A Stay at Home Mom’s Explanation of Why I Don’t Have Time

Recently, I’ve seen a number of posts poking fun at stay at home parents who are “too busy” or “don’t have time” to make Pinterest crafts or do meal planning or even return phone calls. As a stay at home mom of three young children, I know I’m guilty of “not having time” far too often; yet I bristle at these comments. Am I stupid or lazy; do I lack time management skills or not care about my friends and (non-munchkin) family? No, of course not. Before I decided to put my career on hold and stay home, I was a successful attorney who worked 14 hours in a day and still did volunteer work and was there for my loved ones. Now, it’s a good day if I manage to shower. So, what gives, why is it so hard to find time? After all, working parents have to do laundry, grocery shopping, dishes, and pay bills too, AND they do it on top of working a full-time career.

Here’s what I came up with. When you are a stay at home parent, every moment of every day, a huge part of your brain is occupied by your kids and what they’re doing, whether they’re safe, and what they need. I can’t turn off that my chunk of my brain or silence it since I am the only adult responsible at that moment for the wellbeing and life of three small people. I don’t mean to suggest that working parents don’t also worry about their children or love their children. The difference is that for working parents, chances are good that at some point during the day, there is a drive to work, a prep period, a lunch break, a coffee break, a few quiet minutes sometime to think a thought without interruption, plan, organize, make a mental list – a time when the children are being cared for by someone else.

It’s not exactly the same, but the closest I can come up with is this. Imagine being stuck in traffic with emergency vehicles blaring their sirens several feet away. If you wanted to have a meaningful conversation with a friend going through a tough time, would you pick up the phone while those sirens are still screaming in your ears and spend the entire conversation distracted, barely able to hear, and constantly asking your friend to repeat herself; or, would you wait a few minutes until the noise clears so you could focus on your friend and give her the attention she deserves?

As a stay at home parent, those mental sirens are going off ALL the time until the kids are in bed or another adult is around. Even if the baby is napping and the older kids are glued to the TV, a huge portion of my mind is still paying attention to them. Is the baby making weird noises? Is my older daughter imagining the living room is a pool that she should dive into head first from the coffee table? Is my little one about to stick a fork in an electrical socket to see if the fork will fit or eat a marble that looks like candy? And, it’s not just the safety concerns. It’s the little things. Is one of the kids getting too bossy, are they about to start fighting, is the little one getting hungry again, are anyone’s feelings being hurt. It doesn’t matter whether someone has one child or six; if a parent is responsible for supervising a child without another adult around, those sirens are constantly blaring at full volume.

Just the other day, I told my wonderful, caring, and supportive husband that I adore — but who like so many working outside of the home, sometimes just doesn’t get IT — that I needed a break for a few minutes. He innocently asked me why I would need that when I get a “break” every time the kids play on their own for a few minutes during the day. Sure, it’s a break in the sense that I’m not sitting on the floor actively playing a game with the munchkins or chasing them around for yet another game of tag, but mentally, my brain is still listening and paying attention to them.

I can’t turn those mental sirens off when I’m alone with the kids no matter how much I sometimes might want to. Yesterday, one of my best friends in the world was on the phone telling me that her beloved pet dog is dying. Trust me, if I could turn those sirens off to be there for her, to show her how much I care, I would have. But, that’s not possible for me. My stay-at home-mom brain is so busy thinking about the kids and what they’re doing while I’m on the phone that there isn’t much mental space left to be the person I want to be. I felt like a complete jerk when I unthinkingly interrupted her story to cheer for my daughter who had found the baby’s pacifier that had been missing for three days and driving us nuts. If I could take a step back and reflect, of course I know that what my loved one is going through is way more important than a silly baby pacifier. But, in that moment with the sirens blaring, I didn’t have enough mental capacity available to sort out what was important.

I know it seems like it should be easy to focus on a phone call and stop thinking about the kids for a few moments to give a friend or family member the undivided attention she deserves. But, here’s the thing. Let’s say I can somehow figure out a way to temporarily turn off the part of my brain that is focusing on keeping the kids safe and happy and only pay attention to a phone call. Honestly now, how would you respond to the following headlines: “Toddler Opens Front Door and Runs Into Road While Mom Chats on Phone” or “Child Suffers Serious Burns After Turning on Oven while Mom was Distracted.” Kids, even well-behaved smart kids who “know better,” are still kids. They lack common sense and judgment. It’s why our society doesn’t allow young kids to be left alone without an adult. So, whether I like it or not, if I am the only adult caring for children, I can’t and I shouldn’t push them out of my mind even when they’re happily occupied.

The next time your stay-at-home-parent friend takes nine hours to return a phone call or doesn’t have time to make bunny cupcakes from scratch for the school fair, try to remember, it’s not they she doesn’t have “time,” it’s that she has no time without the mental sirens to think, to plan, to focus on others. It’s precisely because I do care so much about you that I won’t take your phone call when I know I’m distracted.


What do you think? Do you struggle to find time? Are you stay-at-home parent? Please post a comment below!

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