Monday, 9 March 2015

Why I don't say being a mom is my job



The other day this popped up a couple of times on my Facebook feed. I've seen variations of it for years; I'm sure everyone reading has as well. I paid a bit more attention since I am after all a mom now.

Karen had just moved with her family to Alabama , so she had to go renew her driver’s license at the County Clerk’s office. She waited for almost tow [sic] hours and when she got to the front of the line she was asked by the woman recorder to state her occupation. Karen hesitated, uncertain how to classify herself.
“Ma’am what I mean is,” explained the woman recorder, “do you have a job, or are you just a …?”
“Of course I have a job,” snapped Karen. “I’m a Mom!”

...And then it goes on to say how the clerk wouldn't accept that reply, so she called herself a "Research Associate in the field of Child Development and Human Relations." I'm sure you know how the rest goes; if not, read it here.

Now, before I take this apart, I realize the objective of these stories is to show that mothers deserve recognition and respect. And I have no argument with that, at all.  (I personally would use the term parent or stay-at-home parent instead of mom, but the stories never do, so I'll use the same language.) I also don't think it is important whether anyone has ever actually had this experience, because we all understand what the message is supposed to be.

But, having said that, I thought it would be interesting to discuss why I don't, personally, consider motherhood or parenting (two different things?) to be a "job."

There are some similarities to a job. Being a mom is work and it requires skills (which is one of the points the above article is trying to make). Many of these skills could indeed transfer to a job, and depending on a mother's paid work experience, she likely has skills that can transfer to parenting. Parenting, like a rewarding job, is also something you can take pride in.

But there are a lot of differences between being a mom and having a job. Here are some as they occur to me.

  1. No pay*
  2. No time off
  3. No vacation
  4. No sick leave
  5. No regular hours or overtime pay
  6. No promotions
  7. No boss (self-employed, kinda sorta?)
  8. No possibility of quitting, at least not ethically and not without causing trauma to a lot of people.
I wouldn't accept a job with those conditions. If I did, I'd get job dissatisfaction pretty quickly, and with good reason. That's my first reason for not saying parenting is my job. If my expectations of parenthood were remotely like those I have for a job, I'd burn out in a week.

* Some people might say "love" is the pay. I disagree. Love is not payment for services.

The second reason only came into focus for me yesterday after reading one of the BabyCenter.ca forums.  The thread was called "Does anybody feel all alone in this?" The poster, and many women after her, went on to describe how their husbands/significant others (all male) were not interacting or bonding with their babies, and not helping much or at all with household chores.  Husbands complaining if mom asked them to hold the baby so they could have a shower. Too "scared" to give the baby a bath.  Handing baby back to mom immediately when she fusses.

Some women said they talked to their significant others (or in one case "threw a fit like a five year old") and then the situation improved. Others made excuses: men find it hard to interact with babies when they are too little. Their mothers raised them alone so maybe that's how they're supposed to raise children. Husband works full time at a challenging job so he thinks his time at home is to relax, and maybe that's reasonable. He can't be expected to understand because he didn't give birth to the baby. And oh, I'm a stay at home parent so isn't parenting my "job?"

 I don't offend easily, really I don't, but reading that thread made me SO ANGRY.

This is the biggest reason I don't say that being a mom is "my job." Despite all the cute job titles you can create, calling motherhood a job is reinforcing the whole outdated "separate spheres" concept of Dad goes to work, Mom does all the childcare/household work (whether or not she is working outside the home.) If I thought that notion was long abandoned the BabyCentre discussion sure proved me wrong.

 I don't believe there is any one right way to parent. By all means divide up the domestic chores any way that works for you. But communicate effectively so that you know both partners are happy, and that one of them is not constantly crying/anxious/unable to take an uninterrupted shower/unable to leave the baby with partner EVER. Because if anything like that is happening you do not have a happy home or a healthy relationship. Some families will have a stay at home parent, for a long or short time. It might be fair for the stay at home parent to do more or most of the domestic tasks. But becoming a parent is a bigger commitment than any job, and it is a shared commitment between both parents. No excuses.

What do you think? Am I missing anything here?



30 comments:

  1. I completely agree with you about this. Well said!

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    1. thanks and thanks for reading :-)

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  2. On a similar note, it always makes M ragey when some dads refer to having to "babysit" their own kids. He always freaks out: "It's not called babysitting, it's f$#&ing PARENTING!"

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    1. !@#$ing really?! Babysitting your own kids. I understand the divorce rate in a new way now.

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  3. Well said. I do call parenting the "hardest job I've ever had" sometimes (I am a full time WOHM), but you're right, that it's less a job, and more a vocation: a calling. Perhaps that encapsulates more of the commitment?

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    1. I like the word vocation, yes. I think that comes close. Thanks!

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  4. What a thoughtful post -- I don't yet know firsthand what the realities of motherhood are, but know enough through friends that I was furious right along with you! And I loved, "I wouldn't accept a job with those conditions." Love this!

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    1. Thanks. It's funny how things that are abstract and theoretical before parenthood suddenly become so significant and emotional. And even though I try not to start thinking I know how people should run their lives, it's hard to hear about other moms with babies the age of mine struggling with their relationships and responsibilities. At first there's all the excitement of the baby coming, all that sweetness and innocence, but as time goes on all the other realities of the situation come into play.

