The One Who Stays

I’ve been thinking about this since last Tuesday night, when I started packing for my trip to Vermont. Because I had to pack for myself and Eli and because I was also taking care of two kids and I was sort of pressed for time, I decided to quit doing all the stuff I normally do during the day. I just gave up on doing that stuff too, and I didn’t worry about picking up toys or wiping off counters or loading and unloading the dishwasher or clearing the table, because I was leaving at 8 in the morning and it was so not my problem anymore. I was not going to be dealing with the aftermath.

It was totally unbelievably wonderfully awesome.  I just didn’t care at all about so much of the stuff I normally am thinking about every single minute of every single day.  I felt liberated. Liberated, I tell you!

And it made me start thinking that when one of you goes out of the house to work and one of you stays in the house to work, I personally think it is so much harder to be the one who stays at home.

Now, I am not arguing that it’s easier to be a Work Out of the Home Mom than to be a Stay At Home Mom.  Especially if both of you are working out of the home.  I am just comparing being the one who leaves with the one who stays. If you both leave the house, then that’s something else totally different and quite frankly I am in awe that you ever get any shit done.

Also, I don’t really have any experience with any of the other scenarios here besides the one sample I’m dealing with, but at least for me,  I really really think the At Home part of it is the thing that makes being a Stay At Home Mom so hard for me.  Because if the dishwasher is running when I make dinner and so it doesn’t get emptied before dinner is over and then all the dinner dishes end up on the counter because unloading the dishwasher would be too loud for the kids, I’m the one who has to deal with it.  My husband walks out the door every morning at 7:24 to catch the bus and it doesn’t matter whose job it is to do what, I have to deal with two kids and a dishwasher that needs to be emptied and a counter full of last nights dirty dishes. I deal with the consequences of EVERYONE’S action in my house, all day long, simply because I am the one who is here.

And I think this just naturally makes it hard for me. It makes me resentful because I deal with SO MANY consequences of actions not my own because I am here in the house.  Does that make sense?  For example my husband likes to bring the dogs food dish into the house every night to feed the dog.  Then he forgets to take it back out, and I have yelled and asked nicely and cajoled and made suggestions and he just never remembers to take it back out.  Then sometime in the morning, I find Katie throwing left over dog food all over the kitchen, and the RAGE I feel when this happens, man, it is something else.  Because I did not leave the dog bowl out but I am dealing with the mess, and the frustration at that moment, it could start a car, it really could.

And I think it means I spend a lot of time unconsciously obsessing over how I am about to get screwed by someone else. Who has left what out that that I will have to deal with at 7:15?  What more could be done the night before so I am not left with it the next day?  And I didn’t even realize that I was doing this until suddenly I was…not doing it, and it felt so great to just not give a shit about the bowl of cheerios on the couch and the dog food bowl in the kitchen.

I am not the kind of person who can just leave my house all the time and escape from this.  It’s too much work and there’s a genuine limit to the amount of free things you can find to do with two kids all day long, and pretty soon the more you leave the house the more money it costs.  So I want my house to be a place we can all kind of hang out in while we’re trapped in baby jail and this means that I really don’t want breakfast dishes littering my counter or last night’s beer cans lined up along my windowsill.

I guess what I am actually trying to say is that this is no one’s fault, actually, even though it probably doesn’t sound like I am saying that.  Just that sometimes when I think about it, the hardest part of this, for me anyway, isn’t the kids part and it’s not the never ending drudgery or the mountain of laundry and it’s actually not the mom part I struggle with so much as the At Home part.




34 Responses

  1. David does two very, very minor things in the evening after I go to bed that annoy me to no end. Our kitchen is in a big room with the breakfast area and the family room, so you can see EVERYTHING on our counters from the space where we spend nearly all of our time. After dinner, we clean up the kitchen, load the dishwasher and run it, and wash the hand-washables. The counters are almost always completely cleared off. But the next morning, I’ll come downstairs to a solitary hand-wash-only wine glass sitting beside my kitchen sink that my husband used and failed to wash before he went to bed.

    Now, is washing a wine glass a big deal for me? Of course not. Takes but a minute. It’s the fact that *I* left a clean kitchen and came back to another (admittedly small) task to deal with that gets me. Because let’s be realistic: he’s not going to hand-wash a wine glass as he’s getting ready for work in the morning, and *I’m* not going to let the glass sit out on the counter all day where I have to look at it.

