Stay-At-Home Parent: Job Description

Stirring the beans

I’ve gotten in a few conversations lately with other Stay-At-Home Moms about what they consider their realm of responsibility. I’m still very new to this and working out my own personal feelings around this issue and how it fits with my family. Sometimes I feel very overwhelmed. Other times I feel like I don’t do enough. Talking to one Mom, she encouraged me to look at it from a different point of view. If my spouse came to me and said, “I want to stay at home with the kids,” what would be my expectations?

And here is when something Cagey said to me ages ago sticks out: The responsibility is to care for the children.

That is how I would look at it, if I were the working spouse. From the time I leave for work, to the time I come home, my spouse’s job would be to care for the children. Love them. Nurture them. Enrich their lives however they see fit. Maybe this just means coloring all day. Maybe it means baking. Maybe trips to the park or to playdates. Regardless what they would do, I would expect the first responsibility to be the children. Anything domestic that can be done in the same timeframe: Laundry, cleaning, etc – is all secondary. Would I ever want my spouse to put the kids down in front of the TV just so they can do laundry? No. I have no objection to TV for kids, watching TV together is fun! But, I wouldn’t want my spouse to be so worried about the domestic side of things that they would resort to using the TV as a babysitter. And do you want to know why? Because if the daycare I sent my kids to when I was working plopped my kids in front of the TV? I’d be livid. That’s not what I pay for. So why would I expect lower-quality childcare from their parent? No. In my mind (and we are all different) – the person staying home with the kids? Is there for the kids first. If they can do dinner, laundry, cleaning while the child plays? Then that’s a truly successful day. But if they can’t? What if they kid is sick or whiny or especially needy that day? What if there are fun activities at the park or with crafts that keep the parent from tending to the domestic side of things? That’s fine! To me (ME. I understand you may see things differently.) the responsibility in the job is with the child(ren). Everything else is bonus.

Now…the next question is: If the SAHM job description only involves the children while the working spouse is at work…how does the rest of the domestic responsibilities and the rest of the hours of the day play out?

To answer that, I’ll put myself in the shoes of the working spouse again. Everything after I get home from work? Divided evenly. If my spouse was able to get dinner ready? Then maybe I’ll do dishes. If it’s not? Maybe I’ll help with that while the stay-at-home parent tends to laundry. I would not come home expecting anything to be done. And whatever needed to be done around the house or for the kids, that would all be shared responsibility of both parents. I’ve never believed that being a SAHM/D means that all domestic responsibilities fall on you FOREVER. No. That is not at all how I describe the job or what I would expect if I was the one leaving the home every day. And from being a SAHM for a year? I know it’s too much work for one person. No. If I were working I would expect anything that needed to be done after work or on the weekends to be split evenly. This comes to childcare and domestic chores. I would not expect my spouse to be the default caregiver even when I was home.

NOW…do I put any of this into practice? No. I take on everything from bedtimes to mealtimes to lawncare. I recognize this as being a result of a huge flaw in my personality that would take years to write about. But the conversation started with another Mom by discussing what I would expect if the roles were reversed. So, that’s how I handled this blog entry. Did it show me exactly how off balance my own workload is from what I would expect from MrZ if he decided to stay at home with the kids? Yes. Completely. Will any of that change. Eh. Probably not. My personality flaws are pretty deep. Should it change? Probably. Maybe I’ll just use this to petition for a raise or more vacation time.

What about you? If you were working outside the home, what would you expect from your Stay-At-Home Spouse? Do you stay at home now? What do you consider to be your responsibilities? Is it more or less from what you would expect from your spouse?


15 thoughts on “Stay-At-Home Parent: Job Description”

  1. Now that I am staying home (and working from home) I have a lot of guilt about not keeping the house better managed. I manage to get the dishes done most days, cook dinner 5-6 nights per week, and I keep the laundry under control (barely.) I spend 3-4 hours a day working (at least two during her naps), another hour exercising while she plays, and the rest of the time is dedicated mom/daughter time. It’s tough because I feel like I should be able to do more in a day. I feel guilty for the tv she watches while I work, and I struggle with fitting exercise in on days when she needs more from me. I am still working on a balance. My husband is awesome, but he works long days and has a long commute, so I do feel bad when he comes home and has to do housework. He already takes care of the outdoor chores (mowing the lawn, cleaning the gutters, etc) so I feel like I should do the indoors stuff…

  2. You may see the way you handle things as a personality flaw, but you possess the common sense to take a suggestion and apply it to your situation even in the hypothetical sense. Even if nothing changes, you’ve still had an epiphany!

    What a great idea to put yourself in the role of the working spouse!

    I stay at home and have for my entire role of motherhood. My daughter just turned 9 and my son will all too soon be 2. I was even a stay at home wife before that.

