I’m finally beginning to realize something as a stay-at-home dad. I’ve tried before to articulate this feeling — this little buzz in the back of my brain I can’t quite shake — but I have failed miserably. I either sound like an entitled whiner, or a passive-aggressive, attention-seeking monster – hopefully, I’m neither. What I’ve realized is simple, so painfully simple, in fact, it may seem silly when I type it. But here goes: I can’t complain about work.
Complaining about work is as baked into the human psyche as casually discussing the weather. It’s just a thing we do. We all experience weather, so we chat about it. We all work in one way or another, and even the greatest job is still just a job. It’s healthy to complain. In fact, it’s useful. It’s a simple part of being human; however, I have been unable to partake in this activity for more than eight years.
For example, I clean the crumbs out of the same ridges on the top of the same plastic containers every morning of my fucking life. Who cares, right? Maybe you have a multi-million dollar deal fall apart because of a simple mistake you made, and your life feels like it’s falling apart. If so, my nonsense crumb story seems trivial. I get it, but the soul-crushing futility of this daily task hurts me as deeply as your massive failure at work, but I can’t verbalize this. How can losing millions of dollars and a damaged career compare to the mental energy I need to expend getting deep down into godforsaken, filth-filled crevices of our generic Tupperware?
I wake up every morning with no commute waiting for me. There’s no passive-aggressive middle manager asking me about TPS reports. I never need to launch a multi-cubicle manhunt after discovering someone stole my lunch from the community fridge. I’m home. I’m in the place where I’m most comfortable. My coworkers are my favorite people in the world. I get to see my wife more than most spouses do (whether she likes it or not!). Crucially, I get to bathe in the unending light and joy of being a part of every moment, big and small, in my children’s lives. A gift for which I’ll be forever grateful.
So how can I possibly complain about my work?
How can I complain to my wife? She makes all the money and takes care of all the mental tasks for which she is best qualified. Any complaint I levy to her is essentially complaining about her, and I’m not really a guy who complains about his wife. Not in writing, anyway.
How can I complain about work to my friends? They have jobs and busy lives. They have long commutes and annoying coworkers. From their perspective, I’m hanging at home with all the free time in the world. They don’t see their kids every day. They take business trips, missing baseball games and dance recitals. Their relationships suffer in their absence as they chase big goals. How am I going to complain to these folks about laughing all day at a pair of kittens and my beautiful 3.5-year-old? My biggest annoyance of the day: how long I had to wait to make a U-turn in the school car line.
Despite all the reasons I feel I can’t complain about work, I have to admit I’m falling apart a little. Maybe more than a little.
At the end of these long days as a househusband, I’m exhausted. I’m physically and mentally drained. How much excitement can a person be expected to generate for yet another successful poop in the potty? I’m drained. Empty. I’m the arbiter of dozens and dozens of daily petty arguments, arguing with the lawyer-like presentations of my children. Soon, I’m convinced, they’ll start using PowerPoint.
And there’s no escape. There’s no daily break. I don’t get to leave and do something else for 40 hours a week. This is my life. Always. All the time. An unending stretch of sameness. I miss coworkers. I miss working with a group of people to achieve something, even if that something is a useless work task. Yeah, I really miss it. I bet you can’t imagine missing that sort of thing. Me neither! I’m shocked I miss it, but I do! I miss surly customers. I miss a commute with decent music and compelling podcasts.
Yeah, yeah. The grass is greener. Blah Blah Blah.
My life is amazing. I truly live in a dream world, but I think I just needed to complain a little, even if my work doesn’t seem like work to others. I needed permission to be a little frustrated and exhausted like the rest of you, without the accompanying guilt. If you have a stay-at-home parent in your life, try your best to accept their complaints as equal to yours. We’re busting ass every day. Same as you.
I seek no pedestal. I only wish to be your equal. Every now and then I need to belly up to the bar, sip my beer, and bitch about my crazy co-workers. See you there.