By Sheryl Edmiston
It was the million dollar question. It hit me with the force of a freight train.
“So, what have you been up to lately?”
It was simple, friendly conversation. No big deal. Yet when surrounded by a group of scholars and professionals, it was the question that the stay-at-home parent has a difficult time answering. After all, “potty-training my three-year-old” or “volunteering at Vacation Bible School” wasn’t nearly as glamorous as the academic pursuits and scientific discoveries of the people with whom I was conversing.
I was thrown for a loop as to how to answer the question, and I stammered “Well, I’ve pretty much been taking care of my boys and going to an occasional aerobic class.” And that does sum up most of the past six years of my life since I became a stay-at-home mother.
And while my answer was to the point and not bad for someone who is chronically sleep deprived, it got me thinking. What exactly had I been doing for the last six years? I had no professional accomplishments to show for myself, nothing exciting for the resume. However, after some thought, I realized that I have had many occupations and grown more in these six years than perhaps I did during my pre-children career days.
Since becoming a stay-at-home parent, I’ve become a student, and it is continuing education and on the job training every day. Like many parents, I have gone from zero knowledge of how to care for newborns and toddlers, to becoming quite experienced in the matter. I may not have intelligent conversations about politics, but I can discuss topics such as breastfeeding, how to choose a preschool, toilet training and separation anxiety with confidence and experience.
I have also become a student of medicine since becoming a parent. No, I do not attend medical school. However, when your child has a chronic illness, you want to learn all you can and obtain the best care for your child. When my son was diagnosed with a blood disorder at birth, our family researched the disorder. We became well versed in hemoglobin, reticulocytes, platelets, anemia, and blood transfusions- all things we never knew much about before. I became able to predict my child’s blood count by just looking at him and how he was acting.
Nutrition is another subject I have become more knowledgeable about since becoming a parent. Before having children, my understanding was simple: eat fruits and vegetables and exercise. However, as the stay at home parent who has to provide three healthy and hopefully good tasting meals each day and I read more cook books, recipes, and labels than ever before. Omega-3s, whole grains, and anti-oxidants became part of my vocabulary and meal plans.
Though I have been a student the past six years, I have also become a teacher. Parents are teachers every day. We teach colors, numbers, letters, how to tie shoes, reading, physics, geography, music, history, you name it. When my children are interested in a subject, we immerse ourselves in it and learn together. I have acquired more knowledge of dinosaurs, Ancient Egypt, trucks, airplanes, and trains than I ever imagined I would. I may not have researched important information for a scholarly paper, but I have taught my children that it is important to ask questions and explore the answers. My children enjoy and appreciate libraries more than many adults.
I have read many more books since becoming a mother, so many I feel I should work in the Children’s Section of the library. I have read the “classics”, though not Shakespeare or Hemingway. We’re talking the classics of children’s literature: Dr. Seuss, Eric Carle, Margaret Wise Brown, and Richard Scarry, to name a few.
Another occupation I have had as the stay-at-home parent is that of a tour guide and taxi service all in one.. “Stay-at-home” parents (and their children) are often on the go. We introduce our children to culture and the fine arts, athletics and other endeavors. While I may not have seen a Broadway play recently, my children have been to the Symphony; we go to museums, zoos, festivals and more. We take our children to music classes, swimming lessons, soccer practices, and art camps. They are exposed to many activities well before they set foot in school.
Being a student, teacher, tour guide and taxi service are all important roles I have played as a stay-at-home parent, yet the most significant role is caregiver and that is where I have grown. No longer do my needs come first. Having the best clothes or having a lot of time to myself is no longer important to me. My children’s needs take precedence. The caregiver’s office is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Stay-at-home parents are terrific multitaskers and manage the family, the household, the budget, and family schedule. We are caregivers who do our job amidst noise, chaos and piles of laundry.
Could I have given a more exciting answer to the million-dollar question? Perhaps not… but the next time I answer the question, I will remember that we stay-at-home parents hold many important occupations and that there is much more to our “work” than a one sentence answer can provide.
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