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!)

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!


261 thoughts on “Why My Wife’s Job Is Harder Than Mine”

  1. THANK YOU!!! I am a SAHM, my husbands job is brutal,without it I would not be able to stay at home and raise my girls. I have a 7 and 2 year old. However hard my hubby works, he has no idea or compassion for what I do on a daily basis. My oldere daughter had developmental delays, food aversive etc. My husband has a tremendous slew of health problems, and thank god my younger daughter is of perfect health. Having to care for my daughter and my husband being sick all the time is sooooooooooo hard! My younger daughter is such a handful, yet I wish for 1 day my husband could just understand how hard it is to heal, fix, and care for our family. I cant walk away when I need to, I have NO personal time what so ever. There are many times I do feel invisible but I remember that God sees me, he sees the cathedrals I am trying to build through my girls, and I constantly remind myself in the case of my husband and other ignorant people that IN THE END, ONLY KINDNESS MATTERS! Thank you for your kind words. Our journeys are all unique, respect and love each other for what is and not what we think should be.

  2. Lovely post. You hit all the cliches but also gave thought to what these cliches really mean to SAHM’s and their families. I love the advice for husbands to give their wives vacation days, too. And not just a day out to go catch up on errands but real vacations…away. And congrats on being Freshly Pressed. What a fun honor!

  3. What a great perspective! I agree – all situations are different. When my kids were young, I had a part time job and was only home with them 2 days a week. Let me tell you – that was enough! I would love going to work to have a break. In addition to everything you wrote, moms (stay at home or otherwise) usually don’t get to go to the bathroom alone either. I also remember one time, vividly, when my daughter and older son were supposed to be napping. My daughter, who is older, decided to empty EVERY liquid soap and shampoo container onto my son’s crib AND my son. I think I had meltdown that day as I worked to scrub it all off the room and the child. Good for you for appreciating your wife’s job!

  4. I guess you’ve heard all the SAHMs tell you what they feel and the immense sense of satisfaction on reading something like this. it’s human nature to want to be recognized for what one does and the reality is that while a lot of men may say that they understand what their wives go though, they don’t fully comprehend what it means not to have a moment in the day to oneself – not even in the bathroom (when someone is pounding your door down as a result of a fight over a crayon).

    Thank you for this post. It made me smile and cry at the same time.

  5. Loved your article. I’m not a SAHM. I’m a working mom and when I’m not at my work where I get paid I feel a lot like a SAHM 🙂

  6. I seriously love you. And I applaud your SAHM-wife. Both for the obviously great job she is doing and for her excellent taste in men! Best wishes to all of you.

  7. Well written and interesting post! This definitely makes me feel more confident in my decision not to have kids. I couldn’t take on a 24/7 job with zero pay. Props to your wife!

    1. Rebecca – keep in mind that not all people choose the lifestyle that he describes here. You could still work and use day care, or have a stay at home husband – and crucially – choose a husband who EQUALLY shares in child related activities! Don’t let this blog discourage you!!

  8. I completely agree, thank you for bringing to people’s attention.I don’t think stay-at-home-moms are given enough credit.And I feel that only those that work are respected.While those that don’t “work” are looked at as having the “easy” life so again thank you.

  9. Thank you so much for this article. You’ve nailed it. I wish dads with SAHM wives knew about this more. I’ve been on both sides of the working mom vs. SAHM life and I can say that I 100% love my working mom life so much better than being a SAHM. I felt like a prisoner in my own home, I had to see a counselor (I never previously had to in my life), and I had suicidal thoughts.It’s so much more worth it to be out interacting. I’m much happier (and so is my 1 year old), and if one can afford it, it’s all right to have someone watch your kid while you work.

    I have a better sense of accomplishment in life than I ever had being a SAHM. Hey, I also lost all the babyweight and then some after I found a good job as well. What I hated the most was when my husband would come home and say “what did you do all day?” WHAT DO YOU THINK?! Zero appreciation, and my husband hated when I made several calls to his work to rant. I also hated times when I needed help in desperate moments and I had access to none. It was not for me. Never again do I ever want to go back to being a SAHM. I felt super inadequate that I wanted to give up and leave at times.

    1. Yikes, it sounds like you in a much better situation for you! I think there are many women who feel similar things and if they are committed to staying at home, its SO important for them to reach out to other mothers so that they have daily contact with other people in similar situations. This is where MOPS and other groups can be so great! I have also found that leaving the baby alone with Dad for several hours while I have “me” time usually gives him a pretty good reality check in terms of what taking care of a baby entails every day! LOL. In terms of day care, the hard thing is that research has shown that QUALITY day care might not be bad for kids but for babies that is a 1:3 adult: child ratio which in many areas is just really hard to find.

  10. Although very well intentioned, this article serves to subtly perpetuate the myth that just because a woman is a SAHM, all these tasks are per HER duty, and her duty alone, during all waking hours of the day. There are many alternatives. For example, as a SAHM I am responsible for many of these tasks ONLY while my husband is gone to work; the moment he is back home, many of these duties become his.

    1. Liz – I appreciate your comment. However, to the extent you took this message from the article, that was not my intent. The purpose of the article was to focus on the hard work my wife does on a daily basis. As such, I found it unnecessary and distracting to weigh in on whatever contributions I make when I am at home. (It’s been interesting to see the conclusions people have drawn from that.) Children absolutely need the daily involvement of both their mother and father. The exact “distributions of labor” certainly vary dependent on each family’s particular and unique circumstances, but parenthood is most definitely a two-person job.

    I am a SAHM raised 2 kids and worked a business from home. I am so thankful my husband always appreciated all I have done and do. I see other men that simply do not appreciate what their women do for them and it’s a shame.
    Thank you for posting James.

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