    He also leaves empty beer bottles in our bar area, which CONTAINS THE RECYCLING CONTAINER, rather than just rinse them out and throw them into the can. It’s right there! It takes five seconds! Why am I coming downstairs to last night’s beer bottles?

    I suck it up and just wash/rinse these items myself, because I’m well aware that I have a pretty awesome deal going on here, and there’s no way I’d want to trade and go back to working in a law firm all day. NO WAY. But I totally get where you’re coming from about dealing with other people’s messes.

  2. (This is Lauren, by the way. Stupid WordPress account that I never use.)

    • oh, it came through as you in my email! I know you are not a crazy stalker.

      • Oh, good. And as I’m writing about something as completely trivial as a wine glass and beer bottles, you can see that my standards might be a WEE bit high . . . .

  3. I totally get this. Although I do work outside the home, I work a part-time schedule so pretty much ALLLLLL the “at home” stuff still falls to me. It’s overwhelming, frankly. I’ve been known to stomp around the house sighing loudly while AGAIN picking up all the messes that I didn’t make. I’m not proud of it, but it happens.

  4. We’ve had to have huge talks about leaving dishes from the night before. Paul would say he’d do them, and then we’d get to bedtime and oh, oops, he forgot. So then I’d have to do them in the morning, which made me want to KILL SOMEONE—because if he hadn’t said he’d do them, I would have done them before bed because I know I hate to face them in the morning. OR, if he were going to be home during the day with me, I would just let him handle the morning consequences. But he’s NOT home during the day, he LEAVES, so then I HAVE to handle it—which is WRONG, but it’s REALITY, and that ERODES MY SOUL.

    (He doesn’t do this anymore. I started doing the dishes at our bedtime, crying and furious, every time he left them, and making him listen to the whole explanation of WHY I was doing it.)

  5. Well…. I do work out of the house. And I never get ANY shit done. We are ALWAYS at least one load of dishes behind, nevermind the other basic cleaning stuff (like remembering where the vaccuum cleaner lives). But I was actually going to comment that my husband did stay home for 5 years and… he didn’t care about the bowl of Cheerios either. Completely opposite issue actually (like, I was gone for 10 hrs, why am I the one cleaning up breakfast?). Sometimes it bothered me, sometimes not, & not arguing one over the other… I’d just like to think that somewhere in Mayberry there’s a happy middle ground. Maybe because the magic pixie fairies are doing the dishes instead. Or live in domestic help.

    Anyway, enjoy your hopefully dishwasher-free vaka!

    • Is your husband one of those people who just . . . doesn’t see the mess? I’ve heard that such people exist, and I just don’t GET it. If I were gone for 10 hours each day and STILL cleaning up the house messes, I’d be crazy mad.

      • I have long pondered this and, 13 years later, I’ve still not a clue. He’s, like, sporatically OCD. He won’t do the dishes for 3 days (sometimes I go on strike) but then when he DOES clean, he’ll wipe down cabinets & lite switch covers. Same with the bathroom – he doesn’t mind levels of foulness that I won’t ruin your breakfast by describing, but then he spent FOUR HOURS cleaning it a week ago. Granted he may have been hiding because I was slamming the 3 days of dishes around downstairs, but it was REALLY clean when he was done.

  6. This really is it, the part that makes it so hard. Everything that happens is just … the problem of the person who is in the house. Now, fortunately (I guess fortunately? maybe some people would think unfortunately) I don’t MIND a bit of a mess. We’re both on equal footing where it comes to how much mess we think is livable. But it’s the little things that can happen along the way.

    For example, we have a baby who still wakes up in the night, and the deal is that my husband fetches him when he wakes, changes his diaper, and plops him down beside me so he can nurse. The other night, he basically sleep-walked to get the baby and forgot to change his diaper. It’s a mistake EITHER of us could have made, except the thing is that it meant I woke up at 6AM covered in baby pee, with a bed and mattress pad that needed washing and a baby that would normally sleep another two hours desperately needing a new diaper and outfit so he was awake and off his schedule the ENTIRE DAY. And it just sucks, because I wasn’t the one who made the error, but I was the one who had to deal with it. Even though I understand that he was really tired that night (hell, I don’t even remember him GIVING ME THE BABY, so I was tired too) but then he got to go off to work with no worries about the two extra loads of laundry or the fact that nap time would now run into school pickup time or any of it.

