I had the most interesting of conversations today and needed to share.  And I want you to weigh in, too. 

For those in the know, the cool kid way to refer to a stay at home mom is to call her a SAHM (sounds like SAM).  I was a SAHM for four years, and not by choice.  When my girl was born, I made arrangements to move to a part-time schedule.  I was lucky and knew it.  It completely worked for me, as if felt like a good balance between home and work.

When Donna was diagnosed, out of necessity, I left my job, which was actually a career.  It was one of the victims of cancer, but compared to the loss of Donna, the loss of my career was peanuts.  It made me sad, but if I ever talked about  it out loud, I would stop myself, as I worried it sounded HORRIBLE.  Here I was mourning the loss of a career and identity when I had lost something so much more.  I was very conflicted.  And jealous.  That’s right.  Jealous of Mary Tyler Dad who, from my grieved = warped POV, “got to” go back to work after a couple of weeks of mourning. 

I found myself lost, alone, overwhelmed, and with a ten month old to care for.  I was a SAHM without the duties of a Cancer Mom, which made me a SAHM.  It was me and Mary Tyler Son.  It was lonely.  Lonely with a capital “L” Lonely.  In retrospect, I am utterly grateful for the time.  Celebrating my one year anniversary of returning to work this week, it is clear that I was in no place to return to work so soon. 

Today’s conversation brought up the realm of the SAHD (sounds like SAD, ironically).  I spent some time today with a couple where Mom works outside the home and Dad works inside the home.  Both were incredibly open about the challenges of this arrangement.  Dad was very honest about believing the natural order was reversed.  He wished to be out providing for his family instead of being the primary caregiver for their gorgeous (and I do mean gorgeous) toddler. 

Mom was honest about the challenges.  For her, being a stay at home parent meant caring for child, home, food, and the details that make the family run smoothly.  She described what I would call a domestic engineer — a do it all kind of manager that handled all things home related.  Christmas cards, invitations, gift buying — the kind of home manager I aspire to me, but fail miserably.  Sigh.

I didn’t disagree with her.  When I woke up one day, six months into my grief of losing Donna, I realized that Mary Tyler Dad came home from the office every day around 6 or 6:30 and cooked dinner.  Oops.  I was ashamed.  I believe that if you have the gig of a stay at home parent, it means you are responsible for kids, home, food.  I was managing the kid and home, as I like a clean and tidy home, but was failing miserably at the food.  When we both worked, it didn’t bother me so much that Mary Tyler Dad did the cooking.  Now that I wasn’t working outside the home or caring for a child with cancer, seeing him come home from work and immediately get to the other work of cooking, I felt like a total and complete failure.

In the spring of 2010, I made a concerted effort to learn how to cook.  Nothing gourmet, nothing fancy.  I grew up with canned vegetables and iceburg lettuce, so my vision and skill set were both lacking inspiration.  I just wanted to cook something delicious and nutritious for my man.  Shockingly, I didn’t hate it.  I didn’t love it, but I began to understand food as an expression of love. 

Long story short, I went back to work last year and we’re scrambling again, Mary Tyler Dad and I, to get the food on the table at a reasonable time.  He is doing a bit more, I am doing a bit less, and I have the guilt to prove it.

My point is, though, that this couple were very aware that with the traditional roles reversed, they each had a different idea of what the responsibilities of a stay at home parent entailed.  I’ve got to agree with Mom on the child, home (including laundry), and food front.  I would say that those three basics would cover it.  But there is Dad, and I can’t discount his POV.  He is doing a great job with kids, but doesn’t see home or food as part of the deal. 

I would argue that SAHDs might agree with this Dad whole heartedly, esp. if I keep my pulse on the musings on facebook or amongst my friends.  The dads I know and interact with, almost to a fault, including Mary Tyler Dad, do a bang up job with the kids.  They are hands on, involved, supportive, loving.  But all that other stuff seems not to register with them.  They don’t see the dirty dishes in the sink or on the counter.  The dust bunnies are invisible to them.  That growing mass of fabric in the corner of the room is just another place for the kiddo to play, not something that is to be sorted, laundered, folded, and put away.

