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I’m a stay-at-home dad. People say all kinds of dumb things to stay-at-home dads. This blog began as a way for me to record these comments and criticize the people who said them. However, it's evolved, and I now use it to express other random thoughts on parenting, children, gender, and society. Thanks for checking it out.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

“So, What Do YOU Do All Day?”

As my millions of fans know (millions, dozens, whatever), I write about dumb things people say to me when they find out I’m a stay-at-home dad. It’s been my intention from the beginning to focus on things people say to stay-at-home dads, not stay-at-home parents in general. Plenty of asinine comments are directed at stay-at-home moms every day, and I don’t mean to disregard that fact, but I’m going to stick with what I know. And I believe the two lists of stupid comments are distinct enough that I can dedicate a blog solely to the dad side of it.
There is, of course, some overlap. Today’s comment represents an interesting and ironic slice of that overlap. It’s one that stay-at-home parents of both sexes hear, but it means different things depending on the recipient.
When moms hear it, it goes like this: “So, what do you DO all day?”
It’s the last thing you should ask a stay-at-home mom. Look it up. They hate hearing it, and for good reason. It implies that their job is easy, conjuring up images of comfortable, makeup-less women relaxing on sofas, watching daytime soaps and eating economy-size packages of Double Stuf Oreos. Stay-at-home moms know that spending the day with screaming, messy, ungrateful, destructive kids who can’t give you two goddamn minutes to pee in peace, let alone wash the dishes, is a nerve-racking, exhausting job, and they don’t like to have their blood, sweat and tears come under question.
One of those clever Internet memes.
Stay-at-home dads don’t like it either. However, when we hear the question, it goes like this:
“So, what do YOU do all day?”
Notice the emphasis is on a different word. That’s an important distinction, because it carries with it a whole different preconception. And here’s the kicker. You know who says it every time I hear it? Stay-at-home moms.
Take this one time, for instance. I had just dropped off my son at school, and I was at the grocery store, buying some ingredients for that night’s dinner. I ran into one of my friendly neighborhood stay-at-home moms, and we had the following exchange:
Her: So, what do YOU do all day?
Me: Oh, pretty much the same stuff you do. Like, for example, here we both are at the grocery store.
Her: Oh! Well, I suppose so.
Now, I should probably explain the context a bit more. It was September, and my son had just started half-day three-year-old kindergarten. This was before my daughter was born, so for that school year, I did have it pretty easy. I dropped my son off at school at 9:00 and picked him up at noon. After I’d bring him home and fix him his lunch, he’d usually take a nap. I’ll be the first to admit that, of the four-plus years I’ve been doing the stay-at-home thing, those were the least demanding nine months.
Still, it wasn’t a vacation. The house needed to be kept clean, meals needed to be cooked, laundry needed to be done—all the same tasks as before, just without my needy, babbling sidekick.
The lady who asked me also had a child in school, but she, unlike me, still had a one-year-old at home with her. There was a hint of envy in her question, and she had the air of a worn-down prisoner looking through the bars at someone who had just gained sweet freedom. So I gave her a pass, figuring she was simply referring to the fact that I was now childless for part of my day and she wasn’t.
But then, that same day, it happened again. This time, it was a mom whose only child was also in kindergarten, so she was in a situation just like mine. We were picking up our kids from school when she said it: “So, what do YOU do all day?”
Same question, same unmistakable emphasis on “you,” as if to say, “Hey, I know I still have plenty to do even though my kid is in school, but what could you possibly be filling your mornings with?”
That time, it was harder for me to write it off as I had done earlier. Then, probably three days later, I heard it again. Same tone, and from another a stay-at-home mom. Then I heard it again. And again. And again. Every time, from a stay-at-home mom.
It’s an innocent enough question, and it’s not said with any malice. It’s just that, everybody knows it’s a question you never, ever, ever, ever, under any circumstances, ask a stay-at-home mom. Well, maybe not everybody knows that. But damn. You’d think a stay-at-home mom would.
I suppose I should be only half offended. The fact that these moms never asked me this question before my son was in school—and haven’t asked it again since my daughter was born—means they’re acknowledging that I take care of my kids the same as they do. But there’s something fishy about so many of them asking it when my son started school. Apparently they were assuming I was dropping off my son and immediately heading home to play video games, drink cheap beer, take a nap, make a mess for my wife to clean up or all of the above.
What a terrible thing to assume.
Me, apparently.
Number one, I would never drink cheap beer. Number two, my wife works all day. Do they really think I expect her to spend her nights and weekends scrubbing floors, folding my socks, and going grocery shopping? Do they think I’m that lazy or incompetent? And do they think my wife is that much of a sucker that she would allow her husband to pull that crap?
Maybe that’s the thing. Maybe they’re just not thinking. That’s how dumb things get said by otherwise intelligent people.
So, to the millions (or dozens, as the case may be) of moms reading this, when my daughter goes to school in a few years, please don’t start asking me again what I do all day. Just assume I’m doing something constructive, as you expect others to assume of you. We’re all domestic brothers and sisters in the struggle to be fully appreciated and celebrated, aren’t we? So let’s ally our forces to defeat the ignorance, not perpetuate it.


  1. Maybe they think you have something more fun planned than we do. Like if I were to ask you "What do YOU do all day?" It would be more of a "Ooh, Dave's a fun guy, maybe he has an idea of something to do that's NOT vacuuming!" At least in my mind that's what it is. And also, my husband has asked me the same thing about next year when both kids will be in school "What will you do while they're gone?" How about finally get around to actually cleaning rather than the quick wipe of crumbs/sweep dog hair back under the couch that I usually do?

  2. Thanks, Amber. I know some moms who ask me are just making harmless conversation, and I don't mean to say they're all inconsiderate jerks. I just hear it so much that it's hard to assume they all think I'm a fun-loving guy with whimsical plans.