My Wife's Job Is Harder Than Mine

Why My Wife’s Job Is Harder Than Mine

I work at a large, top-200 law firm in one of the ten most populous cities in the country. The hours can be grueling, there are constant deadlines, and the work is mentally demanding.  Any partner in my particular practice area can assign me work, which means I have more than 30 potential bosses.  At any given time, I am working on projects for three to five partners, all of whom believe that their assignment should take priority over any other work.  As a result, there have been many long days (and long nights).

Moreover, being a lawyer at a large firm is a high-stress endeavor.  Even small mistakes can have significant implications and, as a result, tensions can run high.  And of course, because excellence is expected, partners are unlikely to give much positive feedback for a job well done; instead, the reward for good work is more work.

It doesn’t get much better when I venture outside my office.  Lawyers are often the butt of jokes, and society, in general, has little regard for my profession.   In fact, 34% of Americans say that “lawyers contribute little to nothing to society“?

I do not share this to complain or to engender any sympathy. I’m well compensated for my work and am grateful for the opportunity to work at my firm.  My point is simply that the position of “associate” at a major law firm is generally regarded as a very difficult job. With that said, I make the following observation with great confidence: my wife’s job is harder.

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My wife is self-employed.  She has only two clients to respond to, sets her own hours, has no dress code to follow, and primarily works from home.  Stated differently, she has two demanding, needy, and childish clients, is on call 24-7, is so busy she doesn’t even have time to shower some days, and is essentially a prisoner in her own home.

The astute reader has deduced her occupation: My wife is a stay-at-home mother (“SAHM”).

In our society, it seems that being a SAHM is frequently misunderstood.  SAHMs are often asked if they “just” stay home with their kids and, if so, how do they fill their days? They are asked if they look forward to “going back to work,” or if they miss having a job. Others (often singles or married women who don’t have children) express their longing for the day when they can stay home with their kids, rhapsodizing about the glory of motherhood and peppering SAHMs with questions about the glorious existence that must be the life of a SAHM.  In other words, our society seems to have concluded that SAHMs are either

  1. On a sabbatical of sorts from the real world, treading water in some sort of slow-moving existence featuring too much free time and not enough significance; or
  2. Living an idyllic life, consisting of snuggling and playing with soft cuddly babies, participating in fun-filled play dates with other moms and babies, and having plenty of time to engage in fulfilling hobbies and friendships.

With these two polar opposite characterizations of SAHMs, I imagine most young mothers feel either an overwhelming sense of insignificance, because the first assumption paints them as unmotivated or unqualified members of society, or a deep sense of personal failure, if their experience as a mother fails to resemble the blissful scenario described by the second assumption.  It’s a bit surprising these views don’t drive young mothers to an institution!  And that is just the external pressure and misunderstanding a SAHM may face from family, friends, (obnoxious) strangers, and the media.  There is still the actual work of motherhood to contend with.

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Make no mistake, my wife has made it abundantly clear that she feels extremely blessed to be a SAHM and would not choose to do anything else.  But, that does not change the simple, incontrovertible fact that it is hard work.  Here are just a few of the hats worn by a SAHM (along with the approximate annual salary):

