Most fathers probably know better than to come home from work and ask their exhausted, frazzled, overwhelmed wife what she does at home all day. But some of them wonder. Until you've experienced being a full-time stay-at-home parent, you simply don't know what it's like.
If you're a father who really wants a peek into the world of stay-at-home parenting, you could always take a week or two off work and give it a try. Your wife has to go out all day every day, though. You can never compare being one half of a parenting team to doing it all by yourself.
Being the only parent at home all day brings a varied set of challenges. It's not just twice the amount of work, but sometimes more, partly because things get out of hand very quickly when you don't have another adult around to constantly 'hand off to' when things start to get messy.
If giving it a try simply isn't practical, here's an overview of just some of the things your wife does all day.
She entertains children
I remember reading an interview with a celebrity (who didn't have children) complaining that many moms let their kids watch too much TV. She suggested they should give them paper and crayons instead and encourage their artistic side.
I had a two-year-old and a four-year-old at the time, and I laughed and laughed. At that age, my kids would watch TV for about ten minutes, then do some coloring for ten minutes, leaving me approximately another 12 hours and 40 minutes of their waking day to fill.
Kids need a lot of entertainment and occupation. Playing, singing, dancing, drawing, painting, story-telling and puppet shows are probably just part of your wife's repertoire.
She feeds children
Kids are often hungry, and not just at meal times. Sometimes moms feel like they spend all day fixing snacks, drinks and more snacks. You try to devise a schedule, but toddlers aren't always very respectful of that.
I resorted to making a sign that said, 'The Kitchen is Closed' to discourage the constant requests for snacks outside of my designated snack times. I think they were the first four words my kids learned to read.
She cleans up messes
Spills, messes and post-snack devastation take up a large chunk of the stay-at-home mom's day. As does cleaning up art materials, mud, pet hair and various bodily fluids (child and animal).
One mommy blogger estimated that each child goes through around 7,200 diapers before finally potty training (you can see the math here). If your child is in day care from babyhood, someone else will change most of them. A stay-at-home mom will tend to change most, if not all, of them herself.
She picks up toys
Just because you come home from work to find toys all over the floor, never assume they're the same ones that have been there all day. Mom has probably picked up several times already. Those toys just keep coming out again.
She does household chores (sometimes twice)
When you have young kids at home all day, beds don't stay made, dishes don't stay washed, kitchen floors don't stay clean and sofas don't stay crumb-free. Many things that were once a day (or even once-a-week) chores when she was single now need to be done multiple times a day.
Shopping was easy in pre-motherhood days, but now it's a major expedition just to do the weekly grocery shopping. Shopping is particularly interesting during the potty-training phase, or if one of the kids is sick or teething. There's no evidence that tantrums and meltdowns tend to happen more often in a crowded store, but it certainly feels that way.
The generic term 'shopping' often includes running a ton of other errands, which would probably take a child-free adult a few minutes each, but which take an awful lot longer when you have to get a baby and toddler in and out of the car at every stop.
She coordinates schedules
You may think young children don't have a lot of commitments, but they do. There's the vaccination schedule, pediatrician and dentist visits, haircuts and enrichment activities.
That's before you factor in playdates and birthday parties. I used to color code my schedule so that my kids' activities were in red and blue and mine were in green. I knew I needed to get out more when the only thing in green (for the whole month) was a OBGYN visit.
Moms are responsible for storing and managing a lot of information, from food preferences and allergies, to weaning rules and current shoe sizes. The more organized ones have a system and write it all down. Others try to carry it all in their head, which is why we sometimes forget our own name (isn't it just 'mom'?).
This is not a comprehensive list. What your wife does all day will depend on a lot of different factors including the number and ages of the kids she has at home. But I can almost guarantee you, it's more than you realize.