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But What Do You DO All Day?!

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Tracy McArdle: Through a layoff, I accidentally became a SAHM. The transition hasn't been easy, but it is not one I regret. I once saw a pretty cool T-shirt advertised in a parenting magazine; it said simply, "I AM at work." I didn't really appreciate it until I became a SAHM. Upon telling people we're stay-at-home moms, we SAHMs have all heard (or heard others thinking) the question, "But what do you do all day?" In an attempt to shut those people up -- I mean, explain -- I have created a cheat sheet for you to whip out the next time someone asks this question. 
Note: Detractors may point out that the following figures add up to more than 100 percent. This is no accident. In addition to no pay, there is no vacation or weekend from this job, either. But the benefits .... ah, they last forever (just ask any accidental SAHM who's a former corporate achiever). Anyway, here's the time breakdown:

  • Picking things up -- 25 percent
  • Putting things away -- 20 percent
  • Pleading with other people to pick things up and put them away -- 10 percent 
  • Taking kids to playgrounds, playdates, music class or other activity to prevent them from destroying house -- 10 percent
  • Doing paperwork (school, doctor, daycare, etc.) -- 2 percent
  • Wiping bottoms, washing hands or otherwise assisting in the bathroom activities of other people -- 4 percent
  • Dressing and undressing other people -- 6 percent
  • Teaching other people to dress and undress -- 4 percent
  • Preparing food -- 10 percent
  • Helping other people eat food -- 10 percent
  • Cleaning up after food preparation and consumption -- 10 percent
  • Doing laundry -- 90 percent
  • Worrying about money -- 15 percent
  • Picking up and dropping off other people -- 22 percent
  • Getting gas (for car) -- 2 percent
  • Getting gas (from eating hot dogs and mac & cheese) -- 1 percent
  • Paying bills, clipping coupons, talking to various "service" people on the phone -- 6 percent
  • RSVPing, shopping for, and going to birthday parties -- 13 percent
  • Reading stories -- 15 percent
  • Making up stories -- 12 percent
  • Grocery shopping -- 50 percent
  • Making lists for grocery shopping -- 45 percent
  • Doing things for self (showering, eating, going to the bathroom) -- 4 percent
  • Threatening others -- 2 percent
  • Bribing others -- 3 percent
  • Answering questions (i.e., "Do dinosaurs have birthdays? What color is bear poop? Do fairies wear helmets? When a skunk bites you, does he say sorry?") -- 24 percent
  • Repairing household objects that husband can't or won't fix -- 2 percent
  • Indulgently ordering unnecessary child gear and toys online -- 3 percent
  • Feeling guilty about the fact that you don't work "outside the home" -- 7 percent
Is this breakdown accurate? Tell us!

next: One Mom's Fight for a Cure
50 comments so far | Post a comment now
Melanie August 5, 2010, 2:37 AM

I would say it’s pretty accurate but I think I spend a lot more than 10% of my time taking my son to playdates, parks and fun activities! I think this list should be printed on a T-shirt!

Jamie RN August 5, 2010, 5:57 AM

Sorry SAHMs (and now I’m one of you) I was a full time working/full time mommy and it is SO MUCH HARDER than being a SAHM like I am now. Let’s be honest - moms that work outside the home have to work AND complete everything on the auther’s “list”

SAHMS - let’s all for once be really honest - it’s way more fun, more relaxed and just way easier being at home and raising kids than it is to have to go out, work a real job AND still raise the kids and take care of the house on top of it. I’ve done both so I know. And I know we feel like we totally have to make it sound harder than it is but what it’s really doing is making us sound like lazy, unmotivated morons. Why not highlight the value that is added to the children and home instead of trying to make it compare to being as difficult as it is to be a working mom? I’m proud of both jobs I’ve done, but being a SAHM just is so much easier/better. If you are feeling like it isn’t then maybe SAHM is not the career path for you.

Amy August 5, 2010, 6:39 AM

Some of these things are not even a chore. Like “Worrying about money-15%.” Really? I work a full time job babysitting 30 men all day; go home and take care of a family, a home and still manage to get all the grocery shopping and play dates done. Trust me I would love to be spending time hanging out at Birthday parties, but my life just don’t allow it. SAHM’s got it made! It is just human nature to complain about your life.