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  5. I cannot begin to tell you how much this annoys me. Although we've always been a pretty good team splitting domestic responsibilities fairly evenly, when Pickle arrived Mr Duncan started to drop the ball. When I called him on it he said 'but I help you with the baby'. HELLO! You do NOT 'help' me with the baby. You participate in her primary care which is equally your responsibility. He is, in fact, excellent with her, but I continue to have to remind him her care is in addition to, not instead of the other things that need doing. Its a work in progress...

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    1. Thanks for the comment. It's good to hear you are working on it. I think as long as a couple are communicating, it's fine to be a "work in progress." (We all are). Definitely roles and routines change for both spouses!

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  6. Wow! That's a wonderful post and you are not wrong at any single point. Being a mother is the hardest job in the world and if you a SAHM, then it's even harder than the hardest. Bringing up the child is not just the mum's responsibility - couples should divide the chores and help each other out. Great post!

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    1. Thanks! I'm just starting out as a mom, but I know there is much more to learn and more responsibilities and challenges. It's good to know we can face it as a team - makes such a difference emotionally.

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  7. On a somewhat related note, while touring all these day cares, I've realized how much of a job professional child care is, and how much better the professionals are at it that I would be. The constant activities, the constant engagement, and the creativity of teachers seems out of reach for me. And they're paid cash for it. With a little bit of love and affection thrown in as a bonus.

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    1. You make a good point. I think the daycare that we are hoping to get AJ into has the kind of the professionals you describe. At least, I liked what I saw, and since I work with (older) children myself I do trust my judgment and my instincts. Knowing that the people who will be caring for my child are professionals who are good at what they do will make a huge difference when I have to leave her, though I know it will still be terribly hard.

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  8. You make excellent points! I don't consider raising Paloma a job but I never thought of all the reasons why. Whenever someone asks me what I do, I say I'm on mat leave from where I work.

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    1. Yes, I think of teaching as my job still, too. Although I have been a teacher much longer than I've been a parent at this point, so perhaps that has something to do with it. On some level I don't think I've quite accepted that I'm a mom. I have no problem calling myself a mother, but I don't quite believe it yet hahaha.

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  9. i concur with your last para. Communication, shared commitment. Yes. And I never really liked that forward when it made the rounds on Facebook though I never thought about why.

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    1. I never liked it much either, though some of that had to do with not finding it very believable. However when I read the BabyCentre forum and the theme of "maybe it's OK for my husband to not help me out at all because I'm a stay at home mom and this is my JOB" I sorta lost it hahahaha. Thank you for reading.

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  10. You're right - when looking at it as a job parenting doesn't fare well ;)
    It's so strange how divided and dissonant perspectives are - on the one hand many people think it's best for the baby if mom stays home with them (even more so in my home country, where you're basically considered a bad mom if you work full time before they go to middle school) and at the same time there's so little respect for the effort it takes to care for and raise a child. From society and often from the dads, too. I think my husband didn't realize how much work it was until he had to take care of SB while we were in the midst of our 2nd and 3rd nanny search (silver lining!).
    I'd also say it's hard to keep a balance even when both parents are working - practically I do most of the baby care (nursing because of biology, diaper changes because he'll hand off a stinky baby very quickly though it's gotten better) and more than half of the household stuff (a pattern we didn't manage to break before she arrived). However he very much wants to play with her when he comes home from work. I agree that communication is key, and knowing how much work it actually takes, too.

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    1. Yes, agreed. I did not include the perspective of two working parents because we have not experienced that yet so I don't personally know much about it, but I know there will be more challenges. I guess what is key for me is that in addition to the communication, both partners really WANT to be involved in the parenting and look for ways to do that, despite whatever challenges the couple is facing. It's that feeling of being in the same boat, both rowing the same direction whatever storm you may be facing. What really twigged me about the comments in the BabyCentre forum were that that some partners did not seem to care at all about taking an active role, were looking for excuses to not do so, and thought it was totally OK to use traditional gender roles as an excuse for that behaviour.

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  11. I think we can call mum a job if we call daughter a job. Or wife a job. Or any other caretaking position that we may find ourselves in since mother isn't the only caretaking position.

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    1. That is a very good point and I like how it re-frames this whole discussion. :-) Thanks for reading.

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  12. That woman is ridiculous and insulting. I was a childcare professional. That's a job. I am now a parent. That's my LIFE. I think it's demeaning to academics, childcare professionals, teachers, AND parents to say this crap. Ugh. Sorry. That just really gets under my skin. And funny timing; I just read another post on this the other day!

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    1. Thanks for the comment; well said. l think being a mom also reduces one's tolerance for crap.

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  13. I think I wasn't prepared for the relentlessness of this particular set of duties. 14 years in and I'm still floored by it!

    I don't think you're mistaken at all. Each couple needs to figure out how to validate and appreciate the other's contributions and step in when the other is near the breaking point (if they want to up their chances at having a happy home, anyway). I think that requires continually tuning in. I remember doing that well with the my babies but I didn't immediately extend that attunement to my husband, too.

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    1. Love how you put it here: "Each couple needs to figure out how to validate and appreciate the other's contributions and step in when the other is near the breaking point (if they want to up their chances at having a happy home, anyway)." That is so true although I think it can be done at any time not just at breaking point, unless you call breaking point "mildly frustrated." Mr. Turtle will take AJ from me if she is crying and I'm baffled what to do. Often the change of caregiver will distract and then she's happier, and I get to watch him interact with her which I find so adorable. So little things like that help me to feel supported and respected.

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