Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hardest Job in the World?

This piece on Babble is generating a lot of debate among my mother friends (and the occasional father and non-father, too).

The piece essentially says that motherhood, though difficult and exhausting and emotionally explosive at times, is NOT the hardest job in the world. It goes on to say that jobs like corn husking and working at Chuck E. Cheese (!!) are, in fact, more difficult and that all we moms need to calm the hell down. At least that is what I thought on my first reading.

On my second reading, I had a different takeaway. I think what she was/is saying is that motherhood IS difficult and taxing and exhausting, but that WE make it incredibly hard on ourselves and we need to let ourselves off the hook a little.

At first I was so angry that someone (a mother of five no less) had the nerve to suggest that motherhood was anything but the "hardest job in the world." And even though I loathe platitudes like I loathe Winnie the Pooh, Disney and Precious Moments, I also do derive comfort from the idea that when Sam is making me want to drown myself in a puddle out back, there are thousands of other moms feeling the same way. I did not (and still do not) need to read an essay from some super happy housewife who walks around feeling creatively fulfilled, intellectually stimulated and happy hanging out with squaking munchkins.

This was NOT that article. Let me be very clear about that since some people have misread it. The piece is NOT about that. In fact, it is it is the opposite: a call to moms to stop the madness and stop killing ourselves to make sure our children are properly stimulated, full of organic foods/breastmilk and happy at all times. That is where the misery comes in. And on this point, I agree with the author immensely.

Because I have been crazy in many ways with my kids. In addition to the constant guilt, I am always worried that Sam is not getting enough stimulation. On the odd chance we spend a day at home, I feel horribly guilty. I derive little joy from motherhood at times because I am always worried about what is next or whether Sam had enough intellectual stimulation that day. I try very hard to balance the play--the trips to the park, the long walks, the Children's/science museum/aquarium--with the intellectual--the helping her with her reading, art class, spanish class, ballet/gymnastics. It can be exhausting, though, that constant worry that I did not do enough, feed her brain enough, let her blow off steam enough. It is the conatant worry that DOES make motherhood so stressful.

So since reading the article (um, on Monday) I have tried to chill the eff out. To take it all a little less seriously (although, not that much less seriously, after all, what is more serious than motherhood?) I find people who can't laugh, who have little sense of humor and are wound WAY too tight to be tedious and annoying, so I was surprised to realize that in the realm of motherhood, I may have become like that.

I am trying to derive more pleasure from my kids and trying to look at it less as a job and more as a relationship, one that occasionally makes me laugh, cry and scream in frustration. By looking at motherhood as a "job," we do take some of the joy out of it and I find myself anxious for R to get home and relieve me. But motherhood is something totally different, an ongoing process, a 24/7 experience. It is probably the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life (meanwhile the author says her summer spent husking corn was more difficult).

She has taken issue with some of the comments in the comments section of her piece, insisting that she never once said motherhood was a cakewalk. And she didn't. She says repeatedly in the piece that motherhood is trying, indeed. But if husking corn is "harder" then I guess I would ask: what is your definition of hard? Because motherhood IS full of backbreaking labor. There are days where I have to scrub Alan's bum three times, dump Sam's old potty 10 more and also clean up after every meal (and try to stress when they don't eat). I am a maid, a referee, a babysitter, a dog walker, a laundress AND a writer (and runner) every single day. How on earth is corn husking or working at Chuck E. Cheese harder than that? No I have never worked in the rice paddies under the hot sun, but being a mom is not easy.

I say, if you think motherhood is easy, then you are doing something wrong. It is FAR from easy. But it does have moments of joy and fun (at times) and sometimes when I look at it like my day job, I forget that.

So, do I agree with the article? Yes and no. Mostly no. I actually think the writer has a dangerous lack of clarity in the piece that leaves it open to interpretation and misreading. I am not sure that even she knew fully what she wanted to say (and as a writer for Babble, I do sympathize). But I do appreciate the perspective it has given me and the insight that maybe I am "working" too damn hard at this. Maybe I should try to enjoy it a little more.


knit kristen said...

Sash, This is AWESOME!! Babble should publish as a rebuttal, seriously! I think you do a much better job of articulating the points than the author did. While overall I agreed with the piece, I do think her examples of "harder jobs" were a bit pathetic...when I have talked about the meaning of the article I always use things like Alaskan King Crab Fishing or Brain Surgeon as my comparisons! But in the end, I don't even think motherhood is a job! I love reclassifying it as a "complex relationship."

The good thing is the article did get us all thinking - and talking. You have beautiful children who are smart, funny, and polite. You are doing your "job" quite well and I am glad you are able to enjoy it!

Andromeda said...

I basically agreed with the author of the piece (although didn't want to say that on Facebook for fear everyone would kill me ;). Then again, V and I spend a lot of time hanging out at home or at the park, and I have very low standards for housekeeping. I do think there's this social expectation that you're supposed to *make* parenting hard on yourself, to structure every moment of time and pull it off like Martha Stewart (at least, if you are an affluent suburban type), and I've never been excited about buying into that.

halloweenlover said...

I say all the time (and maybe people get annoyed at me), but for me, being a corporate lawyer was wayyyyy harder than being a mom. I worked around the clock (much like I do now), was on call all the time (same as now), but my bosses were shitty assholes who were totally unappreciative of my work and time commitment. These days, maybe the kids are not particularly appreciative of my time commitment, but they are really stinking cute and funny and I love them to death and we do have huge portions of the day that are great fun.

I wanted to shoot myself at the law firm, these days, even on my worst days, I just wish for the day to end, but I don't have suicidal thoughts.

The article is interesting though, and I agree with knit kristen that I like the idea of reframing motherhood as a relationship rather than a job. Thanks for pointing this out! I'd missed the article!

kate said...

I, too, think the main point is redefining mothering as a relationship instead of a profession. It probably took on that meaning because at-home mothers felt a need to justify their choices to a world of women who have opted for careers.

But I do have to explain this: that corn detasseling is NOT corn husking; it's far, far worse. I haven't actually had to do that job myself, but my dad, a farmer, held it up as an example of how good we had it, and why we should stop griping about having to help freeze, can, chase cattle, and pull shattercane out of soybean fields. :)

Kathleen (