This issue arises from time to time during conversations with people who, by their comments, insinuate that those who stay at home have it made without any difficulties. Well, not quite.
I'm honestly not sure if there's less stress serving in the at-home role. You have challenges in either arena and you have good days and bad days in both. However, what I want to help communicate is that it's not stress free by any means. Rather, your sources of stress change - some you can manage and some you can't, some go away and some don't, and some are eerily similar.
One great source of stress in the business world is deadlines. Everything has a deadline. Our culture and economy is one that is time based and productivity driven. So, the deadline is the corporate equivalent of antivirus software - it's always running in the background and it allows for the smooth function of every other system. Interestingly, this stressor is alive and well for the at-home parent. Now, however, instead of getting the email sent by 9 a.m., you have to be at gymnastic class by 1 p.m.; instead of being in the meeting beginning at 8:30 a.m. sharp you have to be at the teacher conference at 3 p.m.
Another great source of stress is dealing with people. People can be moody, people can be mean, people can be rude. People don't do what they say they're going to do, they intentionally manipulate situations, they lie, cheat, and steal. When you deal with your young child all day long every day you know what you learn? Yep. They can be moody, they can be mean and they can be rude. And, as they grow up they learn to manipulate situations, they lie, cheat and steal. Why? Because they're people too! But in the at-home role you can't escape your child and dealing with that is a source of stress.
Beyond these commonly-themed ones, there are a host of stressors for at-home parents that outside the home working people avoid. These stressors can be physical, environmental, emotional, or relational.
Physically, you are always alert for ways they can hurt themselves - a low level source of constant awareness and stress. Will they fall out of the crib? The grocery cart? Will they run into the street? Any loose animals than could cause a problem? Can they chew that? Will they choke? Environmentally, you're always aware of trouble. After all, child abductions happen and kids wonder off. If you think it can't happen to you, you're naive.
Emotional stressors can be as simple as crying. Crying is cute at first and can even be quite helpful. Long bouts of crying, however, can bring you to your knees and take you to the edge of your sanity. And there's no one coming to help you either. You just have to deal with it. If you've ever been in a car with a child whose been crying for about 30 minutes you've felt this emotional stress.
Relational stress can surface by simply helping your child learn to "play well with others". When your child bites another, or kicks or hits, you feel the relational and emotional stress of the event as a parent.
The at-home world is no easy world to navigate. The stressors may be a little different, but they are as real and as unrelenting as with any other job.