"Motherhood is the toughest / most important job"

I keep starting and deleting openings to this because it feels like such a complicated discussion. A few days ago, one of my dearest friends posted a link to a video compiling interviews with applicants for a fake job--the most important, toughest job. And the big reveal of course was that this 24/7 job which required total devotion and never sitting down and extra hours over the holidays and never eating until everyone else has been fed* was for the position of mom. No one would do this! all the applicants were protesting, but then the interviewer pointed out that moms do, and everyone said Oh! Yes! Moms! Moms are the best! 

It's the sort of feel good, pro-mom propaganda that makes the rounds every so often, and I think it's deeply problematic for a number of reasons.

1) Being a mother is not a job. I don't mean to say that there isn't work being done, and there are ancillary responsibilities of cooking and housework and driving all over town that mothers tend to take on, and I would love a video that calls attention to this and questions its fairness and/or feasibility. I would be all over that video. But motherhood in and of itself is not a job. It's a relationship.

I think the distinction is important because a job is about playing a role and performing tasks. A relationship is about being a person. We learn from relationships. Our intimate relationships challenge and change us specifically because these are the relationships in which we are the most human. Or they should be. I'm wary of campaigns that idealize mothers because they tell us that we have to be perfect for our children. I am deeply flawed in front of my children, pretty much all of the time.

2) Nurturing and 24 hour self-sacrifice are not the same thing. I mean, yes, the first few years come with a tremendous amount of I have to put everything else on hold, but in a certain sense that's true for every new relationship, figuring out how this person fits in your life, how much you're willing to give, what you need for yourself, and there's (thank god) the breathless intoxication of new love that gets you through that. The older my kids get, the more I expect them to step up to the plate, and I'm not just talking about chores (though they have to do that too). I'm talking about doing the work of being in relationships (with me, with their father, with one another). There are five distinct persons who live in this house, and we all have to figure out how to negotiate that.

3) It's one thing to idolize our individual mothers, and most of us do. My mom, for example, is smart and socially engaged and politically active. She is funny as hell and she curses like a sailor. She makes ridiculously good macaroni and cheese, and she is unreasonable in her refusal to eat cornbread for breakfast. (Because my dad makes it, and she's just being difficult to be an asshole. I get that.) She is all of my favorite things.

When we idolize mothers as a group, it's problematic. We're not seeing persons so much as the things they do for us. We're praising the role they play, rather than the persons they are. We are saying there is one way to be a good mother and it in no way involves carving out any space or time or interests of your own. Which makes sense because the last thing we want a mom to be is a person. And that's the real reason I find this type of pro-mom message so problematic. It sounds like praise, but really it's gender-policing again and again and again.

 

*Please note that there are entire classes of food that I am unwilling to share with my children, and even those things I do share they know better than to take the last of.