Beka August 5, 2010, 7:26 AM

I think being a SAHM is easier than being a working mom (when I was a working mom I still had to do all the housework when I got home), but I think both SAHMs and working moms have it harder than working dads. Working dads get nights and weekends off, moms don’t. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find it really stressful and tiring having to constantly discipline my child all day, and it has to be done to help her learn appropriate behavior. If you are at work, some one else does all the time outs, spankings, and gets to hear all the “I hate you”s while doing it. I prefer to be a SAHM because I can ensure that my child is being raised the way I feel is right, but a break every now and then would be nice.

Jilly August 5, 2010, 8:23 AM

I will admit that I do not think I could be at work and then come home to do all that stuff. I am a SAHM and I do think I have it good, easier though, I am not so sure. Oh, first let me not forget to add to her list the actual cleaning of the home, which incidentally is made all the more difficult with all the interuption!
Anyway, something I think people fail to realize is that when you stay at home, you lose a connection to other adults to some degree, you are immersed in the world of babies, toddlers, and the things that they do. A person at work, is interacting with adults, taking an actual lunch break, pees when they need and want to, has moments to themselves(driving to and from work alone in your car can be NICE, I have not listened to what I want in 8 years or not been asked 1001 questions!)
But look, there is a downside and an upside to everything. People need to not be so judgmental. it is their life to do what they want, stick to your own business! I love what I do and would not trade it!

Michelle August 5, 2010, 9:00 AM

I am now a SAHM and I love it, but I also work part time. I didn’t get the things done that all needed to be done when I was working full time. There were things that just had to wait. My sister always was negative about SAHM’s and then she had her first child aug 2010 and she was home for only 3 months and I got countless number of phone calls. She said she didn’t think it was that hard but NOW she realizes that it isn’t made for everyone. Some moms can stay at home and they are happy. Some moms can work full time and do everything that needs to be done. I don’t think people should judge, but out of all my psycology classes I must say that the best thing for children is for their mothers to take care of them full time. If you can do it great, if not its ok too! I’m very happy with my crazy schedule and there isn’t anything I would trade it for, but then again I said the same thing years ago about my job that I loved! At least someone else is benefiting from a SAHM situation and the effects are life long.

XXXX August 5, 2010, 9:56 AM

Play dates and activities whether for yourself or your kid are NOT a necessity. You DON’T have to do it. So quit complaining about it!

Mariah August 5, 2010, 10:02 AM

I very much agree with Jilly and Michelle above.

This article first off does not well represent the life of a SAHM. Before reading the comments, when reading the article the thought in my head was “is this a joke”, this is not my day at all.

I find it quite amusing when I hear working mothers say anything to the effect of “I work a full time job and get everything on this list done too”, Uh, really, who are you kidding? No you don’t. You’re not there. Unless you’ve found some way to duplicate yourself, someone else is doing 80% of the work for you and your “out of site out of mind” does not even fathom that concept.

My husband was recently laid off in June. In the afternoon of his 2nd day home he walked into the kitchen and said “I can’t do this, how do you do this?” I laughed so hard. It made me feel so great. That was the best birthday, Mothers Day, and Christmas present I could have ever received. Too many people have the mentality that SAHM’s just hang out and go to playdates and birthday parties all week. There is not enough love, appreciation, or understanding for all that is involved in the “science” of raising children and properly maintaining a household.

Samantha August 5, 2010, 10:14 AM

If you agree with the statement that being a stay at home mom is easy, perhaps we should barter for the money we pay to day care centers. Obviously they have an easy job and shouldn’t be paid as much as they do… LOL

Mochachic August 5, 2010, 10:22 AM

I’m a SAHM and at first I loved it, I could be there with my little one all day esp. in the beginning when the thought of leaving his side was unthinkable but it has now been a year as of May and it’s starting to get to me, my son doesn’t have play dates (although that’s a good idea) he’s only 18mos. so no running him around to activities, so I mostly spend my day indoors watching whatever he wants to watch, chasing after him, cleaning up his messes, disciplining, saying NO! to this and that all day, making sure he doesn’t get into things and I have to say that at the end of the day when my husband gets home I can finally exhale but not really because I’m a mom and I never really can turn mommy mode off. I would have to say though that if I was working coming home might be a little less stressful because all that would be left to do is feed my little one spend some quality time and then bed time vs. being submersed in baby mode all day. But on the other hand I like being home for him all day but it takes a real toll on my “ME” time which is why I can see why some women prefer to work because I myself was against being a SAHM but it has it’s ups and downs.