    I ADORE my husband, and he does so much around here, but the fact of the matter is, when he decides to take a break (which we both do!) it is going to fall to me. If I take a break … it is going to fall to me. It’s a good deal, this being at home thing, so I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but you’re 100% correct in that this is precisely what makes it difficult.

  7. I can SO relate to what you are saying. I just had a very lengthy discussion with my husband about this last night. We both work full time. He freely admits his job is not stressful or terribly demanding, but he is in the office all day. I am fortunate to have a flexible schedule that allows me to telecommute 1/2 of each day, so I spend afternoons at our house, caring for our toddler (22 months) AND working. My job is stressful, demanding, frustrating, etc. and I have a large volume of “things” to handle/manage on a constant basis, all very urgent in nature. I feel constantly overwhelmed, and it often feels like hubby thinks I work part time, and hang out with our kid all afternoon. FRUSTRATING!!! I get to deal with all the kid wrangling (which is my FAVORITE PART), house managing, work managing, and watch my husband come home and sit on the couch because “he’s tired.”

    Wow. Kind of went on a rant there. Sorry about that. Just wanted to say I GET IT, and you are not alone.

  8. I think that staying home is harder than working, but that’s because I think it would be really boring and also dealing with kids all day is a kind of madness I personally would not willingly take on (I love my kids, but the reason I have so much patience for them is because I don’t see them all day).

    I don’t get why you quantify your frustrations as being worse than your husbands’s frustrations, though. Yeah, you are stuck with other people’s messes, but what you do think goes on in offices all day? I clean up other people’s messes ALL DAY LONG. I do it using a computer rather than paper towels, but whatever. And you can wear whatever you want and take as long a lunch as you want. So I get why your stuff sucks, but other stuff sucks, too. I think it is more that it is different, rather than harder.

    • Well, we might just have to agree to disagree, but if you think I get to take as long of a lunch as I want, you are out of your mind.

  9. I’m writing about this very thing at Work It, Mom, next week, and the twist is that I’m at home all day alone but I’m WORKING. All day. Yes, I have the flexibility to unload the dishwasher or whatever, but I never have the time to keep the house looking tidy, and instead of recognizing that it’s because (a) I’m working a full-time job too and (b) by working from home, *I’m* creating messes that wouldn’t exist if I worked elsewhere (think lunch dishes), I still give myself crap over how disorganized we are because *shouldn’t* I be able to double-up as both an employee and a homemaker? The answer, I’m finding out, is no, not when I work as much as I do at the jobs I have. It’s really, really hard to make that sink in. :/

    (And I hear you on the rage of other people’s messes. When Simon leaves his shoes out, I hide them!)

  10. I actually turned the computer on to write almost the very same post today. I got spooked as I read yours, because mine was going to be almost identical: all about how the one thing that makes being an at-home parent hard for me is BEING AT HOME most of the time, and all the subsequent messes that get created because we’re all HERE, eating and messing it up 24/7, and that it’s always me who feels the responsibility for the house. I can deal with the kids and the diapers and the unpredictable showers and it’s ok, but the constant mess and feeling of being behind is what sets my nerves on edge and makes me snappy.
    Never mind that Jim never bats an eye at toys or dusty tables or dishes on the counter, I still FEEL it, that that stuff is my job and I’m slacking somehow if I can’t manage to keep the kids happy and fed and safe and the house kept up with as well. But I just can’t anymore. At some point (this fourth pregnancy, probably) it just became too much. Either I ignore the kids and my own aching belly and bustle around cleaning and doing laundry all day, or I interact with them and cook real meals and sit down to rest occasionally, and we have an untidy house. I usually choose the latter, to keep us all sane, but man do I miss the days when I was proud of my house!

