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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
Kelly August 5, 2010, 2:01 PM

Mildly amusing. I’m really surprised there is so much anomosity between working moms and stay at home moms! I know there are days where I’m jealous of my friends who work and when I worked there were days I was jealous of my friends who stayed home. Both things are hard and both things are rewarding in different ways and for different reasons. There are days now where I complain that I am always surrounded by my kids and don’t get a break- but it’s MY choice so I keep my complaints to myself. And I think it’s important to applaud ALL moms regardless of their employment status because it’s not easy no matter what your situation is. I think we can all agree that neither choice is easy to make, right?

XXXX August 5, 2010, 2:46 PM

Whine, Whine, Whine

Becky August 5, 2010, 3:49 PM

I don’t know why this is even an issue. It is a choice. I don’t think either one is harder than the other because they aren’t even comparable, they are totally different lifestyles/attitudes. Everyone lives their life a different way and we need to be more tolerant of one another. I literally look at being a SAHM/student as my job. We make sacrifices so I can stay home and I take that seriously.

margy August 5, 2010, 4:45 PM

a}True all true, repetitive, awfully menial, purposeless

b}Who else will do it for no financial reward and with less hate for the job than yourself…!

c} Can be long but not indefinite, kids grow and they parents too!!

d}I agree that love is not a value anymore, including the maternal one and it is regarded as a cost…but who decided to be a mother??

e} when you will have all the mothers whining at you because being a full time mother is impossible create a money fund for bying cheap robots somewhere in Asia
and I will manage the venture for you all.

f} my deepest solidarity

margy August 5, 2010, 4:59 PM

how long it takes for my post to appear do you x rate it but…
yes mail me if you do not like it, I have opinions
and ideas too.


Monica August 5, 2010, 6:28 PM

Yeah thats accurate. LOL.. Even my husband had to laugh at this one!

Rachel August 5, 2010, 7:51 PM

Being a MOM is a full time 24/7 job. Some of us leave that job to someone else for part of the day while we go to work and get paid money and then pay the person who played mom while we were at work. The stay at home moms run a 24/7 daycare and never leave until they beg their husbands for a trip to the grocery store alone. Neither is easy. Being a single working mom is the hardest job of all. You have to be mom, dad, money maker all in one.

Momarella August 5, 2010, 9:41 PM

Stay at Home Mom VS Working Mom is a bitter smack down, isn’t it?
I am hearing the same old arguments. “I have it harder than you because…”
But I am not hearing much about the husband/father in this equation. What does he do to help? My husband works all day & will still help (a little). He does help w/the child rearing & other household chores to help take the load off of me, the SAHM. BUT…in general…I am on 24/7 w/o a break BECAUSE I don’t work outside of the home. I DO have to beg to go to the store alone, etc. BUT! If I had to work outside of the home, I would fully expect my husband to do an equal share of the child care & house work. Where are the working moms’ husbands? Why are they not helping out more? No woman should have to do ALL the house work & child care & work full time. That would drive any woman mad!

Angie August 6, 2010, 8:14 AM

I am a stay at home mom by choice. I love being the one that teaches my child everyday behavior and so on. My mom stayed at home with us growing up and I know now the sacrifices she made to raise us with the beliefs she has done. Which one is easier? Like the one posted about being a mom- that is our job. Regardless of anything else it is wanting what is best for our children and we all have different thoughts on what that is- we are all DIFFERENT. We need to stop this “who has it harder” bs and just be the moms we want and should be. Oh, and my husband works full time and still will come home and help out with anything that needs it because that is what family is- it is not the “what did you do all day” but rather the “I know our child was well taken care of all day and is there anything I can do to help?” A day goes too fast to be bickering about silly stuff.

michelle August 6, 2010, 8:38 AM

I am one of those who found being a SAHM much harder than being a working mom (NOTE THIS WAS MY PERCEPTION — EVERYONE’S REALITY IS DIFFERENT). No, working moms can’t also do everything on that list. But many of us have a secret weapon that you somehow forgot to even consider: the dad. Combining work and parenting is doable for me because my husband and I share in everything and get things done quickly. We have also each made modest compromises in our careers so we would have more flexibility. Note that this type of arrangement allows my husband to also spend a good amount of time with the kids and not miss out on their childhoods, like some dads who have to work very long hours to support their families. Oh, and by the way, can we please retire that old lie about how the children of working moms are being raised by someone else? Not true and no one really believes that. We are just as much fully-present moms who are raising their children to be well-adjusted, happy and moral people.

