THE BLOG

Who Has it Harder: The Working or the Stay-at-Home Parent?

04/27/2015 08:50 pm ET | Updated Jun 27, 2015
Diana Lee Photography

The playing field has changed. Mine's now Gymboree. His, still corporate insanity.

When we were both slaves to the man or, in my case, woman, there was common ground. We came home equally exhausted in proportionate ways and just got each other. With one look, one sigh, we'd know what the other was going through, commiserate and feel justified in knowing our partner understood and appreciated the sacrifice and effort we were going through to make our own little world better and brighter for the future.

Then, the future arrived. In a 6lb. 14 oz. package of perfection.

And, for awhile, we were so enamored and delirious in a new family fog which clouded our otherwise selfish thoughts. We're still madly in love with our girl and our life. In fact, it seems to intensify daily to a level I didn't think possible just the day before.

But the fog has lifted. Reality and months and months of sleep deprivation set in. It's not a sprint, it's a never-ending marathon, and we're showing signs of fatigue and PTSD at the 24-mile mark. We're no longer on an even playing field. We haven't been for some time now. The ground seems slanted, the court warped,the turf tainted. Whatever sports analogy you conjure, things are far from even. And the "call" is in the eye of the beaten-down beholder.

He wakes first every morning, spends about 30 minutes with our daughter, gets ready and leaves to travel through whatever inclement weather we're having, share the subway with other tortured New Yorkers and manage 50 or so people all over the country, all day long. There's personalities to negotiate, people to placate, unbelievably high goals to achieve...

There's also adult conversation, expensed business lunches with starters and a main course and sometimes wine; a bathroom stall to himself; a door to close and a computer to surf without little, sticky hands banging on it.

I "get up" when he does. Except I lie there. Lifeless. Praying I fall back to sleep. Praying they let me go for a few minutes longer. Wishing I'd gone to bed earlier. Dreaming I woke at a Four Seasons. I immediately put a load of laundry in, pick up toys I was too tired to the night before, get breakfast ready, try to answer a few emails all while reciting Peppa Pig's Muddy Puddles for the umpteenth time. We play, we struggle, we laugh, we negotiate. She wins, I sigh. I win, she cries. It's a daily tug-of-war with emotions so high it feels like a two-woman Broadway show. At the end of each day, I feel as if I've been through a 12-hour saga playing the cutup, the hero, the villain... In between each act, I'm pushing a stroller, shopping for groceries, going to classes and trying to conduct business through the tears, screams, laughs and babble. Nap time means official work time. I spend the fast-dwindling hour(s) -- it's like there's a large print, shot clock blasted on the wall, loudly ticking down -- writing, editing, pitching, dreaming, scheming, screaming, all the while that "Housewives" episode is looming over, taunting me and I probably should eat something. I don't. By the time I'm "done" (Are we ever really done?), she's up. And I immediately feel guilty for being disappointed or leaving her in the crib two minutes too long.

But... I can choose to remain in my PJ's all day. To go out or stay in. I'm showered with love. There's plenty of pleases and thank-you's (She's a polite diva.) and I can, technically, nap when she naps. (Ha!) There's no time card or mandatory meeting, deadline or office drama. There's me and my girl and the endless options of how we choose to spend our day, snow or shine. We can botch our plans and, on a whim, go to the museum, have a picnic outdoors, a baking party indoors or, better yet, both.

I get her from her crib and we do the delicate dance all over again. Elation, exasperation. I watch the clock. Except this time it's in reverse. This clock moves painfully slow. In fact, it doesn't seem to be moving at all. I try not to text, definitely don't call. He's got stuff to do. He's earning a living for our family, wants to be home too. He'll come as soon as he can. Most days, I'm a good wife. Every third Thursday, I break. "When are you coming home? Have you left yet? How much longer? PLEASE COME HOME, I'VE GOT NOTHING LEFT." Insert dramatic emojis here.

He comes home. We both ask how the other's day went and can still tell by one look but that's the only element that has remained from our previous, well-rested lives. After that, it's foreign. Sure, I can (painfully) recall what it was like in the work force and he's had a week off with us or a weekend of Daddy duty, but neither is the same. If you're not in it, you're not in it.

We say how much we'd love to be the other. Fantasize how great it'd be. "I'd kill for a reason to shower, water cooler chat, a meeting of the minds," I say. "I'd love to stay home, go for coffee, a nice, long walk," he hallucinates. We both have such idealized and naive versions of what life could be, sans reality.

After his day, he takes over. Bathes our beauty, changes her, gets her ready for bed. After my day, I clean up her mess and then delve into mine. More work time. She's all dewy and new, cuddly and warm, smelling of lavender and promise and we nestle in, as a family, for bedtime books. In that moment, everything is right. It's no longer about my day versus his, who pulled more of the proverbial or actual (30 pound baby!) weight. We're a family and, together or apart, tears or cheers, we survived and are here together, healthy, happy, in our home, living a life that we've always dreamed and it's pretty sweet. And absolutely even.

Once she's in bed, we try to make dinner, sit at the table and have conversation. Often we end up ordering in, sitting on the couch and watching TV in silence. Soon, he's snoring and I'm up until late into the night fighting the fight.

Morning comes and we start all over again. Different playing fields. The same team.