I would also argue that SAHDs have to deal with a hell of a lot more mental muck when they are the ones staying at home with the wee ones while their wives trot off to the office or hospital or factory.  While I don’t necessarily support a SAHD’s neglect of the home and food fronts, I have more empathy for his position.  Is that terrible and a double standard?  Yep.  Is it sexist?  Probably.

When the roles are reversed, when it is the dad at home with the kids, do the same rules apply to them?  Talk to your Mary Tyler Mom — tell me what you think. 


11 Replies to “SAHMs v. SAHDs”

  1. Okay, I really should finish reading this before I comment, because I’m probably going to look like a total idiot, but I’m a mom of 5… I always look like an idiot, to someone, somewhere. Anyway… I AM FIRED UP!!!!! (I desperately want to put a thousand exclamation points but I’ll stop at five.) So, call me old fashioned but I agree that the role of the SAHM is kids, house, food. Therefore, the role of the SAHD is kids, HOUSE, FOOD!!! Do you hear that SAHDs?!?!? It’s no wonder they think it’s so easy. If all I did was get kids dressed, make sure they’re fed, shuttle them back and forth to school and activities, etc., etc., etc… well, if that’s “all” I did, my life would be f’ing easy street (and I *never* swear!).

    Time for a disclaimer. I’m reading this on a bad day. Or maybe it’s a good day. It’s a day when dad stayed home FOR A FEW HOURS to watch the kids while mommy ran around town like a chicken with her head cut off, trying to get ready for Christmas… only to come home to the snide comment, “I don’t know what you’re always complaining about; they’re so good.”

    BTW, I’m not always complaining. I love what I do and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But my job is 24/7, pretty much thankless, obscenely underpaid and, worst of all, my scenery never changes. Saturday is no different from Monday which is no different from any other day of any other week of any other month. Ugh, that sounds like complaining, doesn’t it? Guess now would be a good time to finish reading your blog post. Sorry for the rant. Can I just copy, paste and send to Sr. Iphielya? 😉

    PS Love you MTM!!! And really missing Donna. Really, really. Does that sound too “fluffy”? I mean it most sincerely. Love you all. XOXOX


    1. You ARE fired up. I like that in a gal. So, obviously, this has touched a nerve. Reading that you are a SAHM for five kids, I have gots to take my hat off to you. Wow. I think I would really suck at that gig.

      I never thought about the point you made that the “scenery never changes” for stay at home parents. That part of it does suck.

      Thank you for reading, and commenting, and being able to spell Sr. Iphielya properly. You rock.


  2. Isn’t it all just really part of the same equasion that we all try to balance day in and day out? To get it all done, together, and well (or at a minimum, well enough), you have to compromise. Should every chore fall solely in the camp of SAHM? Surely not. After all, prior to the wife and kiddos, dad somehow fed himself and kept his space tidy (we hope). Is agreeing that he do the laundry sometimes, and the dinner sometimes asking a lot? I think most dads would agree that very often a day at home with the kids can be WAY more grueling than a day at the office.

    Sure, I fall into the camp of SAHM that wants to do it all. But I’m also realistic. And thankfully, so is my husband. He jumps in however and whenever he can. And when he’s under pressure at work, I suggest that he go for a massage, take a run…take some time to himself. Sometimes the house is a disaster. Sometimes dinner is a ridiculous concoction of what my husband calls “mixed grill” … which is really just bits and pieces of leftovers, whatever is losing shelf life, and/or what’s just plain handy.

    If we hold ourselves to a narrow idea of whose task is whose, then we’re surely setting ourselves up for disappointing, ourselves and our loved ones. We take care of eachother. The dust bunnies and the gourmet meals can take a back seat. 🙂


    1. Wise words, but I fear not all would agree. I think you’re right, though, so if you and I ruled the world, it would be a pretty cool place.

      Thanks for reading, Mamallama!


