I don't know how this became a thing. But somewhere along the line, a rather angst-ridden debate started to bloom regarding whether being a full-time professional or a full-time parent was more challenging. However, speaking as a father who only technically parents his children four of the 13 hours that they're awake, I'm here to concede that the stay-at-home parents are the ones who should be promoted.
This is not to say that there aren't challenges in my career that stay-at-home parents never have to deal with. Moms typically never have to face the impending doom of a performance review at year-end (unless their partner is a real tyrant), and there are virtually no politics for a dad to wade through as he's disciplining his unruly son. But after being home for entire weekdays with my children recently, I came to develop a deeper appreciation for the exhausting, often unrewarding job they do every single day. So, I decided to write these unsung heroes a letter...
The minute I leave the house for work, despite needing to be on time for my job, I have complete autonomy. From the language I use to the songs I play on my 22-mile drive, I can de-stress to my heart's content, dropping any conceivable four-letter word on the rude Nissan who cut me off and blasting Alice in Chains, should I be in the mood for '90s grunge that day. You, however, aren't afforded the same luxury. You're far more likely to be listening to Alice in Wonderland instead... for the 278th time.
When I arrive at my job, I'm faced with a variety of about 12 different clients a day, and the faces are often different depending on which day it is. While certainly stressful, we've established a rapport over time and there's a palpable feeling of respect among us. You have the exact same one or two clients every day, and sometimes they throw food at your face and tell you they hate you.
Lunch is my decompression time. Whether I stay in the office and eat at the company café or venture out to a nearby pizzeria, I separate myself from my worries and enjoy quality time with a root beer and a meatball sandwich. You probably forget to feed yourself most of the time, focusing instead on the other hungry, demanding mouths in the room.
I work in an environment where bonuses and financial rewards for extra effort are customary and even expected. You never get paid a dime for your work, but are still expected to approach it with the same enthusiasm and diligence that a paid employee of a company would. And generally speaking, holidays are a double-shift, not a day of rest.
Having a career allows me to separate myself from raising my kids. In essence, my job is "base" in the perpetual game of tag that is parenthood. I don't possess the patience and determination to be a full-time dad. Certainly, I play the part every weekend, or during vacations, but to care for a child 13 hours a day, every single day, is a completely different level of commitment than the gig I currently hold.
So, whether you're a stay-at-home mom or a stay-at-home dad, know that I am in awe of your courage and persistence. There are nights when I'm not even able to make it through dinner without losing my cool, and I'm typically exhausted by my sons after a full day of soccer, tantrums and answering every imaginable question about life. But you? You've got this locked down in a way I can only dream about.
To be clear, I'm not saying that spending 40 years holed up in a cubicle or traveling the world for your job is a pleasure cruise. My career has involved politics, traveling, sacrificing family time to perform my role, the constant undercurrent of professional development, the belief that I should always be evolving and looking ahead to my next position. It's unnervingly overwhelming. But that said, I still take my hat off to you, parent by blood and by trade, who has made the conscious decision to devote yourself full-time to a job that yields no income, yet high blood pressure, no health benefits, but a plethora of tangible, real-life benefits. There are days when I envy you, when I'd switch places with you in a heartbeat if given the chance. But being honest, most of the time I purposefully pull out of that driveway, happy to leave my parenthood in the rear-view mirror for a while.
I'm sick of hearing "what do they do all day?" and "they have it easy." Anybody with children would attest to the fact that handling this role even a quarter of the day is anything but easy, let alone from sunrise to sunset and beyond.
Keep doing what you're doing, and remember to make time for you once in a while.
Joe DeProspero, Part-Time Dad