My husband and I recently had a baby free weekend and indulged in one of those conversations where we admit truths about parenthood. You know the ones. Where you admit your monstrous feelings about your bundle of joy. So he says to me "I love him [baby] but I miss simple things you know? Like I just want to binge watch Daredevil without interruption. Is that so hard?" I looked at him, daggers in my eyes and retorted "Yeah, same. Sometimes I just wish I could use the washroom in peace." [Cocked eyebrow. Not actually the same.]
Safe to say that men don't always get it. Not to knock them - our kid adores his dad, as do I, because he fulfills the Papa Playmate role so very well. But because we have different roles, they just don't always understand because they're not in our shoes. For that matter, society is not in our shoes, and so a stigma about the stay at home mom is formed. Which is how that lovely question came to light: "So, what do you do all day?"
Well let me fill you in.
We don't have a set 9-5. When you leave in the mornings and come back in the evenings, things may seem relatively calm, but there is a lot going on behind the scenes that extends well past the 8 hour workday. We're on call 24/7 and the logic is that we always have to be ready, because we don't have to get up for 'work' in the morning. Instead, we enter into a 2ish hour cycle of diapering, feeding, burping, and rocking, from the moment they come home from the hospital. They're tiny, completely reliant on us, and adjusting to their new environment. Life is overwhelming for both of us. Because all the while, we're completely sleep deprived, hopped up on pain killers, and stressed as we learn on the go. There is no manual to catch us up to speed on this quarter's project. It's trial by fire, and turn around time is always now now now!
In those first few weeks (and hell, maybe months too) we nap when they nap because it's the only way to get any rest (So if you happen to call and we're asleep, please don't say "must be nice." We didn't sleep last night); We pump breast milk in the middle of the night because that's when it flows best; We feed them as often as they need during cluster feeding and growth spurt periods; We do baby laundry as it piles faster than we can catch up to it; We sanitize bottles and toys; We give them tummy and play time to ensure they reach their development milestones. We get them to inconvenient doctor appointments, deal with their immunization fevers, massage them when they're constipated, cut their infinitely sharp nails, and give them baths - small tasks that you would never think of, yet can take up a lot of time. When you're rounding your lunch hour, we're trying to remember whether or not we had breakfast. Things are in a zombie like routine when they're newborns. Our job is to take care of ourselves, so that we can take care of them.
As they grow, they gain more skills. They can hold their head up, roll over, and - praise the lord - sleep longer through the night. But we also gain skills. By the 4-6 month mark we're pretty much multitasking ninjas. Our energy level's are back up, as they need to be, because our day starts around 5AM with that first cry. Our days are still filled with baby laundry, diaper changes, and feedings, but now there's more to do with our little one. Yes we get to play with them, but it's not all fun and games. It's making sure they're drinking enough ounces a day; It's changing their bib 10 times a day because they drool buckets during teething; It's making their baby food and testing for allergic reactions; It's making more baby food because they didn't like that last batch and spat half of it up at us; It's taking them to drop-in centres so that they can socialize with other babies, even if it's the last thing we want to do because we're so tired; It's getting lost in the multitude of parenting articles to make sure we're doing things correctly, because many of us are fumbling through the whole parenting thing. And aside from that, our regular household tasks resume, like preparing meals for ourselves and the rest of the family, doing our own laundry that's now covered in spit-up/food, and regular cleaning - because let's be honest, the place has been a zoo since this little one came home from the hospital.
When they're approaching the year mark, we really have our game face on. They're crawling, cruising, and - hallelujah - maybe even walking around the house at top speed, causing terror everywhere they go. We've baby proofed and put our lives on hold because now they require our full attention. Now we're lucky if we get a shower and a quick bite before we're out the door to an appointment, play date, or baby activity. (Let's not even talk about how it takes 45 minutes to get out of the house by the time we dress baby, pack diaper bag, and stroller.) And then there are the other days we spend at home. The ones where we're nursing them back to health after a bad cold or teething fit; worrying over their temperature, and consistency of their poop; trying to calm them down through our own headache from their non stop crying all day. They're bigger, louder, and can call out for us now. They've hit sleep regressions, separation anxiety, and first colds, which causes them to wake up at night - so we're back to square one some nights and it feels like all of our work is down the drain. We're back to being exhausted.
That, is what we do all day, in a nutshell. And this is only my version. There are the parents who deal with so much more - colic filled nights, hospital horror stories, developmental challenges, single parenthood - and the list goes on. The other side of this, is our own mental psyche. Being out of the workforce for a year, and instead home with a babbling baby, takes a toll on us mentally. The act of not interacting regularly with other adults, not getting out like we used to, or even not getting alone time, are all factors that affect us. Do you think we want to talk about their poop? When you come home and tell us about the contributions you made at work, and we're like "OMG he held his spoon" - we know how we sound.
The point is, the old adage "walk a mile in my shoes" is true. It may look like we're lucky because we get a year off work to stay home and 'play' with our cutie. But there's more to it than scrap booking memories, and posting to social media. We're turning out tomorrow's generation. We can't afford to fail at our job, therefore we don't take it lightly. Those key moments - their first smile, first words, first steps - get us through this overwhelming period. And yes, we are lucky to witness them. But don't underestimate how overwhelming our job actually is, or what it is that "we do all day".