Stay-At-Home Moms (and Dads!)

I’m not trying to open a can of worms here. Just providing an observation developed from my past year of employment.

Last fall, I walked dogs and nannied two teenage girls from an affluent D.C. neighborhood while I finished my M.S.

It was frustrating as hell on a regular basis, because I was dealing with multiple living creatures with various needs and emotions of their own. I came home from one job or the other crying from time to time, frustrated that “they” (dogs or girls) wouldn’t listen to me/had a bad day/etc. I was emotionally invested in all of their lives, whether I liked it or not.

Once I finished my M.S. I started my cubicle job. I’m not emotionally invested in it at all, and the living creatures I interact with are generally people that won’t send me materials I need on time. At the beginning of my time here, I would occasionally go home and cry. Not because I was upset that someone had a bad day or was being difficult, but because I did not feel like I was directly contributing to society.

You think I’m off-topic already, but I’m definitely not.

Without any children of my own, I already understand why stay-at-home parents (SAHPs) say their job is difficult but fulfilling. The difference between my current job and my odd jobs from last fall are night and day. I was constantly problem-solving while with the dogs and girls, looking for dangers and coming up with fun places for us to go or things to do. I had to help with homework or clean up after sick dogs. I took one of the girls to the doctor (with her parents’ permission) when I became concerned about a sports injury healing too slowly. I left notes about the dogs’ demeanors and bowel movements if something seemed off, and told their “parents” about fun times we had chasing leaves and squirrels.

I regularly came home exhausted, mind reeling…but feeling like I had directly impacted people’s lives that day.

For some people, my current job would be difficult. Honestly, I expected it to be difficult, especially coming off “no-skill” jobs like dog walking and nannying. But most of what I do is repetition, and it is neither challenging nor fulfilling. I’m at the end of a long corporate chain of work, essentially copyediting products and looking for nitpicky details no one actually cares about (except me, I love being nitpicky on grammar and punctuation).

The consequences of doing my job poorly in the corporate world are misplaced commas or improperly indented headers. The consequences of doing my job poorly as a dog walker and nanny were lost dogs and upset children. The consequences of doing my job poorly as a grad student were serious research setbacks that, if somehow not caught by peer review, would proliferate out into the community.

I think my job as a dog walker and nanny was both more difficult and more fulfilling than my corporate job. I know that being a SAHP is probably not the most difficult job in the world (I’d imagine being a Navy Seal is pretty rough), but I do think it deserves more respect than most people in the “working world” give the position.