Back when I was navigating the long days with little people, some researchers endeared themselves to me with a released study that indicated that stay-at-home parents have 30+ hours of leisure time each week. They implied there’s no reason to complain about busyness or exhaustion, because really, most of it’s leisure time.
Back then, a decade ago, this evoked a few dialogue bubbles to pop up from my curly head.
Now, let me toss out this caveat: compared to the lifestyle of my stay-at-home grandmother, my life is pretty darn leisurely. For example, I have a car, a washing machine, dryer, dishwasher, and grocery store within a moment’s distance. So, it’s true: I don’t have to do my laundry all by hand, I don’t have to pluck the chickens in order to roast one for dinner, and I can head out and about at anytime. In fact, there was a time when I could be more appropriately referred to as a stay-in-the-van mom.
And to add a second caveat, I recognize that men and women who work fulltime do indeed work fulltime. So it can sound ridiculous for some stay-at-homes to complain about how hard the day is, when a day is also demanding for their office-bound counterparts. It’s not like a day at the office is filled with ‘leisure time’ either.
My friend Lindsey texted me to say, “I miss places. Remember places?” I do. How I long for places.
(I don’t miss places enough to rush out and contaminate them. To be clear.)
But maybe you remember your workplace with a romanticized fondness. And if I may, I have thought of a few ways in which the shared work space at home is slightly different than that in the office.
For example, in the office:
You do not finish filing a stack of paperwork, only to have a coworker come into your office and undo everything you’ve just done.
If things grow quiet, you don’t have to grow suspicious. (“Uh-oh, gentlemen, it’s getting a little quiet in the conference room… do I need to check on you??”)
At a lunch meeting, you don’t have to pack a bag of tricks to keep everyone entertained and wipes to clean everyone up.
You don’t have to negotiate with your coworkers to “please just take two more bites.”
You can rest assured that nobody will intentionally wipe their hands on your shirt or spill their drink in your lap.
If coworkers resort to ‘potty language,’ it’s not because they simply love the sound of the word poopie, over and over and over again.
In most conference meetings, they don’t kick each other under the table so you find yourself swatting at their thighs.
When you’re on the phone, a coworker doesn’t pour out all your paperclips and cry because you won’t build a paperclip tower with him. Right now.
When you’re typing an email, you don’t have a coworker in your lap, tapping the keyboard, while another tugs on your elbow and drags the mouse across your desk.
In general, nobody follows you around, pulling on your pantleg, repeating your name incessantly, and then forgetting what he needs.
If one needs to use the restroom, you don’t feel compelled to scoop him up to make sure he gets there fast enough. And you don’t have to keep others from joining him, out of fear that they’ll pee all over each other.
If you need to use the restroom, nobody asks to sit on the floor beside you while you get the job done.
It’s just a different work environment, entirely. (I know. I’ve done both.)
So, it’s not as though the tasks of the day are far beyond manageable; they can most certainly be done. It’s the teeny tiny interruptions, the incessant little battles, the unforeseen issues, and the emergencies great and small – these are what make groceries, dishes, laundry, vacuuming, and patience a little tough to maintain.
Now that so many of us are navigating the labyrinth of the stay-at-home AND the work-fulltime, in choreographed tandem on good days, and in a giant pile of sloppy noodles on our bad days, let’s be realistic about what’s really going on: this pandemic has multiplied our everything, from the dishes to the grocery bill to the laundry piles to the to-do list, not to mention the Zoom calls.
You are now teacher, office manager, attendance taker, lunch lady, cafeteria monitor, janitor, principal, PE teacher, guidance counselor, and bus driver. And, as a bonus, you’ve just been handed at least seven more hours of parenting, per kid, per day, than you previously had.
Oh, and there are the demands of your paying job, too. If you still have one.
So, deep breath, everyone. After all, it’s May now.
May your coworkers be civil,
may your goals be realistic,
and may social scientists not release any studies on how to better use your time.