7 Things Never to Say to a Stay-at-Home Mother

Photo: ThinkstockBy Amy Shearn

1. "I love how you're always working out."
I know that French mothers sashay around in chic blazers and skirts and such, and that dressing like a human being makes you feel more like one, but here's the thing: Yoga pants and sneakers, while not exactly flattering, really do the trick when you need to slide under the couch to scrape peanut butter off the springs. So no, no, I'm not working out soon, or even anytime today, or maybe ever. And yes, I'm wearing stretchy pants and a hoodie. Do stay-at-home dads get flak for dressing like college students during finals week? No, no they do not. They get looks of adoration for being at home at all.

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2. "So, honey... dinner, dancing or tequila shots?"
Like so many off-putting comments, people we love say this with love. Of course it is. But after 12-plus hours of feeding, chasing, playing, teaching, disciplining, cleaning up, comforting, protecting, peeling off the ceiling and feeding again, in a repeating loop every 15 minutes or so, once spouses get home, you know what we want to do? Not have a nice dinner together (also known as: even more feeding and cleaning), not anything. Nothing. All the way to 8:30 p.m., when we pass out against our wills.

3. "Too bad about all the dough your parents spent on underwater-welding school."
My friend has been a devoted, happy stay-at-home mother for about a decade now. Her elderly mother (who was previously also a stay-at-home parent) still struggles to understand what went wrong. "She had a good career," the mother is known to say, shaking her head. "I know she didn't get fired. I just don't know what happened." Choosing to stay home with your kids is often thought of as an elaborate ruse designed to mask a larger, sexier failure. As in: "You must have lost that awesome underwater-welding job you had in your 20s; why else would you be in your current predicament? Why would you do something as unambitious, unexciting and unpaid as guide small people through their early childhoods if you had the option of doing something, you know, real? All of which reveals the assumption that the hands-on rearing of the young is a kind of a vacation from work. To which all stay-at-home parents in the world respond in unison: "Ha! Ha! Ha!"

4. "You look like you could use some you-time."
Unless...you're offering 2 to 12 hours of free babysitting on the spot.

5. "I'm just checking in because you didn't respond to my email from three minutes ago."
Hey, you know what kids love? Pressing buttons. Looking at glowy screens. Fondling the devices that also contain their beloved Elmo-ABC apps and YouTube videos of horse dressage. (All kids are into that, right?) Most people know it's hard for moms to get to the computer. But smartphones aren't any easier. We'd love to get to that email or voicemail or text. But we can't. And it's also probably impossible to meet for lunch or shop for underwear. Or go to a thing. Any thing. Instead, we're racing from playdate to errand to music class to other errand. And no, the post office is not on the way. Ever.

6. "That's so nice for you, that you can afford to be home."
As my great-uncle Jerry was wont to say, "You don't know what's inside someone else's pocketbook." (Unless of course you're a 2-year-old obsessed with emptying out people's purses when they're not looking.) You don't know why or how other people deal with a one-income life. Sometimes it means the working spouse is making bank. But sometimes it means the family has decided that this parenting situation is the priority and that the budget will be adjusted (read: squeezed) accordingly. Sometimes it means no date nights, no cable, no premium caffeinated beverages, no vacations. But a lot of giggly, flashlighty blanket-cave-spelunking staycations.

7. "Enjoy every minute!"
Really? Every minute? Like the minute when the children's coordinated tantrums are so noisy they set the neighborhood dogs howling? Like the minute when everyone poops at once, and none of them where they should? Like the minute when you're so tired at the end of the day that you sit down to the computer to draft the long-overdue holiday card and wake up with a dented forehead and three pages full of commas? The sentiment, of course, is not a bad one. I know I try, when I get this loathsome advice, to understand that enjoying every other minute will do. To remember to slow down. To ignore the dishes when my child really wants to show me her Lego tower. To take a moment to appreciate the shrieking laughter of the verboten jumping-on-the-bed right before I go in to break it up. It helps me to try, when I can, to set aside my natural human desires for languid sleep-ins and dinners that don't involve ketchup, and remember that really children are children for such a short time. You don't have to enjoy every moment. That's crazy talk. But the good moments, well, it's your job to love them like the gifts from the universe that they are.

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