Earlier this week I shared a controversial post on my blog’s Facebook page. Published on XO Jane in the Unpopular Opinion category, the article was titled, “Being a stay-at-home-mother is not a job.” I thought it would make interesting food for thought. Which, um, it did.
I wasn’t trying to incite a riot when I shared it; in hindsight, maybe it was a bit naïve of me. It seems it’s a slippery slope to have conversations about motherhood—particularly when engaging on the working vs non-working mother topic—without unintentionally fueling the fire of the gag-inducing “Mommy Wars.” (Can we all please stop using that expression already? Seriously.)
Opinions on this topic were diverse, to say the least. People mentioned things like:
- Staying home versus working is not necessarily a choice. (Yes! Preach it. Let’s think outside the box a little more, people.)
- Staying home with one’s kids is a gift.
- Motherhood is the hardest job ever.
- It is absolutely a job!
- I stay home and homeschool my kids and I am so busy!
- Shut up, we’re all busy.
- My husband works an incredibly difficult job and says he would never wish to trade places with me and stay home.
- Staying home is a privilege and a blessing, not a job.
It got a bit heated.
Really, the biggest problems with the article, in my opinion, were the author:
a) referring to parenting as a hobby (I appreciate that she was trying to make a point rather than intending this to be interpreted literally, but still. She missed the mark.)
b) comparing the “work” of parenting to camping, throwing a party, and/or having sex with one’s partner. Hmm.
I believe there is one clear answer to the “Is motherhood a job” question:
Who cares? That’s right. Who. Cares. Who the hell cares?!?!
We’re asking the wrong questions here. Instead of “do you consider the type of work you do to be an actual job?” or even “Which is harder: staying home or having a career?” we should be asking, “How are you doing balancing work and family? Can I help you?” or “What can I do to support you as a SAHM? Are you struggling?” We should be paying far more attention to the emotional experiences of mothers, whether or not they made a choice to either work or stay home or their life circumstances dictated a decision for them.
We have got to stop tripping over semantics and other people’s choices. And their not-choices. Their life circumstances. Their preferences. Motherhood is not one-size-fits-all. We bring innumerable cards to the table when we become parents: our family histories, our relationships, our personality types, our skills, our financial situations. We just cannot afford to compare ourselves to each other anymore. It’s pointless. And we’re playing right into the hands of whoever it is that is enjoying watching the collective club of mothers go at each other in a giant, metaphorical boxing ring. Who is that, exactly? Is it the media? Is it people without kids, à la “STFU, Parents”? Or is it us? Are we personally gaining something from loudly asserting our own stances over and over again?
I don’t have any answers as to how to achieve this utopian parental cease-fire. But my friend Julie from Next Life, No Kids has started a petition to end the whole “Thing-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named” (cough, Mommy Wars). She’s asking for moms everywhere to make a “Mommitment” (get it?) to stop fueling this fire. You should totally sign it.
I think we should keep talking about motherhood, because this shit is important. We should keep talking about how to redefine what it means to be a mother, how families everywhere need to be viewed differently in our country and by the government (ahem, maternity leave? Affordable child care?) But what we don’t need to talk about anymore is who has it worse. Which is harder: wiping butts and kitchen surfaces or closing deals? Entertaining whiny toddlers or attempting to revive someone in the back of an ambulance before they crash? Raising your kids with a crappy partner or doing it on your own? Who. Cares. Let’s stop arguing about it!
Oh, and how about we also add to that list: Which is better—breast or bottle? (Can we admit that there are thousands of variables and layers to that conversation and that no one answer is going to apply to every single family?) Or how about whether or not home-schooled kids are overprotected and undereducated or whether people who send their kids out into the scary world of public school are being irresponsible and lazy? Come on, people. Let’s keep our eye on the ball, here.
Let’s start asking different, more supportive, respectful, and empathetic questions. Of course, the more important questions need to be addressed on a much larger scale, “How can we, as a country, as a government, support families to make their lives easier, to give them real choices that set them up for success and happiness?”
Sign the petition. I did. And if I played into the hands of the angry Internet people by sharing that article, I’m sorry. It’s just so easy for us all—me included—to jump on the stone-throwing bandwagon. But it’s sort of like the advice we give our older, wiser children when their younger siblings try to taunt them with ridiculous accusations or goad them into fighting about something stupid. “Just ignore her,” we remind our children patiently. “You don’t have to respond. Just walk away.”
I guess it’s all about choosing our battles. Raising awareness about postpartum depression? Yes. Fighting to establish a more realistic portrayal of what it means to be a mother? You’re damn right. Supporting national changes that make life easier for families? We all should choose that battle. But fighting over the semantics of whether staying home is a privilege, gift, curse, or career? Hell, no.
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