Motherhood Part I: Work

As a mother of 2, I am often asked, ‘Whether or not I work?’ This seems like a simple question to answer, right? Every time, without fail, I take a deep breath, exhale, and instead of talking, I do not know what to say. How can I answer such a simple question when my life feels so much more complicated?

Yes, I do work outside of my home. I run my own business.

Yes, I do work inside of my home. I am the chief of cooking, groceries, lunch packing, laundry, bed making, etc.

And, Yes, I work to parent my kids. It is work getting them out of bed in the morning. It is work getting them out of their pajamas. It is work brushing their teeth. It is work getting them into their car seats. It is work dropping them off at daycare without them clinging to me and telling me they are sick and need to come home. And, that is only the work I do as a parent before 8 am! It is work that I love and that I chose to do, but it is tough and challenging. Sometimes it does feel like work to come up with new positive spins every day for my 3 year old so that each task does not turn into a meltdown that seems to be waiting right around every corner.

Please do not misunderstand me, being a parent is the most important thing I have done and will ever do. My husband and I worked hard to have our kids, undergoing fertility treatments and numerous highs and lows along the way. It is a blessing to be a mother.

Work is a noun or a verb, neither positive nor negative. Work is defined as an “activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.”

So, going back to the original question of ‘do you work?’ My simplest answer is: Yes, I do, inside and outside of my home. The follow-up to that, though, is that the work I do at home with my kids involves so much more mental and physical effort than the work I do outside of my home. Parenting is the epitome of emotional engaging and exhaustion. My kids depend on me (and my husband) for love, guidance, boundaries and discipline. How can these things not require the utmost mental and physical effort?

Often, mothers who work outside of the home say that they choose to go to their jobs to get ‘adult time.’ Time where they can go to the bathroom by themselves, time where they can sit and eat lunch – even if it is at their desk, and time where they can talk to people who, hopefully, don’t break down in tears when they don’t get their way. In fact, survey results from FlexJobs report that 2 out of 3 women “want to work” [outside the home] even though most “need to work.”

A good friend and colleague of mine saw Gloria Steinem speak in 2012, and during her speech, Gloria told the audience that stay at home moms produce so much unpaid labor in the home that they literally and figuratively hold up the US economy. Gloria explained that she has argued for years for some kind of recognition, ideally in the form of a wage for women who work in the home as stay at home caregivers. At some point in her speech, Gloria asked the audience to calculate what it would cost a family to hire a full time nanny to be with the kids and drive them to school; cook (or take out for every meal); send out all clothes, towels, sheets and other linens for laundry service and/or dry cleaning; clean the house; hire a personal assistant to organize schedules and pay bills; pack lunches; pick up snacks and special treats or presents for kids parties; hire a work associate to design, print, seal and send Christmas cards…. Gloria went on and on to list the tasks that seem ‘normal’ for a stay at home caregiver, often a woman.

While I would love to see the economy shift to paying stay at home parents for their work, I doubt it will happen in my lifetime. However, addressing the guilt that stay at home moms often feel for asking for help and delegating to complete these tasks is something that should and can be challenged. Wherever you do your work – inside of the home, outside of the home, or both – paying for services to help you to function and achieve the quality of life you hope for is necessary. Feeling guilty about it only reinforces the cycle of expectation that we should be able to do “it all.” So, next time you notice that you are feeling guilty or having second thoughts about the work that you do, challenge it for your and other parents’ sake!

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Rebecca in the Press

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