Being a Stay at Home Mom During a Pandemic
I’ve been a stay at home mom for 13 1/2 years. I wouldn’t exactly say it was a choice, because it honestly never occurred to me there was anything else I could pick to do with my life. Unlike some women, I didn’t look forward to babies or motherhood. Once married, I saw it as a fast approaching deadline that I had no option but to accept when the time came (kind of like death). I was married at age 21, reluctantly went off of birth control two years later at 23, got pregnant at 24, and had my first baby at 25. I quit my job at that point and have stayed at home ever since (and to be fair, it’s turned out that my kids are more fun than not). While I am lucky to make a financial contribution to my family through part time property management of rental properties, I don’t have any colleagues, promotions, or an office to go to with my work. Because of this I have a hard time thinking of my job there as a type of a career, regardless of any income it produces.
My husband on the other hand, has two careers. He joined the army at age 17 and has consistently worked his way up through the ranks of the military for over two decades. As a reservist, he also holds a regular job as a senior manager at a large international company. He started working for them shortly after his mission and has likewise moved up from an entry level position through an impressive career that has him now overseeing teams in multiple states and countries. I am proud of him and his accomplishments. He is talented and works very hard and every promotion he’s received has been hard earned.
With the coronavirus outbreak, he’s begun working from home for both his regular job and his military drills. We don’t have any sort of home office set up at our house however, so he’s been working from the corner of our master bedroom, where he’s brought home monitors and a keyboard and created a makeshift work space.
I have likewise found myself home-bound with our three kids during the same time. Homeschooling is hard, but not impossible. My kids and I keep tiptoeing through the bedroom where he is working to get to the bathroom. I’ve tried to stay quiet and not interrupt his work, but I overhear the conversations happening in my bedroom each day. Usually they start with people laughing and joking, catching up, seeing each other’s kids, and eating lunch at the same time to maintain community. An in-person lunch meeting with another boss was canceled last week, and so my husband was sent a $25 gift card for Grubhuh to order himself lunch that day anyway. (He shared with us.)
Multiple times at the end of these home-bound days, my husband will announce that he must leave the house or he’ll go stir crazy. I usually shrug and ask where he wants to go, but it’s generally something as unexciting as driving to the gas station to fill up his car and going through a drive through for a snack, and I typically say “nah”, and just stay home with the kids.
I was listening to a podcast with a male host who reflected on his past desire to work from home. Staying in his pajamas all day and avoiding traffic hour had always sounded awesome to him, but after just the first week at home he’d already changed his mind. He missed face to face interaction, and staying within the walls of his house was monotonous and depressing. He needed a reason to get dressed each day, and he’d found himself mindlessly snacking out of boredom and loneliness. He expressed concern that this would drag on for weeks and he’d only get out of the house to go to the grocery store between now and then. He’d never before realized how important leaving his home and going to the office actually was for his mental health.
For me on the other hand, the quarantine hasn’t changed my life dramatically. I still wake up at home, spend the day here cleaning up, doing laundry and cooking, help with homework, break up sibling fights, and my main outings are still to the stores for errands. I’ve been doing this kind of stuff for many years and it’s the same old story, just with less time to myself because nobody leaves during the day. I’m even more relaxed in some ways, because my usual extracurricular and volunteer stuff has all been put on hold and my Netflix watching time has gone through the roof.
I have been reflecting on both my husband’s and that podcaster’s reaction to being home all day. They both dislike it. They’re missing the interaction they get of being with other people and leaving their house every day. Am I somehow less social or more of a homebody than those guys? I don’t think so, at least not in the case of my husband. If either of us thrives more in being around other people, I think we’d both agree it’s me. Yet throughout the course of a typical quarantine day, he interacts with multiple co-workers through online meetings while I talk to only our kids and the pets while doing dishes and painting baseboards. If anybody would want out of the house and be craving social interaction, it seems like it would be me. But I’m the only one who is willing to sit at home day after day. I think I’m just accustomed to the monotony after so many years of it.
I was taught throughout my formative years that being a stay at home mom would bring me more personal happiness than anything else I could ever choose. And to be fair, I’m not miserable. I’m fine. It’s okay. I am clearly vital to the function of my household and my husband’s success in his two careers. But would I have loved a career where I left my house five days a week and got promotions, bonuses, awards and recognition? Yes. I think I would have loved all of that very much, and I think that during this quarantine I’d be going just as stir crazy as my husband is right now. I think my soul has possibly gone a little numb after all these years at home with my kids.
Looking back now, I realize that most of these messages about the joy of being a stay at home parent originated with male general authorities (albeit sometimes passed on to me through the female leaders below them). The idea that staying home day in and day out could be fulfilling and soul nourishing came from men who have probably never had to stay at home.
As a mom with unending childcare and household responsibilities, zero compensation, and no recognition awards or promotions, hearing some men complain about their home-bound work situation after such a short period of time (when it’s been my situation for the majority of my adulthood) is weird. They still have their careers and co-workers and lunches, just over Zoom instead of in person. From here on out, I don’t want to hear another sacrament meeting talk from a non-stay at home parent telling young women in the congregation that the happiest they can ever be in their life is to get married, have babies, and stay home with them – especially if during this quarantine they’ve been using “stir crazy” to describe their mood. Being at home all day is hard, and I’m glad the rest of the world is gaining understanding of what it’s like for stay at home parents, and everything we sacrifice to make the lives of our families run so smoothly. We are indispensable to our families, the economy, and the world – and we have been (and always will be) essential workers. So everybody stuck at home this past month (whatever your gender), go thank a stay at home parent when this all ends. We’re the unpaid support staff behind the scenes that make the entire world function and economies run – and you know, it can be a little isolating sometimes…kind of like a quarantine.