So, What Do You Do?

Kerry Littrich has finally found the right answer to the dreaded question.

It’s the question every stay-at-home parent dreads: “So, what do you do?” Pause. Slow intake of breath.

I cook and clean and shop. I buy gifts and organise parties. I sing nursery rhymes and dance to The Wiggles and later Jay-Z or Akon, but definitely not Justin Bieber. I teach right from wrong and respond to comments such as, “Imagine if chips were falling from the sky”. I answer questions such as, “Why does Nansy Pansy ask me the same thing over and over again?” when we visit my grandmother, who has dementia. I attend playgroups and volunteer at preschool and school.

I wipe noses and bottoms and dab away tears. I do my best to keep my kids safe and then perform first aid when all the care in the world can’t stop them from getting hurt. I referee football games and the arguments that ensue. I swim and dig, and play chasings and hide-and-seek. I am really good at tickling. Did I mention the laundry?

But these are not the answers I give when the dreaded question arises. Instead, I say, “I’m not working at the moment,” while inside questioning my self-worth, my mind scrambling for something clever to say, something that will make me seem less boring. I might add, “I’m at home with the kids for now,” but that doesn’t sound good enough either, and a sense of purposelessness descends upon me.

I often get the stock-standard reply, “Well that’s a full-time job in itself, isn’t it?” with a weak, slightly condescending smile (sorry, that’s my own sense of inadequacy coming out), and the topic of conversation moves on to something or someone more interesting than me and my non-work.

I walk away from these encounters pushing a pram or holding a little hand and feeling pensive. I think about jobs I’ve had in the past. You know, paid jobs, real jobs, and I wonder if they’d have me back. I consider childcare options and imagine myself dressed for the office instead of the playground. For a moment, the shine goes off my version of domestic bliss.

But then I am pulled back to the present moment, often quite suddenly, by an approaching car or a child about to fall down a flight of stairs, or maybe just a tug on the hand and today’s big question: “Where does the sky end?” And I remember a conversation I had with a wise lady who, when I described these moments of self-doubt, said quite simply, “Honour your choices”.

What a wonderful gift this little piece of advice has been. So I share it with as many people as I can. It applies equally to all of us, whatever parenting situation we find ourselves in, paid or unpaid, at home or in the workplace. Honour your choices.

Then, when the dreaded question arises, we can smile, breathe deeply, draw on our inner sense of purpose and well-being, and confidently answer, “I am a stay-at-home parent,” knowing we have made a valid and worthwhile choice.