Spoiler alert: A greeting card company would like you to buy stuff for your mom. The company milks the concept that motherhood and caregiving is a lot of work, but they’re milking it for the new millenium. Because instead of the card I gave my mom circa 1989 that listed out various jobs mothers stereotypically perform – chef, chauffeur, therapist, teacher, nurse – along with their salaries and then said something like, “You’re worth a million bucks! I love you, Mom!” motherhood is now the #WorldsToughestJob, you guys!
On the one hand, this is an ad by a greeting card company, not a principle-guided policy treatise, so there’s not much point in reading a lot into it.
That being said, it’s a great example of a larger cultural construct, namely “motherhood as joyous martyrdom” and that *is* worth looking at a little more closely. Only that would take a dissertation, not an 800 word blog post, so I’m going to stick to the point highlighted by this ad that strikes me as the most problematic. (Check out this piece and this piece if you’re interested in opinion pieces along the same line that deal with wider range of issues.)
Here’s my beef with “Motherhood: #WorldsToughestJob:” Motherhood is not a “job,” it’s a relationship.
Please don’t take that to mean motherhood is unimportant or easy. Maintaining strong, healthy relationships can definitely be *a lot* of work, but they don’t have a hard and fast set of criteria and tasks associated with them as jobs do. Some of the most important and difficult roles we play in life involve relationships: mother, father, daughter, son, wife, husband, friend… They’re all important but they’re not “jobs.”
You can be a mother and be at home with your children 24/7. You can be a mother and be a surgeon who works outside the home 70 hours a week. Who has the #HarderJob? Good Lord, who knows? I imagine it depends on the individual stay at home mom and surgeon. But, for the love of God, please let’s not let this conversation degenerate into the mommy wars (AGAIN), Internet.
Often mothers are also the primary caregivers for young children and primary caregiver is definitely a job. A really hard job that is criminally undervalued in our society.
Yet motherhood and primary caregiving are often conflated, and thus motherhood is cast a “job.” But you know what? Try this thought experiment: a woman stays home with her children. She wipes butts. She kisses boo-boos. She volunteers at school. She cooks meals from scratch. If she’s a woman who’s got a healthy income stream coming from somewhere other than her unpaid “job” as mother/primary caregiver then she is lauded. She’s given up so much! She’s all about the kids! Let’s honor her contribution as a mother!
If a woman does the exact same thing but she’s receiving government assistance, she’s not so much lauded as vilified or cast as a victim. All the “look at the hard work this woman is doing answering her calling as a mother!” stuff goes out the window.
You are a mother. You have a job. Sometimes that job is primary child care giver.
Motherhood as “job” rather than relationship provides us with a neat little rhetorical device to avoid uncomfortable conversations about larger change when it comes to genuinely valuing caregiving. We don’t actually have to worry about stuff like affordable childcare and family-friendly work policies, or think more carefully about the role of fathers or other people in the child’s life, because mothers provide primary care for free all the time out of pure love and general maternal awesomeness. They find it rewarding and fulfilling.. Just give good ol’ reliable mom a greeting card and let her know you love her. That’s all she really needs.
You know that feeling you get when somebody thinks they’re complimenting you, only really they’re being an asshole? Like, “You don’t need to worry your pretty little head about boring ol’ finances. Leave that stuff to the menfolk and go have fun!” ala “Downton Abbey’s” Lord Grantham? “Motherhood is the world’s hardest job hands down and you do it for free because you are just brimming with love, you wonderful person, you!” veers dangerously towards that territory.
Don’t pat me on the head and praise my hard work and then refuse to talk about affordable childcare, paid maternity leave, and all of the other things that might make the #WorldsHardestJob easier because you’ve instead chosen to chalk “motherhood as a job” up to my eternally giving, selfless, maternal lady-nature. That’s condescension on a truly Grantham-esk scale.
And I don’t mean to be all spoiler-y, but the Downton doesn’t end up working out so well for most of the women involved.