A realistic glimpse into the life of stay-at-home parents

Tori Bowman Johnson

Tori Bowman Johnson

Tori, a freelance writer, has worked in production, talent management & branding since her agency role at Vivien’s Model Management in Melbourne in 2011. Tori has recently launched, The First Word; a conversational podcast for women, particularly those who juggle young children & paid work. Tori is also a very proud mum of two little boys.
Created on Jun 14, 2024 · 10 mins read
A realistic glimpse into the life of stay-at-home parents

Preparing yourself for the stay-at-home parent role is quite a peculiar experience. It's like readying yourself for a brand new job, but with the twist of not having any prior learning, studies, and access to work experience.


Unfortunately, your high school holidays spent babysitting don’t count as parenting.

Before we dive deeper into the stay-at-home role, let’s take a step back and discuss maternity leave.

A quick reality check for maternity leave


Getting ready for maternity leave introduces some conflicting emotions. Excitement, fear, gratitude, and happiness – all of which might be peppered by a touch of meandering anxiety. 

Waves of emotions add to your already crowded internal self and you can’t help but hear all these ideas on repeat – ‘What lies ahead?!‘. The answer is more or less known to every person around you … change. And let’s admit, lots of women get it.

Maternity leave, if you choose to (or if you can) take it, is a bubble of family time where you’re subconsciously forced to unlearn much of what you know. The early alarm clock precedes either a pre-work workout or a long hot shower as you gear your body up for the busy day ahead. You then slip into work attire and grab a hot coffee and some toast before checking your Google Cal. After skimming the news headlines, it’s time to find your phone and keys and head into the workplace. A career where you will contribute to meetings, write plans and strategies, fix complex issues, present or report, converse with colleagues, and achieve what many rely on to feed our sense of self and productivity.

When the work day or shift ends, it’s back home to decompress and unwind. Off with the work attire and on with the comfort wear. After all the hard work, you might pour a glass of wine, chat with your partner about your day, and start cooking dinner. Following that, with a full belly, a tired mind, and another alarm set, it’s off to bed for a book or perhaps a series of meditative times.

As working parents, you know these crazy days and motions like the back of your hand. The way you tackle your professional life is like riding a bike—it’s learned and organic. And you do that every single day. 


The transition to stay-at-home parent life


Then, change comes to your life as a stay-at-home mum or dad. Starting with your maternity leave, now it’s a whole different story. 

Depending on how long you have before the baby is due, it’s common to spend your days nesting and preparing the perfect nursing while allowing pockets of rest to be squeezed in. Even the idea of a midday nap feels like heaven. Some women may sense pure contentment wriggle into their bones as bubbly anticipation hovers in the air.

Enjoying this solitude at home, the space you exist in when the outside world closes its doors to stay home is sacred. Your home is a familiar space, a safe space, and a reflection of you and your partner.

The day you welcome your baby into your house – while the joy is thick, it also feels odd. Surreal perhaps? A tad unnerving? When you left for the hospital, home was one thing; now, it’s entirely new. It’s more beautiful for sure as your family has grown! But for many new parents, that first arrival home with the baby collides with a complex tapestry of feelings. Which is totally normal (of course!) and to be expected. 

When the baby comes home, the space expands instantly. Every room becomes fuller and more plush. While the walls don’t widen – they now hold so much more between them. Every emotion is chubbier. Every cry makes life feel louder and larger. Every new milestone finds a surface to perch on. Life within the home gets bigger. Now, all you have to worry about is the baby.


The endless routine of a stay-at-home mum


At this point, time starts to lose its meaning. With a baby feeding on demand during the early weeks, the newborn bubble welcomes a reality where time becomes a blur. If it’s light, you know, daytime; if it’s dark, it’s night. If you hear loud trucks at dawn, it’s bin day. That’s the extent of your timekeeping as stay-at-home parents. 

As your baby grows and develops more of a routine (scheduled naps, monitored awake times, and longer stretches of sleep overnight – hopefully), your sense of time and space slowly returns to you. Every single day, you begin to realise that you’re home again and you shimmy back to the adult timezone

Missing out on your own "life routine"


However, for the primary carer at this point, the working mums or dads who take time away from their career to care for the baby, the stay-at-home parent role kicks in. And it feels a lot bigger than you can ever imagine. Suddenly you realise that while the baby navigates a daily routine, you miss your “life routine.” 

As stay-at-home parents, your alarm clock becomes a baby’s cry or the tingle of a warm, full chest. You’re not heading out of your job or having a moment for yourself. Instead, you change the baby for the second or third time that morning and sterilise bottles or express milk for a future feed. If you make it to the shower, it’s a quick rinse while the baby naps or simply a splash of water to the face to wake you up. 

You're doing one of the toughest jobs out there


Even though your new daily to-do list comprises one task – ‘Care For Baby’ – you suddenly feel behind and pressured to multitask in two hours. This can make a parent feel stressed, overworked, and unsure of themselves. Stay-at-home parents might end every single day feeling disappointed or unlike themselves due to a decline in perceived productivity.

You might think, ‘All I did all day was hold the baby, feed the baby, listen to a podcast while folding the baby’s washing? How is it possible that 10 hours without sleep have passed? And why am I so utterly exhausted? Am I doing this all wrong as a parent?

