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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
sdmom22 August 10, 2010, 11:05 AM

Ladies, please. One is not harder or easier, but different. As a SAHM/WAHM mother of two, I sometimes wish I was back in my office with grown people who speak complete sentences and know the meaning of the word, negotiation. But then, I remember all the adults that bugged the hell out of me, all the deadlines, the high blood pressure and late nights. Personally, I think the perfect scenario would be PT work, outside the home, in a field of your dreams. Too bad the world isn’t perfect!

soulsistahd August 10, 2010, 11:23 AM

These comments are hard to read. Such animosity from both sides, it’s so sad. It’s sad to me, as a working mom, that some SAHM’s think that we get “breaks” and they do not. When I’m not with my kids, I’m working, not hanging out at the beach or something. I’m not saying my life is harder than a SAHM. I’m just saying it’s not any easier.

Rita August 10, 2010, 1:23 PM

Excuse me “Anonymous”, first of all you’re too cowardly to use your real name because you know what you’re saying is stupid. Second of all, being a SAHM IS work. Obviously you’ve never been a SAHM, otherwise you would know how demanding it can be. I’ve been a SAHM on and off for the past 9 years. I’ve also worked FT and gone home and done what I had to do to be a mom (while I was pregnant, mind you), and right now I’m working very PT at the church nursery during church hours. And if you’ve ever been a WAHM, you would know some moms have to drop their kids off at daycare or have a babysitter come in so they can get some work done or go to an in-office meeting if required.

Sure, I could work FT right now, but any money I make would go straight to gas and daycare so there’s no point. I’m happy with what I’m doing, my family is happy, it works for us and I feel blessed and lucky because I know a lot of families just don’t have this option. I know some moms have to work. I’m not telling them they’re a bad mom because they don’t stay home with their kids because I understand having to have 2 incomes just to survive.

Now, if you’re a FTWM and don’t spend any time with your kids, have nannies and babysitters with them all the time, or if you’re a SAHM/WAHM with nannies/babysitters doing all the mom work for you, then I have a problem with that. As long as you’re fulfilling your mom time, I really don’t care what you do with your other time.

Why can’t we just band together and be there for each other no matter what we do? We really need each other’s support right now, not animosity, competition or other hateful feelings. Jealousy and envy are ugly emotions and don’t make you look any better in the long run.

I’m a SAHM and I really don’t give a s*it what you think! I have my own life as well, but I definitely don’t shop all day, lunch with my other SAHM friends or whatever some people think SAHM’s do. What do I do? I’m a FT mom and that’s a job all in itself.

PM August 11, 2010, 8:18 AM

Holy smokes…

If there were a point to making this comparison, can we at least keep in mind that it is just never apples to apples? There are a million qualifying factors that can make either staying at home or working out of the house easier/harder than the other.

For instance, the kids. How many? How old? Do they get along? Do they play together a lot? Do they do chores? Do they go to bed early? Do they have you up at dawn? Even all that being equal, some kids are just a lot easier and more gratifying to hang out with all day than others.

Then the job. Is it physically exhausting? Emotionally draining? Do you get satisfaction and a feeling accomplishment from your work? Do you feel appreciated? Have fun co-workers? Do you eat out at lunch or make a lunch? How many hours are you gone? Is the commute stressful? Do you work because you feel you need to, or because you want to?

There are a million personal characteristics that factor in as well. Your energy level; how patient you are; how much you enjoy or loathe housework, meal prep, imaginary play; how affected you are by the lack of adult companionship; etc.,etc.

Just because one person has done both and feels one was more difficult means exactly nothing.

I agree with everyone who has said or implied that we’d all be much better off if we were, or at least strove to be, accepting, supportive and sympathetic rather than judgmental, sanctimonious and smug.

Peace out.

Anonymous August 11, 2010, 12:11 PM

I wonder if part of the bitterness here has to do with the fact that at-home parents almost always have a partner who helps them? Full-time wage-earning moms may be more likely to be single. The job load of a single mom is way higher than the load for a married mom.

Anonymous August 11, 2010, 1:51 PM

A SAHM viewpoint:
1) Being an at-home mom is more enjoyable than being being a wage-earning mom. In some ways it is easier, in some ways it is harder. We do, however, get slightly more free time and more sleep, according to research. The choice to be at home with your kids should be a right for families!
2) On the other hand, you can’t possibly spend 8+ hours per day earning money and then come home and do all the same work as an at-home parent. The kid has already had lunch, the questions have been answered, the toys have been picked up, and the diapers have been changed. It’s like saying you do your babysitters job while you’re at work. At-home moms spend more time taking care of children and more time talking to and playing with children, according to research.

