There's always been debate about which is the "harder" (you'll need to read that with big, sarcastic quotation marks to get the full impact) aspect of parenting. That's why I don't say that it's harder to stay home or harder to go to work - I say that it's different. You actually cannot compare the two. There are too many variables. But as I write from my perspective, a stay at home mother, I think it's important to note that it's not all coffee playdates at the park and sitting down to blog when you're at home with a toddler (hence why this website has been neglected for several months).
You are always one step ahead.
When you're at home with a toddler, you don't often have the same luxury as you may do at work. You are constantly timing everything. Going to the playground is a definite must. But you have to time it perfectly. Not too close to nap time or she'll scream the entire way home. Not too far from the shopping trip or the tofu and orange juice will get wrecked in the car (although I'm sensing a constant here - maybe the car is in fact the culprit). If I go to the toilet now while she's playing with those blocks quietly, I may avoid having to clean up tampons from the hallway and the bathroom sink. Maybe she'll be happy enough to come with me to hang some washing on the line. Maybe not. Maybe she'll cry and try to bang her head on the concrete wall if I don't let her drink from the dog's bowl.
It's not the same as sitting at your desk and realising it's lunchtime and going to the tea-room and heat up your leftovers. No. With a toddler, if you realise it's lunchtime and you haven't appropriately prepared at least 3 different meals for them to reject, you'll end up with a hangry toddler (spelling error intended) and that is not something to be messed with. I realise that some days go swimmingly and you skip from task to task, you both laugh constantly and she doesn't throw food on the floor. I realise this. Sometimes, there is balance. Oftentimes, there is not.
There is no break.
Like, literally - none. At work, you are entitled to a lunch break and a few paid breaks here and there. At home with a toddler, your lunch "break" (extremely sarcastic quotations again) is usually spent preparing the other two meals (see above) and trying to figure out whether those tomato crackers have any nutritional benefit whatsoever while you tip a smoothie down the sink and throw perfectly good mac and cheese that's actually made with pumpkin in the bin (still not over that, as you can see). Sure, toddlers sometimes nap. But that time is usually spent cleaning up the mess from the morning's chaos and counting how many hours until daddy gets home from work and what activities could fill in that time.
You don't knock off. Ever.
This is something that I struggle with a little bit at times. My partner finishes work and comes in the door, seemingly refreshed from his day at work - I think because the excitement of seeing his daughter overrides any exhaustion from the day (again, another difference. The worker often misses out on the good bits as much as they miss the challenges). I, however, start going harder. I cook tea and do the dishes in a mad flap while our daughter is bathed and dressed. Sometimes the dog goes for a walk. Sometimes he doesn't. I call it "power hour". Literally because it's an hour of crazy cooking, eating, cleaning and then pretending that it was easy peasy. And then I take darling Cadence into her bedroom and settle her with a breastfeed and a cuddle. I often hear my partner on the computer. I sometimes die a little on the inside from jealousy that he doesn't have hurting, lactating boobs (he would if he could). But sometimes, I hear the toys being packed away and the cat being fed. When she's asleep, I do feel a sense of accomplishment from my day - always so full, sometimes manic, but mostly just busy - doing my bit to raise our daughter in a loving and fun environment. I sit. I do a puzzle and watch some trash TV or Netflix and go to bed. My shift usually starts at about 11. She's up. And then she's up every few hours after that. And the working partner stays in bed because they have to work - which is totally fine. I get it. The one facing the professional world needs to be able to function in a different way. I can wear yoga pants to bed and go to the park in the same attire. I long for a day when bedtime is actually knock off. *Sigh*.
You have more fun.
As much as I've outlined the struggles and challenges that we have together on a daily basis, let's face it, we have way more fun. It's glorious to see her come down the slide with a grin from ear to ear. It's beautiful watching her eat new things and help me with the daily chores. And it's positively amazing to have her fall asleep on my breast, sometimes unlatching to kiss my cheek, before drifting off. It's exhausting being a stay at home mum. Nothing can prepare you. But the truth is that I will look back on these times with such fondness and won't remember the times I cried or grit my teeth doing my best not to yell. And times like this, where I'm super sleep deprived yet still super organised with lunch in the oven and a sleeping baby, I'm able to sit and do something for myself and that is enough to get me through the day.
And finally - you are the boss.
LOL. Just kidding.