Rita August 6, 2010, 1:05 PM

I’ve been a SAHM on and off for the past 9 years. I’ve been on both sides of the fence and I can honestly say, I thought being a FT working (pregnant) mom was way harder then being a SAHM. Luckily, my husand helps out alot even though he works FT.

Ever since my son was born 3 years ago, I’ve been a SAHM. I work very PT at the church nursery during church hours. It pays pretty good and gives me some spending money, plus my family gets to spend quality time together at church. I love it and it’s the perfect job for me right now. I feel blessed to be a SAHM because I know alot of families don’t have this option.

I have never been asked “But what do you do all day?” because most of the mommies I know have been on both sides of the fence and know whether you’re a SAHM, WAHM or a FT/PT working mom, being a mom is still a very hard job and we need the support of other moms, not their competition or cattiness.

cottonlily August 6, 2010, 1:14 PM

I have to admit I think SAHMs have it easier when you consider the “big picture”. All those things on that list (aside from the last!) still has to be done by a working mom in addition to her paying job. Or even worse you DON’T make those birthday parties or have time to answer fairy helmet questions. I have two friends from my company - one a WM, the other now a SAHM, and they both whole-heartedly agree! No, SAHMs don’t get “paid” but I would glady trade my paycheck if I could to have time to raise children. I have to work to pay necessary bills (food, housing, insurance, etc). It’s all about time to me and while a SAHM mom is busy a working mom raising a child is busier. We’re putting off having a baby now mainly because I don’t feel an hour per evening and a weekend (if I’m lucky) is enough to offer a child. To each their own; I just wish we were all blessed enough to choose to be SAHMs or WMs. BTW the SAHMs-don’t-get-sick-days line is really annoying. WMs don’t get sick days from their children either!

Anonymous August 6, 2010, 1:54 PM

When did this become a competition between SAHM and Working Mothers? Obviously anyone who is a mother knows how busy we are regardless of if we work or not!

JW August 8, 2010, 8:28 AM

Working Moms get a break that SAHMs never do . I haven’t had a day off since May 2007 NOT ONE DAY ! Working moms get little breaks throughout the day that we SAHMs never do either.
The fact is that Working moms can’t do as good a job as a SAHM. Some of them are too greedy or selfish to stay home with their children and it is a choice to let them go and be raised by other people. Those moms who HAVE to work out side their homes would never say those things to a SAHM . Oh and for those of you who have gotteen laid off and have been a SAHM for a couple weeks like the RN ..since the first one’s BIRTH in 2007 …try it then get back to me

Infertile Fanny August 9, 2010, 9:06 AM

Unlike the rest of you, I am not a mom. After three heartbreaking miscarriages, I am juggling a job and managing a household while I investigate other ways to become a mother including adoption. It sounds to me that we all have complex lives that are often exhausting, often rewarding, and rarely done without making some compromise. I don’t think any of us do it perfectly.

Anonymous August 9, 2010, 12:25 PM

Mariah - staying at home is NOT work moron!! And if you’re doing any type of at home work it’s clearly not very demanding

Anonymous August 9, 2010, 12:29 PM

We make sacrifices so I can stay home and I take that seriously.

NO you don’t “make sacrifices” you can AFFORD to stay home. World of difference.

Anna August 9, 2010, 12:36 PM

Working moms get little breaks throughout the day that we SAHMs never do either.

CLEARY JW meant that SAHMs get little breaks, sick days w/the kids, and all the time off that WORKING moms NEVER get.

Christina August 9, 2010, 8:57 PM

I have done both and I have to say that being a sahm is harder. Plus I am a sahm to a child with Autism which causes even more stress.

Julia August 10, 2010, 5:35 AM

I have done both - SAHM so easy!! I know how lucky I am now to be able to stay home - and I know from experience most women don’t have a choice about it -they can’t afford not to work. As for the writer’s list -PLEASE STOP!! You are making SAHMs seem like idiots!! I was in a very competitive IT field before I was able to stay home and let me tell you NOTHING is harder than working full time while mothering full time -those of you saying it is impossible to do both either never had too or tried and couldn’t handle it-either way a MAJORITY of women have to do both. I don’t understand why SAHM start this competitiion when we know we have it so good!! Being a SAHM isn’t rocket science, but it doesn’t make it worthless. BUT trying to compare it working full time - please, stop. It is no where near as hard.

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