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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

What Do Stay-at-Home-Moms Do All Day Anyway?

By Shannon Dean

Right before my first son was born, I anticipated maternity leave the way a child covets Christmas vacation. I pictured myself tied to no particular schedule, lounging in my immaculately kept house with my happy, healthy baby. I was sure that during these 12 blissful weeks, I could slow down, sleep late, organize my home, and cook healthy meals. I actually anticipated it to be kind of a mini vacation. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

My infant was a tiny ball of colicky discontent; he insisted on being at the breast and in arms at all times. On the rare occasions he slept, it was only briefly, and in a sling on my body. Some days, I did not even have the luxury of a shower, let alone the time to clean house or make healthy meals. If I was able to leave the house, draw a nap out of my son, find a way to get something edible on the table, and fold a load of laundry, it was a red-letter day.

About six weeks into maternity leave, my husband begged me not to return to work, knowing that my work schedule frequently required overnight travel. He feared going it alone, and we both wondered how on earth we‘d find a caregiver willing to provide the constant holding and reassurance my son demanded. We decided that, for the time being, I would forgo paid work and stay home.

My stay-at-home mom position was more of a full-time, all-
encompassing, exhausting job than I could have possibly imagined before I became a parent. Feeling inadequate, I saw myself as a sort of pretender mom, the kind whose juice boxes were never cold and whose bagged Cheerios were a touch stale. When asked what I did for a living, I would respond I was “justa” mom, while shamefully looking down. Admittedly, I was projecting my inability to meet my own expectations, but many times people asked me, “Aren’t you bored? What do you do all day?”

Some days I was pretty unclear about the answer to that question. I ran around in circles, vigorously completing a slew of tasks such as reading stacks of storybooks, playing countless games of peek-a-boo, changing mountains of diapers, and singing concerts of lullabies, before collapsing into bed after my son finally gave out. Yet, I often wondered exactly what I had truly accomplished.

Then one day a little voice answered that question for me. My then three-year-old and I were at a story time where the librarian was reading a book about “the perfect day.” Later, I asked my son to describe his perfect day. I thought he might say a day spent at Disney World, but he answered, “The day we fed the ducks.” I had to search my memories before I realized what he meant. We’d recently planned a trip to the zoo, but it had rained and I had forgotten our raincoats (stale Cheerio mom again). My son had been disappointed, but then we grabbed some fast food, found a park with covered tables, and watched the rain. After the rain stopped, a few families joined us as we fed our leftovers to the ducks residing in the park’s pond. My son and his new friends played in puddles, and we even saw a rainbow. “My perfect day is with you, Mom,” my son so eloquently said.

Suddenly I realized how much time I’d wasted worrying about falling short. I didn’t grasp that when I thought I was merely treading water, I was creating priceless memories for someone who would only be young and impressionable one short, fleeting moment in time.

Today, since both of my children are in school, I now work for payment and am every bit as busy as I was with two small kids underfoot. Having been both an employed and stay-at-home mom, I know that all mothers work, whether or not they are paid. Staying home with your child is definitely not a vacation. While I still occasionally tell people I am “justa” mom, I make no apologies and maintain full eye contact. I know what I do is extremely important, if not always perfect. There are only so many story times, a mere handful of fall festivals, and a finite number of little league baseball games. I am blessed to have “mom” as one of my job descriptions. I consider it the most important job in the world, and one that directly benefits those I love. Paid or not, it’s what I do.  ¶

Shannon Dean is a freelance writer and mother of two sons. Thankfully, her colicky infant is now a well-adjusted honor student.