Rita August 11, 2010, 9:31 PM

I know when I was a FT working mom, I was extremely exhausted when I got home (also had to do with being pregnant at the time!), I didn’t want to cook or clean, but my husband helped out and he still does. Sure, both of us constantly complain about who does the most work, but it fizzes out in a few hours and everything is fine.

I can certainly see why some FT WM’s might be jealous or envious of SAHM’s, especially if they’ve never done it and had only 6 weeks of maternity leave, but being a SAHM is a hard job. Raising a human being is hard work, making sure they don’t beat each other up, teaching them not to pull the cats tail, why we don’t run towards the street (“See, you fell and hurt yourself. That’s why we don’t run on the sloped driveway!”) It’s a headache and a joy at the same time and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

Saying all that, when my 3 year old starts Pre-K next year, I will be going back to work. But right now, this works for us and God willing, will still be able to afford it by the time my little one goes to school.

Rita August 11, 2010, 9:58 PM

Although one day, I would just love to say to someone who dares to ask me “But what do you DO all day?”,

(the following is so far from the truth it’s funny)

“Oh, I get up around 5 am, cook my family an entire 2 course breakfast, wash the dishes, get the kids dressed in their Petit Bateau clothes, take them to their private school, go the the PTA meeting, organize the fall bake sale, go to lunch with my girlfriends, go shopping at the mall, pick up the kids, take them to the park, make sure they do their homework when they get home, make a 3 course dinner, get the kids in the shower, get them in bed by 9 pm, then I take a bubble bath with Michael Buble playing, candles and soft lighting, then I go to bed in my soft pink silk sheets…(the previous has been so far from the truth is funny)

What the hell do you think I fu**ing do moron?

I wake up at 6:30 (if I’m lucky and don’t miss the alarm),

open a box of store-bought frozen waffles or pancakes (I try to make a whole bunch of homemade pancakes/waffles and freeze them but that happens once every couple of months),

get the oldest ready in her Pennys/WM/Target clothes,

argue with her about brushing her teeth and hair,

get her out the door with minutes to spare,


make the youngest breakfast when he wakes up,


spend reading/playing time with toddler,

naptime (if we’re lucky)


eat lunch,


spend reading/playing time with toddler,


get in a few minutes of computer time if I’m lucky,

open front door for school kid getting off the bus,

make her a snack,


homework time,

reading/playing time,

greet husband when he gets home from work

make dinner (may I recommend never eating ground chuck again and go with ground turkey. It’s awesome and way better for you),

family time,

showers/baths for kids,

argue about bedtime,


stay up for an hour or 2 and get “me time”,

go to bed,


And doing laundry in between all of this. I stay in a pair of athletic shorts and camisole all day unless I go somewhere, but since my husband has our only vehicle and has to use it for work, I’m stuck at home. I really don’t mind. We go outside and play. Sunday mornings and evenings and Wednesday evenings we go to church while I go to work in the church nursery. It’s a comfortable lifestyle for me and I’m happy.

Our schedule is completely thrown off during summertime and holidays!

I really don’t envy or get jealous of other SAHM’s or WM’s because I know every situation is different.

What about you other SAHM’s, some who might not have a vehicle like me. What’s your routine like during the school year?

Layla August 12, 2010, 5:13 AM

I have no idea what dreamworld Anonymous above is living in that after 5pm she’s off duty since obviously “The kid has already had lunch, the questions have been answered, the toys have been picked up, and the diapers have been changed.” Um sorry sweetie, ALL of that and MORE still has to be done by the working mom as soon as she gets home (and ususally during her lunch hour as well)

JStoneman September 14, 2010, 11:14 AM

I work 26-36 hours a week as a Registered Nurse. I not only work all my hours in 2-3 days on weekends, I stay at home on weekdays with my children. My husband works nighshift full-time. I can say as a working mother that spends a lot of time at home with my children, both worlds aren’t easy. It’s not easy to clean up after everyone, make three meals a day, tackle the mountain of laundry, and constantly be interrupted by your children while doing it. Then, going to work 12 hours days at the end of a week and taking care of critical patients with failing heart,this a difficult task. As a woman that can relate to both sides, stop being so hard on each other. Most weeks I work almost 40 hours in three days and the next morning I wake up and have to take care of 2 crazy little boys all day along with everything else the world throws at me. Lets be supportive of one another!

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