  11. This is such a tough issue. I work, husband stays home with our 6-month-old. I was home for the first three months, and now he has been home for three months.
    When I was the one at home, I did feel like I was cleaning up after my husband (and the baby, to a degree) constantly. It got annoying, but just somewhat annoying. (Half empty glasses of milk on the coffee table every morning, socks everywhere, y’all know the drill.) But, all in all, I considered it to be SO MUCH EASIER than the stress of dealing with work everyday. I mean, I was home, so of course, I would do the dishes, and pick up his socks, etc. We actually *had* a clean house, for the first time in our marriage. The roles seemed pretty clear back then. The nice thing was, if it was important to me, I made sure it was done. Even if the mess was caused by someone else, it was my decision to clean it up.
    But now that I’m at work and he’s at home, it’s much more complicated. I get stressed that things at home aren’t done the way I would like them (laundry not done, bed not made etc.), but I’m working 10 hour days and taking care of the baby who still doesn’t sleep through the night when I get home. And why should I dictate how the house is kept if I’m not the one doing it? It’s required a lot of “letting go” and many difficult discussions with my husband. A definite work in progress.
    For me, being at home was MUCH easier for me personally, but boring too. I was only accountable to my family. Working at a very stressful job, and trying to be a good mom and wife (even with a stay at home husband) is much more challenging and leaves absolutely no time for myself (I’ve begun to embrace my gridlock commute at the only “me” time I’m going to get), but generally more fulfilling for me. The truth is, though, even if it wasn’t worth it, it’s just more practical for our family.
    I would never admit this to my work colleagues (because they all believe maternity leave is a racket already), but maternity leave did feel like a vacation to me. I was constantly astonished that I didn’t have to get up and go to work each day.

    • I am totally on board with the lack of “me” time. I use every second of conference calls to do other stuff, like surf the web, doodle in my notebook, and send personal emails. I’ve also taken to meeting people for lunch instead of dinner, so that I can cut corners at work and still see my friends (because reducing my time with my kids is not an option). At this point, getting to go to the grocery store by myself is a luxury– I read these blogs, and I’m like “really? you have time to think about paint colors? you actually know where the cord that connects the camera to the computer is? and not only that, but you took a photo of your dinner and then blogged about it? seriously?”. I wouldn’t necessarily trade places, but I do envy that.

      I can only say that it does get MUCH better, in direct proportion to the sleep. Once you get to the place where you are well rested, you have more energy and better perspective, and the dishes will seem like what they are: ten minutes of easy work. At our house, that made all the difference, we found ourselves much better able to negotiate once we hit the toddler years.

  12. Seeing as how I just had to clean up my son’s spit in the damn sink AGAIN (HOW HARD IS IT TO RINSE IT DOWN THE SINK FTLOG?), yeah, I totally feel you on this.

  13. YES. Oh my land sakes. It’s the travel coffee mugs. It’s the dishes on the counter. Today we got in a legit fight about him putting his dirty breakfast dishes on the cutting board I had just gotten out so I could chop stuff up to put in the crock pot and leaving it. And the dishwasher was dirty and there was room and he did not even CHECK IT. Just dumped his dishes and went to work. God help me, you could have started a JET PLANE with the rage.
    I am going to try a day of not caring (too bad today cannot be the day as we are expecting company this evening. Dangit.).
    Woman YOU NAILED IT. Wish I had the balls to write this stuff.

  14. Yes, yes, yes. Our catch is that we both work from home (separate offices are the key to this), but since I work part-time and child-wrangle all the time, this kind of stuff falls on me. Blech. The levels of rage could start a car (love this phrase – can I use it?!).

  15. I usually just lurk but I have SO been feeling the exact same thing the last few weeks. LIke you said, I think it is the whole “at home” part that is what makes it hard. I’m really lucky that I can work part time from home when the girls nap but that means I’m not cleaning all the messes that build up over the course of the day. And of course, therei s always the glass of ice tea hubby leaves on the counter each day with just one sip left in it. Why can’t he either finish the damn drink or put the glass in the sink? Yeah, dishwasher would be perfect but I try to have realistic expectations 😉

    Enjoy your vacay!

  16. Yes. YES. So, this is my thing with dishes in the sink. Every time I see a dish put there all I can see is “I ASSUME YOU WERE JUST GOING TO TAKE CARE OF THAT FOR ME SO I DON’T HAVE TO BOTHER.” And it ENRAGES me.This is generally how this conversation goes when I see someone dropping something in the sink: “Did you expect me to put that in the dishwasher? No? Then how did you actually think it was going to make it from the sink TO the dishwasher, if you’re leaving it there?” And I know it makes me a non-fun grump but COME ON.

  17. I’m finding this just being unemployed at the moment, and knowing that there is a baby coming in a month or so isn’t going to help any.

