Stay at home parent vs working parent: who has it worse?

New parents do it tough, that's for damn sure. But does one do it slightly tougher than the other?

Stay at home parent vs working parent

There comes a significant milestone in each new parent’s relationship soon after the baby is born and one of them has returned to work.

It begins innocuously enough: one parent complains to the other how tired they are. The recipient of this information must then channel what little strength they have left to resist banging their head off a wall (their own, or their partner’s).

Instead, he or she locks eyes with their opponent and incredulously replies:

“And I’m NOT tired?”

And so begins the never ending argument of “Which is Harder: Stay at Home Parent or Working Parent?”

So which is? Let’s take a look at the two contenders…

In the red-eyed corner:

stay at home mum exhausted

Status: Stay at Home Parent

Weight: Unknown, but probably not what they want

Height: Unknown, but feels like a clumsy giant compared to infant

Life Insurance 300x250

Reach: Severely limited due to an attached baby

Profile: Primary carer to infant baby (feeding, changing, soothing, nurturing, anticipating every need), maintaining a home, doing everything one handed, barely a second to themselves, limited interaction with adults.

Energy Levels: Just above comatose

In the grey bags under the eyes corner:

Working dad exhausted

Status: Working Parent

Weight: Heavy due to holding the emotional and mental burden of being the sole breadwinner (probably)

Height: Crushed due to previously stated burden

Reach: Just about the end of their rope

Profile: Full time employment, no usual downtime after work due to immediately helping with care of child, no usual downtime on weekends (see above), feelings of guilt for not spending enough time with child and partner.

Energy Levels: On auto-pilot pretty much 24/7


Opponents may also be subject to additional disadvantages, such as:

  • Fly in Fly out schedules
  • Long commute times
  • Overtime
  • Work at home
  • Ill or elderly relatives to take care of
  • Personal health conditions to manage
  • Multiple kids/babies

And the winner, by unanimous decision, is…

Who cares? This is not an argument that will ever end well.

It’s important to recognise that, while whatever role you take on is difficult, so is the role of your partner. Your best chance to survive (and maybe even flourish) is to work together as a team, not compete with each other and tear each other down.

Keeping things above the belt

With all that in mind, here are some phrases to avoid when you find yourself inside the ring:

“You have no idea how tired I am”.  Yes she does, and by saying this you are suggesting that she is not tired, and what she is doing is not challenging and exhausting.

“It’s different for you, you get to stay at home with/have a break from the baby.” Guess what… She is thinking exactly the same thing. Don’t you think you would both dearly love to switch roles for a day? But if you could do it for several days you would soon find yourselves both begging for your old roles back. Far away hills and all that…

“Take care of the baby would you? I’m just going to lay down for a bit.” No, just no. What would your reaction be if a co-worker was to dump you with all the work so they could have a nap in the middle of the day? The only way this one maybe* works is if it’s a team arrangement where you both get a turn to power nap/power up.

What worked for my partner and I

Soon after I returned to work we noticed we were engaging in an exhaustion competition, so much so that one day I caught myself feigning falling asleep on the couch just to prove a point.

dad exhausted asleep with baby

After that, I decided I would much rather be an adult than prolong such nonsense, so we sat down and came up with a couple of rules that we thought would work for us:

Rule #1. No Rushing Home. 

I used to leave work as soon as I possibly could, drive straight home and then get shitty because I didn’t have time to wind down after work. Now I make sure to slow down a bit after knock off time and chat with co-workers for a little bit. Sometimes I watch videos on my phone for 10 minutes before driving off; whatever I need to do so that when I get home, I can help out straight away.

Rule #2. If the other person says they are tired, just let it go… 

Yes it’s annoying, but just let them say it. They probably are especially exhausted that day and yes you’re tired too! It’s really not worth arguing over.

Rule #3. It’s okay to let the house go a little bit sometimes.

What would you rather – an immaculate home or a significant other with their sanity intact?

*Rule #4. Naps may be requested under special circumstances. 

It’s important this allowance is not abused, but if work has been non-stop since the get go, or baby has not stopped screaming all day, then you may request a nap or some time alone.

Sure those rules won’t work for everyone, but neither will yelling at your partner about how they couldn’t possibly be as tired as you are.

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