Have stay at home parents really never worked a day in their lives? Is it fair to say they’ve never worked a real job? This is not a new conversation topic at all. In fact, as long as women have left the home to go punch in the aisle has been divided about the role of a stay-at-home parent. With the wife of a presidential candidate being a stay-at-home mom herself the conversation once again comes to the top of mind. Many people don’t think being a stay-at-home parent is a job. This author takes no sides in this argument, but he can present why some people don’t respect the role in the household. It is a shame that fewer cannot come forward and share their views, but it’s almost now considered disrespectful to even say such things.

Let’s be a little more open-minded and at least hear them out.

1) It is not a job:  It might be hard work, but raising children is not and never will be a job.  It’s a duty, but not a career.

  • No boss – Most stay-at-home parents don’t have to report to anyone. The other spouse can’t even tell them what to do. Parents use their best judgment and if they screw up there’s no one calling them into their office to say how disappointed they are in them.
  • No performance review – Every 6 months no one is telling you how good or bad you’re doing.  There’s no external pressure on the parent to succeed.
  • No firing – If you do a bad job, the parent is not going to get fired.  In fact, it’s quite difficult to tell if a parent is doing a bad job.
  • Flexibility – Parents might not think they have flexibility, but they do. Ultimately, it is the parent that decides what they and the child will do that day. They could go to the museum and then hit up Starbucks (for a latte with a friend and organic milk) and be home in time for Ellen. It’s not always so pleasant, but the parent is in charge. If you stamp car doors out of aluminum all day you have 20 minutes of breaks and 30-60 minutes for lunch. Beyond that, you’re standing in one place and stamping doors.

2) After age 5 they’re someone else’s problem for much of the day: Once kids reach the age of schooling, they become the problem of the system for much of the day. Sure a stay-at-home parent has to get them up and get them to school, and they even make sure homework gets done and get them to soccer practice. But those in between hours once again provide for flexibility and choice. Chores have to be done but the parent still had choice and time.
3) It’s an 18 year career: If this were a job, it ends after 18 years. More kids add more time but only a Dugger doesn’t get early retirement with parenting.
4) Their moms worked: Many people today grew up in two-income households and therefore assume that since they turned out okay that stay-at-homes just had it good.

Much of the argument comes over an imaginary line drawn in the sand about whether or not a full time parent is a job. In many measurements of such a thing, parenting is not a job. It is many things and in many ways harder than a job, but that doesn’t make it a job. This is a search for equality on some common ground, which is a waste. But simply because a full time parent isn’t a job, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be respected the more than workers. Here’s why:

  • Economic reliance: The choice to be a stay-at-home parent shows a trust in a spouse that isn’t as common as it once was. Most marriages are stable, but should a divorce occur things can get very difficult for a parent that hasn’t worked in a decade or more.  This is a risk in the 21st century and shows a willingness to self-sacrifice.
  • Can’t quit: You can quit jobs, but can’t quite parenting. And if one parent finds themselves not working, they immediately become the full time parent. You can’t change kids just because they suck either.
  • They do things for your kids: While you’re out having a “business meeting” at Starbucks yourself, some mom is on the field trip with your kid to the museum. They’re also going to take your kid to soccer practice after school and only at this weekend’s game where you think you’re an awesome parent for showing up will that parent fill you in on the stuff you missed this week.
  • 24/7: Many workers can put an end to their day at 5:00 and come home. If they come home to a stay-at-home parent there’s likely very little they must do. They can play with the kids and connect with them. But there’s less pressure on the working parent to make dinner or run the house. They are a participant in the household instead of manager. The full time parent still has stuff to do.

As I said before, parenting of any kind is not a job. It’s hard work. Harder than the work of many with jobs. But it’s not a job. This obsession over defining what full-time parenting is comes from our societal fixation on defining people based on the answer to the question “so what do you do?“. We’d view this entire situation differently if the question was “so what did you do today?“.

Being a working parent is like being a working student. You can do it, but you are going to miss out on some things. It may be the only way to do it for lots of people. But those that can focus on one thing at a time and choose to should be respected for it. And before we rush to judgment we should ask if we’re really having the right conversation.

Image: Ed Yourdon

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categories: jobs, lists