  3. I can relate, in a way. My babies daddy and I are both working parents. Our division of power when at home is, he cooks and cleans the kitchen and I do everything else. “Everything else” being cleaning, laundry, bill pay, bath duty, etc. He does handle bed time a lot of nights when I collapse in the fetal position, exhausted from getting up at 5:30 am every morning to get everyone where they need to be before I go to work. While I know it may not be entirely fair, I know it’s what he can handle, which is very important as well. Happy Daddy or Mommy = Happy Kiddos. 🙂


    1. That collapsing in a fetal position after dinner is something Mary Tyler Dad is familiar with — I do it occasionally. I call it, “taking to my bed.”

      Happy holidays, Pipster! Thanks for reading.


  4. This is a hot button issue here. I want to comment on it, but I don’t want to sound sexist or anything. All I will say is that SAHMs are definitely different than SAHDs. My hubs has been a SAHD, too. We’ve both experienced it and we do it differently. 🙂


  5. Hmmm…for each thought I have on this issue, I then have an opposite thought.

    For instance, I understand what you are saying about the SAHP being in charge of meals. I work half-time, and the days I am at home I too feel responsible for making sure dinner is on the table. At the same time, I’ve realized that taking care of my two boys is a full time job during the day – keeping them fed, managing whatever problems arise, responding to their requests to play. I find it much more emotionally and mentally exhausting than spending the day at the office. So I decided a while back to give myself a break and to just worry about the boys when I’m home with them..everything else can (and does) wait. Otherwise I am one stressed out momma.

    I’m not sure if the same rules should apply – but not because of a double standard. I think each couple should do what works for them and that will be different for each family. Who am I to say a given SAHD should or shouldn’t be responsible for the laundry? Men in general seem to have a different style …a.k.a.: multitasking-deficit. But does this mean that is bad or we need to make them do things the same way women? I envy my husband his ability to be fully in the moment when he is home with the kids. I wish I was better at doing that, too. I think it serves our kids well.

    In the end, the important thing is that both parts of the couple feel that things are fair. In our house, this means that chores generally wait until the evenings and weekends when we can both pitch in and help. Lucky me, my husband has never said, “Can’t you get this stuff done during the day while I’m at work?” I think he recognizes that watching two very active kids all day IS a lot of work.

    Not sure what the solution is for your friends – just depends what works for them. We usually shoot for leftovers or crockpot meals during the week…maybe that would help? 🙂

    Sorry for the long comment. I obviously have lots of thoughts about this!


  6. Back when my daughter was born (she’s 14), we opted for “Dad” to stay home while I went back to work full time because my paycheck was bigger. I love cooking, and never thought too much about coming home from work and cooking – it relaxed me.

    What got my goat, however, were the people who referred to my husband’s stay-at-home Dad status as “babysitting”. I’m sorry , you just can’t babysit your own kids.

    And I have to hand it to him … he did it all (except the cooking). Laundry, errands, home engineer stuff. I often joked he made a better wife than I did!


  7. My fiance and I are actually planning on him being the long term stay-at-home parents whenever we can actually afford the IVF procedure to enable it *sigh*. He honestly likes small children a lot better than I do (I went back to work when my daughter was 2 because I realized that while I still loved her, I wasn’t actually enjoying having her all day every day. I found a part-time job, 4 weekday mornings & 2 weekend evening shifts after her bedtime) and he loves cooking and meal planning and grocery list making (all areas, I will freely admit I’m weak on). I, on the other hand, plan to stay home and breastfeed for the first year (I breastfed my daughter for 20 months and I loved it – and since she has since been diagnosed with Aspergers, I would probably feel even more guilty than I do already if I had bottlefed). He has also offered to handle cloth diapering and all the laundry that goes along with it (firstborn was Pampered and I am okay with that). I won the husband lottery with him ❤ (we met playing WoW and found out we were local). Me? I'm going to be the mom that teaches them how to knit, make soap, and does arts and crafts with them and in the case of a zombie apocolypse, I know how to reload ammunition (from the powder and bullet and shell, yo) and shoot a gun.


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