Friday, August 23, 2013

The Hardest Work

Everyone seems to be having babies.  Recently I have been thinking more realistically about becoming a parent and my financial plan based on how long I plan to stay at home with my kids.  One thing that I've heard consistently since I was a child is that being a stay at home parent is the "hardest work."  I've been barraged by this idea so much lately.  Honestly, I have zero interest in taking on anything more difficult than much of the work I've done in the past, of which care giving has actually been the simplest.

My first full time experience with care giving was the summer after sixth grade when I accepted a full time babysitting job watching three young kids from church.  At twelve years old I was paid $80/week to care for a boy (age 7), and his two younger sisters (ages 3 and 5).  The parents were very happy with how well I disciplined their children and the girls grew attached to me. I cooked for them, taught them about the Bible, and helped them with their reading all summer long.  One week, I also balanced feeding a litter of baby kittens with an eyedropper (because the family cat had rejected her babies) along with my other responsibilities. My parents responded that it would be easier with my own children whenever I vented complaints to my family over the boy's behavioral issues and one of the girl's serious depression, a trait she shared with her mother.  That summer was a cakewalk compared to previous summers, painting houses and mowing lawns for my dad's rental properties in 100 degree weather.  

Two dollars an hour for taking care of three children may seem paltry, but as with every nanny/babysitting assignment I've taken since, I felt guilty taking the money.  Getting paid to play with kids and help them get changed for bed always felt like a scam.  I seriously disliked children knowing that I was getting paid to hang out with them and care for them.  I babysat a sick baby and his two sisters for the weekend just for fun, no pay.  I didn't sleep more than one consecutive hour but it never once felt like "work".  It was my pleasure.  

For me work is standing on a ladder in the hot Georgia sun painting a house until your little arms feel like they're about to fall off.  Hard work is getting back on that ladder after throwing up in the bushes to paint some more so you can help your family keep you in private Christian school.  Studying for the New York bar exam was some of the hardest work I've ever done and I will absolutely never willingly sign up for anything that mentally and emotionally taxing ever again.

Still, I've never been a parent.  What do I really know?  My dad retired from the military when I was very small and became a stay at home parent.  He cooked me breakfast every morning, braided my hair poorly, and took me on field trips to all his church friends' places of employments.  We lived in Honolulu so we took a trip through a pineapple factory.  I got to see how a printing press works.  We went to the library a lot and although I missed playing with other kids at daycare all day, I look back on this period of my childhood fondly.  I figured my Dad is the best person to tell me the real hard truth about the degree of difficulty of stay at home parenting. I came up with a few jobs I knew he'd done and asked:

Daddy, 

What was your hardest job?  
a. being a stay at home Dad to me 
b. being a psychiatric nurse at mental hospital for minors
c. or picking cotton in the fields of Alabama.

Shockingly, he picked b.  He said working as a psychiatric nurse was the hardest because not only was he was always comparing those less well behaved kids to my sister and I, but he also said he had difficult coworkers.  When I asked him about the second hardest of the three, he selected c.  He said he was only seven and found picking cotton to be difficult. Hmm.  He then offered up unsolicited that staying home with me was "fun because we got to do things together.  We got to go to the grocery store together . . ."  Wait a minute.  My Dad thought it was fun, not challenging, to take me to the grocery store even though all I've been told lately is what a stressful nightmare the grocery store becomes once you have a child? 

Imagine my relief to find that my dad found staying at home with me to be far less arduous than working the fields of rural Alabama.  Maybe what qualifies as hard work for some people is easy for others and vice versa.  Perhaps it's foolish and self-aggrandizing to describe one's work as the "hardest" since no individual has experienced the challenges of every type of work.  If someone takes care of a farm and nine children with no washer/dryer like my Grandmother did, then maybe I'll take them seriously.  Otherwise, I will start ignoring this type of rhetoric and actually look forward to at home parenting.  If it does turn out to be harder than sweat shop labor or Calculus 2, I'll hire a nanny and go back to work asap.

1 comment:

Rhoda Lapp said...

Yes, this is pretty impressive! Grandma had a washer, but had to hang all the clothes outside to dry, even in the coldest winter weather with snow and ice on the ground. We had to rinse the clothes by hand since it was an old wringer style that had only a washtub and wringer to wring some water out so we didn't have to hang them dripping wet. Great writing!