The job of mothering

I posted a comment recently on Sarah B.’s blog which I like a lot (the blog, not my own comment, though I do like that as well).  The comment was in response to something she wrote, and in response to some comments she got about the question of whether mothering is a job or not.   This is one of those things I think about a lot, and since I’ve never tried writing about this particular thing, rather than speaking it in conversation, I thought I’d post it.  There was discussion, if I am characterizing it correctly, about whether mothering is too personal and personally satisfying and too motivated by personal choice–and whether the real crux of mothering– a give and take relationship, renders it ineligible to be considered a job.  Here’s what I said.  Slightly changed.   

I definitely do think of mothering/ parenting as a job. It is the most interesting and genuine good work I’ve ever done. I love it.  And I have had the chance to do some incredible and deeply satisfying, deeply connected, paid work.  Embedded in the discussion of why parenting shouldn’t be considered “work” there are some assumptions or assumed ideas about jobs/ work that I don’t agree with.

First and foremost, I don’t think that loving to do something or having a deep personal connection to something makes it other than work. I think there are jobs– many important jobs that have great love and passion and deep human connection at the root of them; jobs that have a spiritual dimension, and jobs– some of them paid– that are deeply and profoundly fulfilling– where you get as much doing the job as you give to it. So I don’t think that the fact that parenting can be and is, for many of us, all those things, moves it out of the category of work.

I think about mothering/ parenting as a job in the sense that world-wide it is an essential set of tasks to which large numbers of people (and though it doesn’t have to be so, it is large numbers of women)  must dedicate many years—in order that the world of humans and each society continue and flourish.

I think of it as a job because unlike things that aren’t jobs; for example, a hobby or a religious practice or some other things that you can pick up and set aside as your feelings ebb and flow—in the case of parenting, once you take it on, there is a lot of work to be done and you must do it—whether or not you’re in the mood on any given day. The world as a whole and the individual societies in which we live and actually the economies of our societies are as completely reliant on this work we do, as they are on the production of food, energy and shelter. Parenting, or again to say the word that reflects the bulk of the parenting work world-wide, mothering, is completely necessary to the world and demands so much of us over a sustained time—and that’s what I call a job.


2 responses to “The job of mothering

  1. You are giving me much to mull over! I think that I might amend the work/relationship question to say that parenting as we write about it (in terms of the way “we” by which I mean stick foot in mouth–educated, possibly overly aware, overly involved, we’ll do this & if it overtakes the rest of our lives well so be it) is different (because like so much in this country we do to excess) from the necessity of the job. Maybe I say this because my eighth grader had to be at school at 6 AM for a three day field trip to DC. I suggested carpooling (3 days, not a week, not a month at camp) & NO other parent wanted NOT to drive. They were sentimental, fossil fuels be damned. He took a ride, happily. I think that’s where we go from job to… excess & I have to draw a distinction that what we’re doing is relationship rather than work, so yes, not all, but that. And I believe every person I know well does the beyond job part, myself included (& that’s mostly great! complicated but mostly great).

  2. Ines Anchondo

    A job or not. I agree, mothering is a job. I smiled upon reading the comparison between a hobby and mothering. Yes, a hobby you can take or leave. Mothering you just can’t. Thank you, Laura.

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