In short – no, you’re not. You are a remarkable parent. The stay-at-home role is challenging you – because it’s the most demanding role in the universe. 

As the baby learns to crawl or walk or enter the pre-school years – all of a sudden, time slows right down again. You wake up before sunrise and listen to the sounds of birds on a sunny day. You complete thousands of tasks in a single day while eating from whatever plate has a leftover crust. At that point, you look at the clock and think, ‘Huh?! How can that be?! Surely it’s almost lunchtime??’ 

No. It’s just 9.07 am. 

A heaviness hits as you realise you have 8 or 9 hours to go before your support line arrives home. 

The role of the stay-at-home parent is a struggle. It can feel relentless. It can be lonely. And the catchline is, as you can imagine, unpaid. 

In addition, parenting can be exceptionally tough on the state of mind. Most people are driven to complete tasks and see progress. We tend to feel attracted to challenges, teamwork, and spaces that are ignited by culture, conversation, variety, and pace. 

The bittersweet joy of it all


Yes, it is challenging – more challenging than anticipated. On the flip side, I cannot deny the absolute bliss of each day spent with my child as a stay-at-home mum. Having the ability to watch the advancements and growth of my two kids is the world’s richest gift. It’s a period of time that will only ever come around once, so being there to soak up the sunshine is almost like pure magic. 

With this in mind, however, we can never minimise the stay-at-home role to the point that people feel under-acknowledged and forgotten by the world. 

While the paid workforce is busy signing contracts, entering deals, and making change – despite looking like stay-at-home parents are basking in sweetness – trust me, they are not. They are tirelessly raising the next generation and sacrificing a few years. 

They are doing so without any breaks or maybe support, without incentivising promotions, and maybe without any family members. They are also without the perks of after-work drinks to blow off some steam like most people do, and again, without any pay. 

The same old story is still out there


It feels important to mention here that this stay-at-home parent role is usually assumed by mums. While there are many households where this is not the case, statistics demonstrate that we have a long way to go before we reach equality and a fairer allocation of stay-at-home parents. 

As reported in a paper prepared by the Australian Government titled; National Strategy to Achieve Gender Equality – Discussion Paper, ‘Only 4 percent of families reported that a man usually or always looks after the children. Even in these cases, when asked “who plans/coordinates child activities”, it was usually or always a woman (78 percent of the time).[15] 79.9 percent of one-parent families are single mothers.’

The "Everything Else" list


I felt compelled to include the previous particular extract, as while caring for my own two kids (feeding, clothing, bathing, organising) takes a lot of time (and patience), it’s the ‘Everything Else’ that compounds the mental load and makes it hard for stay at home parents (usually stay at home mums) to feel rested or fulfilled. 

The grocery shopping, the re-filling of the changing table, the keeping track of which child is which shoe size this week, the birthday presents and parties, the park visits, the playdates, the constant packing up, the signing of forms for extra curriculum activities, the doctor appointments, the chemist runs, the creative thinking – i.e. when one child doesn’t eat vegetables or performs tantrums when the TV is turned off – and the repurchasing of the forever lost or missing water bottles.

This ‘Everything Else’ list surrounding the fundamental task of child-rearing, is usually allocated to stay-at-home parents. I’ll be forthright here and say, it’s not fair!

The three full-time roles of parents


I think it’s critically important to remember that at least three full-time roles exist in every household with kids. 

  1. The children rearing
  2. The income earning
  3. The household maintenance (including the ‘Everything Else’ list)

It’s unfair and unrealistic to expect at least one parent to take on child-rearing and household maintenance. There must be more focus on the division of labour for the benefit of our relationships, respect levels, and overall health and happiness within our homes. Oh, and the most rewarding benefit? If our children witness their parents modelling equal division of labour and positive relationships, then we are doing them the biggest favour.

Long story short: Grateful and grounded


Having a baby is such a beautiful gift. Life gets better every day as they age. Instead of dedicating too much energy to resentment or burnout, we owe it to our kids to recognise and respect that most people work bloody hard in life, but there is always more to be done. And that ‘more‘ needs to be shared by all family members. Not just the stay-at-home parent. 

Becoming a stay-at-home parent is a big adjustment. Unlike the partner going off to work after the baby comes along, we don’t get that continuity of ‘what we know.’ We wake to oodles of unknown factors for a few years, meaning we are constantly thinking on our feet and planning for not one but hundreds of worst-case scenarios.

Even if you’re a part-time working mum or dad, your stay-at-home role has full-time demands. It’s not a part-time job commitment. We have no one to support us or provide a comprehensive handover. As stay-at-home parents, we’re expected to get on with it while doing a stellar job every day—and, of course, while keeping the kids alive!

It’s a big task. A considerable identity shift. It’s a monumental sacrifice.

From one stay-at-home mum to all other stay-at-home parents; you’re truly fabulous and wholeheartedly recognised by the community at large. Even if it doesn’t always feel like it – there is an army of supporters behind you in awe of your work. 

You’re seen, acknowledged, respected, and totally deserve a promotion as stay-at-home parents.

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