sure to point out these transferable skills (to some horrified employer) when I re-enter the world of paid work:
Multi-tasking: If I can cook a meal, sing a song, wipe faces, take Bigger to the bathroom, put the washing on and serve the meal all within five minutes, then writing a report while having my lunch and answering the phone will be a doddle.
Negotiation: Well, if ever there were a skill more essential to parenthood…I spend hours a day striking deals with toddlers to get them to do what they don’t want to. ‘Ok, I know you want to watch Dino Dan but let’s eat our lunch now and then we can watch it’; ‘just have a nap now and I’ll give you some chocolate when you wake up’; ‘five more minutes playing with trains in the toy shop and then we’ll get Daddy to bring you back for a good half hour at the weekend’ (good old Daddy not being there to argue).
Mediation: A more advanced form of the above, this demonstrates my ability (or lack thereof) to negotiate with one child plus a sibling or playmate. ‘Take it in turns’ and ‘share’ are key phrases here.
Decision-making: Do I serve up spaghetti bolognese again because I know they will wolf it down, or do I try them on beef tartare in the hope of broadening their gastronomic horizons? Is that bump on the head bad enough to take them to ER?
Strategic Thinking: Should I wake Littler up from his nap after two hours, or leave him and jeopardise tonight’s sleep?
Troubleshooting and Damage Limitation: Scrub crayon off the skirting boards, doors and chairs. Alternatively, remove all crayons from Littler’s reach when I’m not in the room with him.
Dressing up the bad news: All mothers quickly become adept at pitching an unappealing idea to children. ‘Brush your teeth now – the dentist will be so impressed when he sees your clean teeth!’ is one I employ most days.
Blagging: ‘Mummy, you said there wasn’t any chocolate left but there’s some right here in the fridge!’ Damn. Should have hidden it better. ‘Really darling? Oh, but that’s Daddy’s chocolate and he’ll be upset if we eat it so let’s be kind and leave it for him, hey?’ (Note how useful Daddy is, even when he’s nowhere to be seen).
Stamina: I can get up at 6am and still be alert enough to make a meal from scratch at 7pm. Never mind that having finished the meal, the only activity I can engage in is watching Mad Men (and even then I have been known to fall asleep. Even Don Draper can’t always hold my attention).
Really, running through the above list, stay-at-home parents should be the first port of call on the UN peacekeepers’ recruitment drive. Alternatively, we could join the circus, with all the juggling, balancing and entertaining we do.
I know plenty of mothers who also work, and the thing I hear time and again is that work is a break for them. I can understand why. Yes, clients can be tricky, but they don’t follow you into the bathroom, interrupt you every time you speak, or throw their lunch at the wall and then eat half of yours. If they ever do, I’ll know how to deal with them.