    I take on most of the responsibility for a couple of reasons. First, my OCD leads me to believe that I do everything better. Second, sometimes my husband works 12 hours days (by his own choosing which infuriates me because there is no monetary compensation). Along with his work schedule there is always the chance that he could deploy to Afghan or Iraq. So, if he is gone for 4-12 months, who is going to do everything? Me. The last reason I choose to take on most responsibility is that when my husband does a chore he whines. He’ll still do it, but I can’t stand it that he complains. His biggest pet peeve when listening to my daughter do a chore? She whines.

    Aside from that, since I don’t work, I don’t get a lot of chance to do something and do it well. Sitting on the couch at the end of the day in a clean house, all laundry done and put away, the lawn mowed, and shopping done? Makes me feel like I have accomplished something. So I guess taking on all the responsibility gives me a sense of satisfaction.

  3. I’m not a parent yet (hopefully one day but I’m 24 theres adventures to have first) lol. But I babysit for a couple of families at church.

    There’s a 9yo boy, 4yo boy, 4yo girl, 2yo girl and 1yo boy. Thankfully not always at the same time. I love playing with them and only resort to TV or a DVD when the weather is too bad to play outside or if they ask to do that (you know they might have a new DVD that wanna show me kinda thing) but I try and stick with colouring or something away from the TV when poss. One time I sat in a blanket fort for like an hour (okay so I was having just as much as the kids lol).

    My Mum was a SAHM and I think she liked/loved it apart from when me and my bro fought like there was no tomorrow. That was then when she wished we went to daycare and she had a day job lol. But we had fun too. Sitting next to the utility room door with a teaspoon each eating the left over cake mixture was one of the good ones lol.

  4. I have been a SAHM all my son’s life. I’ve always considered everything to do with taking care of the inside of the house to be my responsibility. Yard work…my husband’s job. I don’t do a very good job with my part and our house is a mess a lot of the time. I end up feeling overwhelmed. I need a personal organizer, but that’s a whole ‘nother story!

  5. If you feel all domestic chores are your responsibility…what about childcare in evenings and in weekends? Bathtimes/bedtime? Do you feel all if that is your job too? Because I do all of it, but I consider that a flaw. I don’t think it should all be my responsibility just because I don’t work in an office 40 hrs a week. I do it because Im desperate for approval, but I don’t think it’s all my job. Make sense?

  6. Chills! I just posted a few minutes about how our lives and schedules have changed since we shuttered our business. Then, I click and read this.

    This is a tough topic and I think every couple has to figure out what works for THEM. I do far more of the house work around here than Manoj. Part of that is cultural, part of that is ME. I am so picky, I want it done my way. Also, Manoj has far lower expectations on the state of clutter (which has its advantages, as well – he NEVER harps on me about cleaning.) I know there are some gals who would be absolutely horrified at the inequities in our household chores. But! Manoj also works a lot of hours (Bonus: He never complains about my predilection for nice handbags.)

    I have never subscribed to the Perfect SAHM philosophy. My primary goals are hanging out with my kids and cooking interesting meals for us. I know that sounds weird, but we like hanging out with our kids and we like eating fun food. :-D Often, our house is a disaster area, but hey, you can’t have it all at once.

    I think every stay at home parent needs to keep close to their heart that the children will be this small for such a very short while. It is easy to lose sight of that in a pile of dirty diapers and the other daily drudgeries than be seem overwhelming at times. It is also really easy to get caught up in expectations of oneself and lose sight of the proverbial big picture.

  7. I think of it that while Paul is at work, I’m at work. When he’s home, if I continue to work while he gets time off from work, I will lose my mind. So when he’s at work, the homefront jobs are mine: keeping kids clothed and fed, getting them ready for school, etc. When he’s home evenings and weekends, the jobs are split. This really does work out for us, because we agree that that’s what’s fair—that one spouse can’t work a 40-hour week while the other works a 120-hour week. I get some recreation time at home, sure—but he gets some time to mess around online and have a lunch hour at work, too.

    When it really started working beautifully was when he lost his job and was out of work for nearly two years, while I worked full-time. Even before that, he was never the kind of husband who thought I was lounging around all day—but AFTER that, he started coming home and immediately pitching in even MORE than half.

  8. I have been an at home mom since they were born. My husband works at home, which has not been easy. During the summer he helps alot,but in the school year, ugh! I have reminded him that his blissful memories of his childhood are not possible for me. I can’t be expected to take the children to the pool all day or whatever the outing is and also have a hot dinner every night and all laundry and cleaning done. He doesn’t expect this but I know he would love it! His mom had one child and a 40 hour a week maid(who would babysit him so she could grocery shop ALONE! She would also keep him busy while she cooked all those fab dinners.) No, I don’t do it all. I don’t even pretend to. I guess all this sounds bad, but I really love them all!