    I totally get the logic of “I’m the one with the free time/at home, so I should do the things” but it suddenly feels like I’ve gone from being a partner in maintaining a house to the landlord/cleaning lady.

    Resentment. I struggle with that. A lot.

  18. I am still in the phase of: “I might have to do laundry and clean up all the dishes but I DO NOT HAVE TO SIT IN A CUBE WHEEEEEE!”

    I figure all the problems I have to solve and pick up after these days are for someone I’m related to and I am kind of okay with that. (Versus solving problems/cleaning up after a corporate egomaniac.) (And, YEAH, I had that job once: doing dishes, fetching pastries for meetings, UGH.)

    I’m not HAPPY about picking up the crayons for the nine millionth time, but I’m OKAY WITH IT. But, I get it. Seething rage over people that create work for you. WTH, FAMILY?

    And now, I have to go pick up after someone.

  19. I was JUST THINKING that P and I need to have the “when you change the baby into her jammies at night, you can put her clothes in the hamper or back in the dresser, but you are not allowed to leave them on top of the dresser, because that is slowly driving your wife insane.”

    This house is MY office. I have to feel good about being here, which means that when I work really hard to clean a bathroom or the kitchen or our bedroom, the next time I see that space I don’t want to be dealing with a hand towel no one cared to hang back up, or a cheese stick wrapper sitting on the counter two steps away from the garbage, or someone’s work crap strewn all over my freshly made bed.

    I’m NOT a neat freak, I have a high tolerance for junk and clutter, but I need my husband to have a TINY BIT of consideration for what I’m doing around here. If you KNOW I have just picked up the entire living room, PLEASE don’t leave your dirty dishes on the coffee table.

    Anyway. I feel like we have this conversation once every few months. It gets better, then it slowly goes back to Normal.

  20. I don’t feel the resentment, and I think there are several reasons for that. For one thing, I worked full time for Kalena’s first year while Brian stayed at home and all I wanted was to be at home. So now if I get extra whiny or bitter about everything I have to do at home, Brian will ask me if I’d rather work full time. And he’s not doing it to be a smart-ass, he’s asking me if I’ve actually changed my mind in which case we would have some serious life conversations. I think that keeps the resentment in check.

    Also, Brian is sort of a freak about a clean kitchen, so if I leave dishes to do later he’ll just go ahead and wash them. A dirty kitchen is probably the only thing that bothers him more than it bothers me, but he doesn’t complain about it, he just cleans it.

    And last of all, Brian ALWAYS thanks me for the things I do, and very rarely complains that something didn’t get done. Doing the laundry sucks way less when I know that Brian notices and appreciates that I’m doing it for him. I think it’s a lot harder for me to feel resentful when I feel appreciated.

  21. Yep, this is it exactly. Everyone else’s STUFF and MESS is always, when it comes down to it, MY PROBLEM. And to work so hard, day after day, only to have it undone, day after day. That IS the hardest part.

  22. And, AND, the other person never gets it because this home is your home base, too. So, when they’re home, you’re likely home, too and they’re not living your “only adult home and responsible for the messes all day” life.

  23. I guess I haven’t been a SAHM long enough for the rage to set in. But for me I still had to do all the housework and kid work when I worked out of the home so now it doesn’t bother me too much. It really bothered me before, bothered me with the fire of a thousand suns. So I guess it’s just what you have to compare to.

  24. All I can say is DITTO! I was in the same boat from the time my son was 2. Now he is 12 and we are new to the area I’m still a stay at homer. My hubby travels for work pretty much very other week and there is resentment that he gets to leave the house and the mess! It’s a battle but I remind myself it could be worse 🙂 Keep your head up!

  25. Yeah. When you’re at home, you’re always at work. It’s hard to explain the constant-ness of everything to anyone who doesn’t do it.

    The other night, my husband, who (is a wonderful person but) cannot put a dirty dish in the dishwasher or turn off the garage light or shut the MICROWAVE DOOR (it lights up, for the love) got annoyed that I hadn’t put the lid all the way back on the compost pail and I silently got up and went directly to bed lest I immediately get online and file for divorce.

  26. Sigh. Yes. It is SO time for me to go back to work, because now I don’t even TRY with the messes any longer. You want to leave your Legos in the middle of the floor and then later trip and bleed on them? FINE. Your call. (Am slightly bitter.)

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