The Job a PhD Can’t Prepare You For

By Michela Rodriguez and Capriale Walling-Moore

“So what do you do?”
“Oh, I’m a homemaker.”
“I see… Do you ever plan on getting a real job?” “Trust me. This is a real job.”
“Don’t you want to contribute to our society and economy, though? I mean, you must be so bored! I don’t know how you do it!” Fake laugh.

Our society confers much of our status based on the jobs we hold. “Doctor” immediately grants you sighs of admiration, while “cashier” will get you only pitiful smiles. Stay at home parents usually fall in the latter category; being in charge of running a whole household just doesn’t seem to be worthy of recognition, and spending more time with one’s children isn’t deemed a priority. But what better contribution can there be than to give the next generation a strong start in life?

Children and youth forget what it’s like to take care of a home. There’s the endless laundry and never ending meals to prepare. Meals lead to dishes which lead back to grocery shopping. Then there’s vacuuming and driving the kids to soccer practice, helping with homework, balancing the budget and keeping everyone emotionally sane. This is often very difficult to manage for any parents, especially if you’ve just had a full day at work. For those who find it difficult to maintain this balance, two options present themselves: either they use their dual income to hire help, or one parent chooses to stay at home.

Do you sense a problem here? It’s a trade off: parents can either have more money, but less time with their families, or a smaller income and more quality time with their children. So do stay at home parents really give up more than working ones? We don’t think so. Yet paid employment continues to be more valued in our society. The amount of effort parents put in at home while we go to school should not be easily dismissed, but it all too often is. It can be very difficult to be constantly told that your decision to not work outside the home is wrong, and that “it must get so boring!” And don’t stay at home parents aren’t necessarily stay at home parents for life. Some really do try to get back on the job market once their children are older, and some succeed, but having been absent for a prolonged time period is not what employers are looking for. So is the job market a race you can only enter once?

Now let’s say you’re also a single parent. Try managing a budget, putting bread on the table, and dealing with rowdy kids with, likely, more than one job to tend to. That’s more than most can handle on a good day, never mind everyday. Who are you to judge if that person chooses to prioritize spending time with their young children over pursuing a career? Staying at home as a single parent is still an option, but tighter budgets often push people to look to grandmothers, aunts and uncles step in to help, which many do generously. Unfortunately, many people’s families are not so supportive, as some just can’t get buying the notion that stay-at- home, single parenting is a poor choice In their view, to be a good citizen you should have a paid job, and since you’re single find yourself a new partner while you’re at it. Hurry up, though, you’re getting old and you’ll be lucky to find someone who’ll take on the kids anyway. Is anybody stressed yet?

Whether a person chooses to hold a paid job or not, whether they are a single parent or not, it is up to them to choose what works best for their family. Unpaid work does not equate to less work, nor does it mean that it is useless. So please, don’t say things like, “well, it was your choice” with a disparaging undertone. Please do not call stay at home parents “lazy” or “people who take advantage of the system”. Their job may not be on, but don’t ever think they don’t work big time.

Let’s not allow our differing views on this to divide us. What works for one family might not work for another. Every situation is different and passing judgement on others never got anyone anywhere. Instead of bickering over what real parental virtue looks like, let’s accept our differences and work together to create a better future for all parents and guardians, and especially for their children.