Is Taking Care of Kids Really the Hardest Job?

I’m guessing you’re exhausted by the time you fall asleep. You may have started your day waking up at an ungodly hour. You go to work which, in comparison, feels like a refuge from the chaos of caring for your kids. Your “day shift” then ends only to continue to the “night shift” of yet more child rearing and housekeeping. Or you’ve been home with the kids and realize this has been more challenging than any day you’ve been paid to work in the past. It’s no wonder they say taking care of kids is the hardest job in the world.

Ask the Readers: Is Taking Care of Kids Really the Hardest Job?Or is it?

I had always believed taking care of kids is not for the faint of heart. I read statistics in the past that claimed a stay-at-home parent’s salary, if paid, would be worth at least $100,000. Such is the testament of the work and dedication we put into this job.

And I agreed for the longest time because, truthfully, taking care of kids has been harder than my own day job. Yes, there are perks—during maternity leave, I got to nap or veg out when the kids did. I didn’t have to get ready, packing a lunch or driving anywhere. And I could run errands and tend to whatever tasks needed to be done. Plus I’m free to have fun with my kids.

But let’s be honest. I take some days off here and there to hang out with my kids at home, and I am utterly exhausted by the end of the day, much more so than when I go to work. Weekends would be just as tiring if my husband weren’t there as well. I couldn’t imagine doing this for a length of time with no foreseeable end.

Taking care of kids is physically more exhausting. I have a desk job, so I don’t do much heavy lifting or carrying the way I do when I tote my babies around or push their gigantic stroller everywhere.

I’m also blessed with a stress-free job. It’s got the right balance of challenges and autonomy where I’m driven, but not drained. So emotionally, even my day job is less harried than the toll of following through with consequences or appeasing the frustration when a baby who won’t nap.

It seems I’m not alone, either. A recent study found that women are more stressed at home than at work. Perhaps a finding not too shocking to many working moms.

And at work, I’m able to enter “flow,” which is a term coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “cheeks sent me high”). In his book  Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, he describes flow as when individuals are so absorbed and concentrated on a project that time flies by. He credits this kind of focus as one of the tenets of happiness: Do concentrated work, and you will leave feeling fulfilled and challenged.

The catch? It takes time to enter this flow. Uninterrupted time. Yeah… not gonna happen with kids in tow.

This doesn’t even touch on the day-to-day reasons why taking care of kids is harder than a day job:

  • You can’t call in sick (who’s going to sub for you?).
  • It’s round the clock.
  • There are no direct monetary rewards.
  • You get no feedback or training (do hugs and tantrums count?).
  • You can’t quit.

So for me, yes, taking care of kids is generally harder than my paid job. While I love taking days off to hang out with them and it’s one of my favorite things to do, those days are also some of the most tiring ones I have.

But I realize this is a singular way of comparing the two. I’ve only known one kind of day job—mine. I started to think about other careers and, from the sounds of it, I’d venture to say that there are many jobs much more difficult than being with your kids at home.

Take for instance, being with other people’s kids: teachers.

When I was pregnant, I’d go on baby boards and read about fellow pregnant moms who had to stand all day long—in a classroom full of kids.

I knew to shut my mouth and not complain.

Because really, I find it difficult to manage three kids by myself; to think that teachers do this with a zillion more kids every day is humbling.

Or how about high-risk jobs like firefighters or police officers? I imagine those day jobs would be much harder and more stressful than dealing with kids.

Not to mention high-intensity jobs like doctors and nurses or jobs with loads of responsibilities like pilots. I also remember meeting fellow moms who were registered nurses and I couldn’t imagine doing what they do day in and day out. Although SSBE reader Vanessa mentioned that as a former nurse, she finds her old day job is still harder than staying home with the kids.

And of course you have ridiculously stressful jobs like journalists and news reporters and lawyers who probably breath a sigh of relief the minute they walk in the door, no matter how chaotic their homes may be.

Again, I could be making this all up. These are my educated guesses, and I’ll never be able to compare taking care of kids to anything other than my own job.

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