I don’t think I am the only SAHM who experience this all the time : People tend to think that just because I don’t work outside home, I must have a lot of time and flexibility to take on extra errands or commitments. I also often find it difficult to just say,”I am not free” and turn down requests because what kind of “legitimate” excuse can I give? Somehow, it sounds more legitimate to say :
“I will be on a business trip.”
“I have a meeting that day.”
“I have a report deadline to meet.”
But how do these sound?
“I have to stay home because my son will be coming home from school at that hour.”
“I have to cook dinner.”
“My kids are having exams. I have to stay home to make sure they do their revision.”
“I can’t go at this time. My kid needs to nap.”
I must admit, sometimes I feel a little embarrassed about it. It is because of this that I feel like I can’t turn down a request.
The truth is that I am busy, just like any other person. I don’t have the kind of flexibility that people think that I have. This applies to other SAHMs too, I am sure. We have the house to clean, laundry to do, meals to cook, kids to supervise and manage, teachings to do. It may appear that we are our own bosses so we must have the flexibility in terms of time and commitment. As far as SAHMs with young children are concerned, we don’t. We cannot be dragging our kids with us everywhere we go, upsetting their daily routine. This is even more so if we have babies. If our school age children are coming home from school at a certain hour, then we have to stay home so that they can get into the house! If they are young, when they are at home, we have to be home too. Then there is the fetching and ferrying for chauffeur moms to do. We can’t “change appointment” at a whim. If the kids have classes at a certain time on a certain day, that is pretty much fixed.
Those of us who have no other adults (e.g. grandparents or maids) at home have even less flexibility. Every time we need to plan a trip out, we have to make babysitting arrangement. If we do not have a ready source of babysitting help, then it can be quite difficult to make such arrangement. Asking our husbands to take a day off work cannot happen all the time, and usually reserved for very important things, like going for a medical appointment. Even that involves a lot of prior arrangement because a lot depends on whether our husbands have important commitments at work.
You would think a bunch of SAHMs, with time on their hand and autonomy to decide what to do with their time, should have no problem arranging to meet one another. The fact is that it is often more difficult to arrange to meet other SAHMs! This is especially so if we have kids going to school and classes at different times.
Anyway, this is not a defence for why we cannot agree to every request and engagement. It is just an explanation of why we seem so free when we say we are not. We are not trying to pretend that we are busy or cook up excuses to turn down requests. I guess you have to understand the nature of our work. Our work at home involves a lot of nitty gritty bits of things which takes up time to do. I would much rather sit down and write article after article than to pick up after the kids because it is just so much easier. At least my mind is focused on one thing and I am seated somewhere for a period of time to complete a job, rather than to have 50 little bits of things to think about here and there and walking around the house picking stuff up and putting them back to where they belong, only to have the house look messy again the next day. In a sense, we can never ‘finish’ doing something.
At any one time, while doing one thing, there are a few other things of different nature going on that I have to keep in mind. E.g. if I am cooking, I can’t just focus on my cooking. I have to keep one eye on the clock and be mindful about sending one of the kids to school, or picking one up from school. If I am supervising one doing homework in the morning, I have to be careful not to forget to cook lunch at the set time, or else there won’t be lunch for the kid before he has to go to school. If I have several things to do on a given day, I have to mentally plan when to do each of them as I have to work with pockets of time around things that I cannot change (e.g. school time). It will be disastrous if I do something in the morning, which could have been done in the afternoon, resulting in something else that has to be done in the morning not done. Expand that complication to involve considerations for days and weeks. E.g. certain things can only be done on certain days, etc. That’s quite a bit of things to keep in mind all the time. After all these years, I kind of develop the ability to do mental CPA (Critical Path Analysis). This is why I have clocks everywhere in the house. Being mindful of time is very important. This is also why “rubber timers” irritate me very much.
No doubt, there are times when I am free. It is just that times when I am more free may not be the time other people are free. Another misconception is that since I spend every day with my children, my weekends must be free, whereas a WOHM’s precious weekend is her only chance to have “quality time” with her children. This is not true. Weekends are the only time for us to have “family time” to do things as a family. In this, we are no different from other families. The only difference is that other families have two adults working outside on weekdays. In fact, for me, weekends can be busier because it is the only time I have to do things that I can’t do without having another adult around.
Just like everybody else, we have to consciously set boundaries and put aside time for just nothing. E.g. during the few weeks of exam preparations, on top of the daily chores, I was fully occupied with helping my kids with exam preparation. I did not get to go out much. I knew from past experience that I would be suffering from cabin fever before long. So I had to consciously set aside the time after the exam period to do relaxing stuff outside the house. I cannot jump from one project (exam) to another (e.g help in school concerts) straightaway. I probably need some ME-time. Otherwise I will get quite crabby.
So, if I ever have to say “I am not free” to you, you know the reasons.