The scene: 11:00 AM on a typical Tuesday morning.
Breakfast dishes are strewn about, there are crumbs all over the floor, the baby’s diaper is sagging, and the 3-year-old has no pants on. I am scrubbing the rust stains under the toilet rim when suddenly I get distracted by the sticky jam marks on the light switch. I leave the toilet soaking and sprint to grab some wet wipes to clean the light switches, then the door handles, then that grungy spot behind the toilet.
Suddenly, I hear a crash and come out to investigate only to discover that the 3-year-old has pulled the entire curtain rod off of the wall, leaving a gaping hole in the drywall. He is standing sheepishly in the corner while the baby looks on nearby with a comically guilty expression on her face.
I sigh heavily, wet wipes still in hand, as I think of the lunch still to be made, the laundry still to be folded, the carpets still to be vacuumed, the breakfast mess still untouched, the whole house seeming to collect dirt and dust and grime before my eyes until I feel like I am suffocating under the weight of it all.
And then, the baby poops.
Suddenly my sigh becomes a little bit of a cry. Because the truth is, I made the choice to be a stay-at-home mom, but I didn’t realize that being a S.A.H.M was actually code for: Super Awesome Housecleaning Mother.
One would think that being a stay-at-home mother means that the primary focus of each and every day would be one’s beloved offspring. That might mean different things, such as lovingly staring at your children’s faces, packing picnic lunches for park-day adventures, or reading story after story of enriching books to fill your children’s minds with the spark of imagination. The everyday tasks of stay-at-home parenting might differ, but overall, the agenda would look a little something like: Day of Children.
It makes sense, when you think about. Being a stay-at-home parent is, for all intents and purposes, a job centered around being physically, emotionally, and otherwise present for other members of your family. So, in theory, being a stay-at-home parent should be about all the kids.
But it’s not. It’s all about my house.
When I think about it, it’s almost comical how little “stay-at-home mothering” I feel like I do. Every second of every hour of my day seems to revolve around cleaning something — someone’s bottom, someone’s mess, the floor, the stove, the junk drawer, the car, and in an epic move a few weekends ago, underneath the fridge for the first time in the six years since we bought this house, an experience that I am still too shaken to describe.
How does any parent who works outside of the home get all this cleaning done? I once marveled over that with another stay-at-home-mom. We shook our heads over the phone in disbelief until it seemed to dawn on us both simultaneously that we’ve actually created an entirely different level of work for ourselves by having children home 24/7.
But essentially, we’re all — working parents, non-working parents, or that half-hybrid of both that I land in (I work from home) — super stressed out with cleaning. And I, personally, feel especially disillusioned because I went into being a stay-at-home mom with a highly romanticized idea of the gig. I thought it would mostly be about taking care of my kids when really it’s mostly be about trying to keep my house from getting destroyed.
“If I could just hire a housekeeper,” I joked to my husband in exasperation the other night, “I might actually get to be just a stay-at-home mom.”
I have honestly reached the point where I feel like something has to go: my sanity or my house. There is not one second of every day at home with my kids that I am not cleaning something or thinking about something that needs to be cleaned. And I know that part of my personal problem is that I work from home, so I have to be sure my cleaning is done so that I can work during any free time (read: nap time) I have. But even if I wasn’t working from home, I would still want that precious nap time freed up to do important stuff like figure out how to use Snapchat or watch my secret TV crushes Chip and Joanna Gaines on Fixer Upper. (Side note: why can’t my husband and I be so adorable when discussing home renovation decisions?)
My point is, my day as a stay-at-home parent is basically doing all the other minutia of life, keeping up my house, cooking and cleaning, and working my kids around that. And I can’t figure out if that’s a bad thing or just the way it should be.
Sometimes, I think I am being much too dramatic and need to just stop cleaning. Let the dishes pile up like all of those guilt-tinged articles’ advise. Excuse the mess, memories are being made, I would say sweetly, as my children and I plop down on the rug to build blocks together.
But then again, guys, I like living in a clean house. I like it when the laundry is folded, and the floor is swept, and the dishwasher is loaded and humming contentedly in the kitchen.
I like keeping a clean house, and I like staying home with my kids.
It’s the combination of the two that I am having trouble with. So the solution is clear: it’s time that 3-year-old of mine learned to scrub the toilets. Because somebody’s gotta do it.