The “My Day Is Harder” Debate: Which Parent Wins?

Who has it harder: the stay-at-home or working parent? Blogger Sarah Turner hilariously explains why nobody wins.
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By Sarah Turner , Author of 'The Unmumsy Mum'
Published April 27, 2017
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Image: Crystal Sing

Adapted from The Unmumsy Mum by Sarah Turner with the permission of TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Copyright © 2017 by Sarah Turner.

When morning comes around, I sometimes look at the day stretching out in front of me and think, “Oh God. James’s alarm goes off, he gets up, has a shower and gets ready for work.” My alarm these days is Henry, who loudly shouts, “Are you awake, Mummy? My pajama bottoms are wet. I can’t find my fire engine. Can I have some Weetos?” If I’m particularly lucky, a series of recorded Minion farts will be the first thing I hear when I wake up, as the fart blaster from Despicable Me 2 is activated next to my head, waking Jude, who promptly performs his first dump of the day. FML. And so the morning circus begins.

“Have a good day,” I sneer at my husband as he leaves the house. On time. Without juggling a car-seat-and-stroller-base combo into the car. Without worrying if he’s got enough baby wipes and a clean muslin that doesn’t smell of cheese. Occasionally, listening to actual music on an iPod. B*stard.

Back in the land of the living room, I’m left pondering the same daily conundrum: What the actual f*ck am I going to do with them all day?

“You don’t appreciate how lucky you are, going to work,” I tell him. “I wish we could swap.” Maternity leave housed the worst of this resentment, but even after returning to work part time, my two “days off” (grrrr) often prompted some spiteful comparisons and I still find myself getting angry toward my full-time-working spouse. In theory, this part-time pattern is only temporary, to see us through the baby years, but I’m four years in now and it doesn’t feel all that temporary. My weekday pattern has morphed into something unrecognizable from just a few years ago, and his has not. This irritates me. The problem is, I know it irritates him too, because the flip side is he’s working his butt off five days a week and I’m spending two days at home with our lovely boys.

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“I’d happily swap!” he tells me. “I’d love to work three days a week.” He isn’t being spiteful or provocative when he says this—he genuinely likes the idea of a part-time working week.

“Ha! You have absolutely no idea!” I scoff. And on it rumbles.

Well, I have come to realize that an ongoing “my day is harder than your day” debate is ridiculous. And pointless. It doesn’t make either of you feel any better and it’s largely unfair to all concerned.

When I was on maternity leave for the second time, I began to grasp that my jealousy about his freedom to leave the house had been somewhat ill informed by the memory of what working life was like before we had children. Work may well be like a holiday at times–and I bloody love working–but it is still work. And, with a baby plus threenager at home, James has to get through his working day on significantly less sleep. Then, after work, he doesn’t return to a tidy, quiet house, put on Sky Sports News and have a cold beer, like he sometimes used to when I was working late at the bank. He comes home to me. Stressed. Sitting scowling amid mountains of shtty plastic toys and possibly a shtty diaper. Telling him how much I hate being at home. How much I hate my life (the dramatic license of arguments!). Telling him I am at breaking point and no, I don’t know what is for f*cking dinner because I haven’t even had a shower. At times, I would simply show him a video recorded earlier in the day of one or both of the children screaming and comment: “My whole day.” I’m surprised he didn’t sign up for an additional evening job.

I’ve never really achieved anything by giving my husband sh*t when he comes through the door. Every now and again, I just feel hard done by and want recognition that I have drawn the short straw. I want him to get out his ruler and confirm that my straw is shorter. I need him to get it. But, equally, he is fed up with hearing my persistent whining and wants to remind me that he has been at work all day. “Well, lucky you.” And on it goes.

The thing is, I know I’ve been a bit unfair. It’s true that on my home days he does “escape” at 8:25 a.m. And he can listen to music on the iPod (though he’s dicing with the risk of “Let It Go” and/or “Hakuna Matata” on shuffle). It’s true that I am sometimes bored to tears by 9:25 a.m. It’s true that there are, genuinely, many days I would rather be at work.

But none of this proves that my husband is “winning.” I’m sure he really does wake up some Monday mornings, look at the week stretching out in front of him and think, “I wish I could stay at home.” His jealousy of me is just as valid as mine of him. But all he gets is me dismissing his feelings as ridiculous, telling him how hard it is at home and reiterating that he has no idea. I’m not exactly wrong in that assertion–he doesn’t have any idea what being at home with two kids under three all day every day for months on end is like. He’s never had to do it. But that’s not really his fault. By the same token, I don’t really know what working full time and coming home to Hurricane Wife (and surrounding devastation) is like either. In the hardest of my maternity leave months I often forgot even to ask how his day had been. I was too busy instantly offloading the full breakdown of the reasons my day had been 10 times harder than his, reasons he had already heard in abusive, sweary texts sent earlier in the day. Texts like:

• Don’t phone me at lunch. I’ve got nothing nice to say.

• Where are you? Text me the moment you leave. You need to pick up diapers–I couldn’t even get to the shop because they’ve done nothing but play up like brats all day.

• You better not be late. I’ve f*cking had enough of your kids.

These are actual texts (not proud).

I text when I feel compelled to text, which, unfortunately, tends to be when I have gone off on one. Such messages aren’t a balanced view of the situation at all–I have plenty of great days, just me and the boys hanging out, that never make the text-message edit, bar the odd token WhatsApp picture of them on a steam train. Sure, I moan about my days “off”–the midweek ones, especially. But even for die-hard work fans there are benefits to being at home. Sometimes it is the better deal. On top of the summer sun and catching up with friends and extra cuddles (the non-snotty ones), there is something undeniably liberating about being the master of your own schedule on the days you are not at work. If you choose to, you can simply decide at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday that you fancy a trip to the library. And go. Admittedly, you won’t get there until 4 p.m. because it is impossible to leave the house in less than 90 minutes, but to a certain extent, you decide what you do with your time. It’s the kids who roll the behavior dice and decide how successful that outing is. You still answer to somebody, but the boss or bosses breathing down your neck are much smaller. And can be bribed with raisins.

I feel I should add at this point that what I am writing is based purely on the dynamic in our household. This isn’t a sweeping generalization that the mum of the household is at home on kids duty more than the dad is—this is often not the case. It might be the other way around. You might be in a same-sex marriage where it is not “her versus him” at all. You might both work full time. You might both work part time. You might be a single parent. Hats off to you all.

But if you share our dynamic, perhaps the grass really isn’t greener on the work side. Some days, it is. Some days, it isn’t. Some days, one of you has a distinct advantage. Some days, you both lose. The only certainty is that, unless you are genuinely considering addressing the work/home divide (and reallocating roles), the constant “my day has been sh*ttier than yours” debate could roll on forever, which doesn’t help anyone. What has so far proved more helpful is to crack open a bottle of wine on Friday night and agree we’ve both had a hard week. This promotes a feeling of solidarity–and there’s wine. Everybody wins.

Image: TarcherPerigee

Sarah Turner is a freelance writer and award-winning blogger from Devon, England. She has been documenting the everyday reality of life with two small boys on her blog The Unmumsy Mum since 2013. First published in the United Kingdom, her book The Unmumsy Mum is a #1 Sunday Times bestseller.

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