  9. Hi! First time commenter!

    I work outside the home and hubby is a SAHD. The roles have been reversed in the past, and the same standards apply to both of us:

    1. kids are still alive
    2. house is still standing

    when the working-outside-the-home parent returns at the end of the work day.

    Any housework/yard work that has been accomplished during the day is just a bonus.

  10. Well, I think it’s a little unfair for us because we’re in an apartment so there are no outside chores, really…

    I work from home but I also have one son who has special needs. Dad also works from home now, but is building his business, so I do most of the child-rearing, especially in the mornings. Dad takes night duty a lot because I just can’t get out of bed and I usually let him sleep in.

    I do most (re:all) of the housework. But most days, I just can’t get it done. It irriatates me when stuff piles up and Louie doesn’t attempt to help. We’re still finding out balance. He takes LJ to half of his therapies and we both attend doctors appointments. I use the tv a LOT more then I would like to for his brother.

    we just qualified for an in-home nurse to help with LJ, which will be GREAT for work and for home-life. I feel like I’ll actually be able to accomplish work and housework, and be able to spend time with the kids instead of acting as a nurse/therapist.

  11. It’s really too bad we can’t all afford maids ;)
    I definitely agree that the prime focus needs to be the kids. I’m not sure how it will work out if/when I marry, because I’m really not that great of a housekeeper. (Why yes, there ARE dirty dishes in my sink as we speak…not to mention other signs of chaos.) My grandparents have always done it that if she cooks, he does dishes – they’ve never had a dishwasher. As dishes are one of my most hated chores, that sounds good to me ;) One of the things I hate most about housekeeping though, is doing it alone. If I even had someone to talk to while I cleaned, not even to help, but just to keep me company – I feel like I’d get a lot more done.

  12. Wow, this is a great post! Also the comments are insightful as well. I hear Zoot on everything!!! I do EVERYTHING in my home. My husband is supposed to put the garbage out on Wednesday nights to the curb and always “forgets.” Then I am running to the get it out to the curb at 6:30 a.m. when the garbage trucks arrive. Anywho, I work full-time outside the home and I still try to do everything. I had our second child in April and still beat myself up for not being able to do everything.

    When I read this post this morning I liked what was said about the children being the first and foremost priority…obviously right?! But for me it has always been important to have the house cleaned and picked up and laundry not getting out of hand. It made me realize…who cares!!! It’s just clothes! I only have 3 hours with them before bed time so I should just let the laundry pile up a bit. Come October I will be evaluating how I am doing with everything and will be considering hiring Maid Brigaide for every 3 week cleans.

    We truly are super women…huh? :)

  13. Well, I am a SAHM for my 11-month old, and I can tell you that the housework is pretty evenly divided. My husband is a cameraman for TV and movies with long hours, but he doesn’t work every day. It helps that we were together a long time before the baby, so his expectations of what chores I am capable of handling with a full-time job, (and baby care is that), are well set.

    We live in an apartment, so there is no yard work, but he generally does the gross work, like bathroom cleaning, dishes, and garbage. I do things like cooking, laundry, and clutter wrangling. My stuff tends to take a lot more time, but his work is more the unpalatable sort, so I think it is pretty fair. Also, my baby has just this month started taking a long nap regularly, (1.5 hours! Luxurious!) so I feel I now have time to do something other than eat a sandwich and pee in solitude. I mopped the floors this week! I might clean out the fridge today! Revelatory.

    Baby care does fall mostly to me, only because she is still nursing a lot and also needs me to fall asleep. Otherwise, when he is home, Daddy greedily hogs the baby girl for her waking hours. When she wakes for the day, (in our bed, because she sleeps from 5-7 with us) she smacks him and says “DADADADADADADADADA” for about 20 minutes before he gets up with her and I have the bed all to myself for about 30 glorious minutes. For what it’s worth, she thinks the sun shines directly out of his face, and ignores me completely when he’s around.

  14. Sorry, I am so late to comment, but I have really really been pondering this post and the questions. I have an 8 and 7 year old and for the most part during the week, I take care of anything under the roof, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and kid-wrangling. Every night from 6-8 is daddy time if he is home. And I don’t judge what they do, if they watch TV with dad I let that go. But that time gives me time to finish up anything that didn’t get done during the day.

    Bedtime/bathtime is usually Dad’s job just because when they were still nursing that was his bonding time with them.

    Weekends aren’t much different around here. There is more family activities, but I am still primary kid-wrangler and housekeeper. And while there are times, I don’t feel it is right or equitable. It works for us.

    Thanks for making me take the time to really think about this though. It might bring about a few changes.

  15. Good post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs
    I stumbleupon everyday. It’s always helpful to read content from other authors and practice something from other websites.

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