K8 August 5, 2010, 10:51 AM

And us working moms do all that PLUS HOLD DOWN A JOB.

Not Tonight August 5, 2010, 11:13 AM

I’m so sick of stay at home moms bitching about how hard they have it.

Lisa R. August 5, 2010, 11:14 AM

Will there ever come a day when SAHMs and Moms that work outside the home come together, support each other, stop criticizing each other & saying how what they do is harder than what the other does? That makes me sad. As women, we rarely have each other’s backs when we should always support & help each other. Being a mom is HARD, I don’t care how you do it. Unless you let someone else raise your children for you, I guess. For the “working” moms above to say what they do is harder because they work AND do EVERYTHING a SAHM does is unfair and, be honest, untrue. You don’t do all those things because you just plain can’t. There aren’t enough hours in the day. And I’m going to stop here before I (a SAHM) start attacking the critical “working” moms (above) about the things they let slide because they have to go to work every day. That would totally step on my point. But I do want to say this: My mom was a SAHM and raised us. Then, when my youngest brother was a teenager, she was forced to go back to work for financial reasons. And she totally disagrees with you, Jamie RN: She says being a SAHM is MUCH harder than leaving the house & the stress & the laundry & the mess behind every day to go to work & deal with grown-ups. Quit criticizing other women for making a different choice than you. That doesn’t help.

Me again August 5, 2010, 11:33 AM

I’ve done both. Was a stay at home for two years. Being a working mom has been MUCH harder. I do enjoy being able to have adult interaction but now I have to cram all I did during the day into the evenings from 6-9. This reduces the quality time I have for my family. I would much rather be a stay at home mom.

Anonymous August 5, 2010, 11:47 AM

Mariah - perhaps YOU cannot handle working full time and accomplishing every thing on the author’s list and have the luxury of staying at home BUT MANY moms not only work full time but everyday accomplish that list so you can drop the self-importance.

Amy August 5, 2010, 11:50 AM

Mariah & Lisa R -clearly you can’t handle a job and motherhood - just because you lie about it doesn’t make the rest of us real working, real moms “liars” as you so ignorantly accuse. Working moms don’t get the luxury or the excuses SAHMs do and HAVE to not only work but complete that list and more. Get off your high horse and either get or real job or keep quiet about an insanely difficult situatio you have zero clue about.

LSE August 5, 2010, 12:29 PM

you people who say you work and do all the stuff SAHM’s do are lying! If you are at work you are not raising your kids, someone else is, be it teachers or daycare workers, those are the people trading your kids not you. Don’t kid your self into thinking you can work and raise kids. Maybe if your lucky you can keep the house clean, but only because no one is there all day to mess it up.

LSE August 5, 2010, 12:30 PM

you people who say you work and do all the stuff SAHM’s do are lying! If you are at work you are not raising your kids, someone else is, be it teachers or daycare workers, those are the people trading your kids not you. Don’t kid your self into thinking you can work and raise kids. Maybe if your lucky you can keep the house clean, but only because no one is there all day to mess it up.

Anonymous August 5, 2010, 12:32 PM

you people who say you work and do all the stuff SAHM’s do are lying! If you are at work you are not raising your kids, someone else is, be it teachers or daycare workers, those are the people raising your kids not you. Don’t kid your self into thinking you can work and raise kids. Maybe if your lucky you can keep the house clean, but only because no one is there all day to mess it up.

Mariah August 5, 2010, 1:16 PM

@ Amy and Coward: Don’t dare direct anything to me if you don’t have your facts straight. I am a WAHM “Work at home mom”. I do both your jobs so now moron, tell me who has it harder since you want to go there?

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