  • Activity Coordinator / Planner – This encompasses not just trips to the zoo, play dates, and parent-tot “craft projects,” but also all the daily activities that keep a child engaged for twelve hours a day.  (Salary: $41,000)
  • Educator and Facilitator of Cognitive Development – SAHMs are working with impressionable and fertile minds. A Harvard study states what “[w]e have long known that interactions with parents, caregivers, and other adults are important in a child’s life, but new evidence shows that these relationships actually shape brain circuits and lay the foundation for later developmental outcomes, from academic performance to mental health and interpersonal skills.” No pressure, right?  Sure, it might be easier to duct-tape their diaper to the floor in front of the TV watching Barney for the greater part of the day, but a good SAHM (like my wife) looks for, and creates, opportunities to stimulate her child’s brain development. (Salary: $28,000)
  • Chef/Hostess/Waitress/Busboy (girl)/Dishwasher – A SAHM’s kitchen duties go well beyond food preparation.  Having observed this process in our home, it goes something like this: (1) prepare the food; (2) convince the child(ren) it really is time to eat, which may or may not involve physically “escorting” the child(ren) to the table; (3) serve the food to the child(ren); (4) field complaints regarding the type of food prepared, its texture, its temperature, its color, its shape, or its taste; (5) confer with the “chef” as to whether an alternate entree is available; (6) return to the table to advise the child(ren) that the kitchen is closed, and risk enduring verbal harassment; (7) pick up food that has been dropped (or thrown) to the floor; (8) after the meal, wipe down (or hose off) the child(ren), the table, and the floor; (9) collect the dishes, rinse them, and load the dishwasher.  In fact, one of the only things separating this experience from an actual restaurant is payment of any kind (and after-dinner mints)! (Salary: $85,000; $23,000; $26,000; $18,000; $22,000)
  • Mediator – For SAHMs with more than one child, conflict resolution is a regular necessity.  Whether they are toddlers, young children, middle schoolers, or high schoolers, allegations of “that’s mine,” “he hit me,” “I was watching that,” “she ruined my jeans,” “he ate the last piece,” and similar claims are sure to resonate within the halls of your home. (Salary: $60,000)
  • Interior Decorator / Organizer – When you walk into a home and it feels warm and inviting, there is a high probability that you are benefiting from what is commonly referred to as “a woman’s touch.”  If, in contrast, the home looks like this:
    empty house

    …you are likely experiencing “a man’s touch.” This ability and effort naturally carries over into the children’s rooms and affects not just the aesthetics of those rooms, but also the organization.  You may not have realized, but children are messy.  So any day that you come home and do not trip over or step on multiple toys in the hallway, your room, or on any other available floor space, your wife had something to do with that. (Salary: $51,000)

  • Hazardous Waste Technician: Diapers. Spit-ups. Projectile Vomiting. Potty Training. Need I say more? (Salary: $43,000)
  • Nurse: While some injuries (or perceived injuries) may only require a kiss from mommy to jumpstart the healing process, other slips, tumbles, collisions, and flying objects cause more significant damage.  A SAHM must do triage and carry out the appropriate level of treatment, all while comforting her child in his or her fragile emotional state. (Salary: $65,000)
  • Taxi Service: When my wife was growing up, it was not uncommon for my mother-in-law to drive in excess of 20,000 miles on an annual basis.  Much like at mealtime, the process involved in going anywhere is extensive.  A SAHM must round up the children, load them (and an extensive amount of supplies) into the vehicle, drive to the destination while enjoying the musical stylings of “musicians” like the Wiggles, unload the children and supplies, engage in whatever activity is on the agenda, and then repeat the process to return home.  Moreover, this scenario fails to take into account the various “wrinkles” that may complicate the journey: for example, (1) a child decides that what was inside his tummy after lunch belongs outside his tummy and all over the interior of the car, or; (2) the travelers arrive at the destination only to discover that the activity was cancelled and they didn’t get the message because mommy’s phone is still drying out from having been thrown in the toilet the night before. (Salary: $25,000)
  • Supply Chain Manager – Lest we forget, all the roles filled by a SAHM also require extensive supplies.  Diapers, clothes, laundry detergent, food, books, toys, and copious amounts of carpet cleaner are just the beginning.  Managing inventory, purchasing and restocking essential items is a never-ending process. (Salary: $90,000)

There was an article in Forbes in 2011 suggesting that SAHMs should charge $115,000 for their services.  The total annual approximate salary for the positions I listed above is $577,000.  Granted, a SAHM is not dedicating 40 hours per week to each of these roles, but if someone suggests that it is possible–without paying a substantial salary–to locate an individual that was not only sufficiently skilled to assume all of these roles, but also willing to take on a job with this many responsibilities . . . then I would like to introduce that individual to a little thing I like to call “reality.”

Finally, and lest we forget, merging all these professionals into one SAHM only covers the actual physical labor.  It doesn’t even begin to address the immense feelings of responsibility, and the hopes and dreams for the futures of their precious children.  Nor does it account for the fact that most SAHMs accomplish all of this in a continuous state of sleep deprivation.

If you are wondering what to do with this information, here are two suggestions:

  1. If your wife is a stay-at-home mother, recognize her contributions to your family, thank her (often) for the very important work she does, and try to make sure that you aren’t the only one that gets to take advantage of vacation days.
  2. If you know stay-at-home mothers, stop asking them if it is nice to not have a job, and bless them with the opportunity to have an adult conversation once in a while by taking them out to lunch or dinner.  (And if she leans over to cut your food for you, just let it go!)


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Update: 1/24/2014

This post has gotten a tremendous response–one I could not have imagined (300,000 views and counting).  Thank you for reading and sharing it!

I wanted to address something that has come up in some of the comments.  I wrote this post as a tribute to all the work that my wife–a SAHM–does on a daily basis.  Because it was written from my personal perspective and is about my wife, it does not address stay-at-home fathers, or mothers who work outside the home.  Certainly no family has the exact same circumstances as any other and I am confident we all know moms and dads in a variety of situations who are amazing parents and very dedicated to their children.

My hope is that this post encourages all of us-–no matter our particular situation-–to seek to understand and appreciate the contributions of our spouse.  With this in mind, perhaps the best thing we can do is to use this article–and any comments–to support and recognize the contributions of our spouse, no matter the situation.  Thanks again for reading!
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261 thoughts on “Why My Wife’s Job Is Harder Than Mine”

    1. Amy is throwing stones in a glass house. I hope she pro-creates one day. Taking care of yourself is EASY, it’s the putting others needs above your own time and time again that takes real effort!

  1. I think you could run a whole seminar based on this – I’d certainly send my husband along! 🙂 I’m kidding, he’s great really, but I’m a SAHM to a 6 year old and 3 year old triplets, and it’s HARD work! This is a marvellous post, articulate and entertaining – on behalf of SAHMs everywhere, thank you for saying it so well!

  2. I don’t for a second believe my husband has an easier job than I do, but as a SAHM, I do appreciate your words, the understanding, and the confidence boost your post gave me (and so many others I know who read it). I read your post one morning last week, then wrote about it on my own blog, and it opened such a great dialogue. Thanks for writing your post. 🙂

  3. I am entering a part of my life where I need to decide between a career I don’t enjoy to please society and utilize my degree…. and giving it all up to become a SAHM. Not sure how people will view me “giving up my education”, but as a response I will direct them to your post. =) very inspiring.

    1. Don’t view it as giving up your education, you will not become ‘uneducated’ just because you choose to have children and leave the job market for a while. Your degree will still be useful once your children are a little more independent and you decide to go back to paid employment. Good luck, whatever path you choose.

    2. I “gave up” college when I was only 2 classes away from earning my degree to move to the other side of the country to marry a Marine. We now have a son and a daughter on the way. I may not have a college degree, but I have a better and more enjoyable “career” than I ever thought possible. It’s not easy (especially when hubby is gone for a year or longer) but it’s the most rewarding job in the world in my opinion. I have no regrets whatsoever and I am confident I never will.

  4. I’m a Navy physician, and I couldn’t agree more. My wife and I have a 9-month old daughter, and I never even call my wife a stay-at-home… I call her a domestic engineer! She is my our public affairs officer, logistics officer, operations officer, and commanding officer all in one – and that is before she is even out of bed in the morning! During the few hours each day that my daughter is napping, my wife spends her time on our blog providing nutrition and fitness outreach to others. She never stops, and I don’t know what I’d do if she did!

    Thanks for a great post and a well-deserved thank you to all of our wives who allow us to do what we do.

  5. Since I was 10 years old, I always want to be a “Career Woman” who wear blazer, high heel, work in tall building, etc. I’ve achieved that dream at age 25, being an expatriate with regional responsibility, high salary and luxurious facility, which was very lucrative because I came from a poor family. Then my husband (who’s an expatriate as well and also come from a poor family), decided to leave the company and start our little business, because he said he couldn’t imagined booth of us work very long hour like this after we have kids. We leaved everything and started really small,….and thank God eventually the business run pretty well and I got pregnant. It was extremely hard for me to stay at home because I feel what many mother feel, which is “useless”. So I keep working in our company. It takes me 7 years to finally understand how important I am for my kids,…and so I work from home half day when the kids are in school and just go to the office once a week. I’m proudly say, my kids are doing excellent at school, very mature & responsible compare to their friends.

  6. What a fantastic read, which successfully managed to put a smile on my face. I am not a mother, or a wife – I work full time, but also take on a lot of the responsibilities in the home. My boyfriend has never considered this my ‘role’ but is always grateful that the house is clean, there is either food in the cupboard or on the table and the bills have been paid. He frequently helps out where he can because he’s beginning to understand the strain of these tasks.
    But often I am left wondering, when I’m doing the same chores for the eighth time that week – HOW a SAHM/F manages to do all of this with demanding children in tow!?
    I fear for the day if/when this same fate greets me.

  7. This post means so much to me as a SAHM. It is the same content that I have been presenting in my own social media settings but I feel usually just gets scrolled over as “insignificant”. I do have some close friends who read my posts closely who are quite supportive and one of those friends was of whom shared this post with me. So, it does make a difference. Thank-you for making a difference! (P.S. I am also a qualified scientist with an Honours degree in Human Biology but as a SAHM, people generally don’t ask me about that as though SAHM is my only identity and is uniform with all other SAHMs.)

  8. I am a SAHM & this has gave me more confidence and pride in telling people my job title when asked. I always thought some individuals we’re thinking “don’t you have it made” or “to lazy to work”. I am very thankful though that my husband respects and appreciates everything I do. Even though he works 40+ hours a week on a second shift job at a chicken plant (not easy work at all), he comes home with the intent to make my job easier on me. I am very blessed to have such an amazing man in mine and our Childs life.

  9. Very well written, over the years that I raised our children I felt many of the stings of opinioned know nothings and it is lovely to see a new version of some ideas I have seen before ie: dollar value of SAHM activities. J.D. Robb, aka Nora Roberts, writes of New York in the 2060’s where there are SAHM that have government salaries because they are PROFESSIONAL MOTHERS, what a truly smart idea, to pay mothers to care for their beloved children so as to have “value” in/to the world.

  10. Amazingly beautiful read! I pretty much smiled through each paragraph! I worked at a law firm as well, busy downtown location and spent my hours crunching numbers, the stress, the politics and the head ache was to much to bear, but I thought hey it comes with the job. I was blessed with a beautiful baby girl and she has completely changed my perspective of the SAHM theory. While I’m not working but pursuing over avenues, the time spent with my daughter is by far more rewarding and I praise all the SAHM! Universe bless you, your amazing wife and your children!

  11. Thank you James, not for thinking this way, but for sharing those thoughts. Now i can say i know at least one man who respects his wife.

  12. thank you for this! got a lot of people sayin’ ‘degrading’ stuff about being a stay-at-home-mom especially at such a young age. didn’t kno I could be makin’ way more than those ‘independent women’ :p haha!

  13. I have 5 month old baby and 18 month toddler an. My husbands helps so much with the baby but they r both fussy so I need the help. I wish men would also understand how emotional women get after having babies to look after, that mothers have to force themselves to go out, even though they are so.tired its not because they don’t want to have fun. The emotional well being of a mother is jus as important as physical help. Although any little is appreciated as some men don’t help at all.

  14. So wonderful for you to acknowledge all that. You are both “lucky” to have found each other, lucky being in inverted commas as a good partnership has little to do with luck and more to do with love, respect, compromise, to name a few.

  15. I am a SAHM… I know exactly how it feels when people consider it insignificant…..kudos to u for such an insightful thought for all those who think a SAHM does close to nothing at home….or ask her questihat do u do at home?!!

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