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Actually, Motherhood Is the Toughest Job I've Ever Loved

By joslyngray |

Earlier today, Babble ran an opinion by writer Jessica Valenti, titled Selling Ourselves Short: Is motherhood really the hardest job in the world? In the article, Ms. Valenti argues that motherhood is not, in fact, the hardest job in the world, and that we are merely duping ourselves into believing that parenting is the most rewarding, the hardest, and the most important thing we will ever do.

“But let’s be honest — it’s not the hardest,” Ms. Valenti writes. “And as much as I love my daughter, I don’t believe caring for her is the most important thing I’ll ever do either. Yet in my relatively short time as a parent, I’ve heard from dozens of people telling me that what I’m doing is the hardest, most important job in the world. I’m not alone; we’ve all heard this sentiment a hundred times over. Even ‘Tiger Mom’ Amy Chau says parenting was the hardest thing she’s ever done.”

To which I respond, with all due respect, BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Who can guess the most important part of that sentence?

Yes, my partners in drudgery, you got it: “in my relatively short time as a parent.” Ms. Valenti, who is married, has one child, born in 2010. She feels that parenting isn’t a “job,” it’s a “relationship.” To me, it’s both.

Ms. Valenti writes:

“We must believe that parenting is the most rewarding, the hardest, and the most important thing we will ever do. Because if we don’t believe it, then the diaper changing, the mind-numbing Dora watching, the puke cleaning, and the ‘complete self-sacrifice’ that we’re ‘locked in for life to’ is all for nothing. We must believe it because the truth is just too damn depressing.”

I do believe that motherhood is my primary job, but I don’t find it all that depressing. I also work full-time as a writer, but that priority comes in at a distant second. That’s not to say I don’t value my paid work; I do.

My motherhood experience is vastly different than Ms. Valenti’s, so we’re bound to have different views. I have four children, born within five years. My oldest are twins, so I’ve never known what it’s like to have an only child. All four of our children have some sort of special needs: autism, ADHD, OCD, anxiety. Managing their healthcare, insurance, and educational plans truly takes up a crapton of time. Add to that the hours of in-home speech therapy and social skills training I’m providing, and it may not be a paid job, but it’s a job.

And it’s not like I have it the hardest. There are plenty of people whose parenting lives are far more challenging than mine. However, I learned early on in this parenting gig that just because one person has it harder, doesn’t make it any less hard for someone else. So while I’m pleased for Ms. Valenti that she doesn’t find parenting to be terribly hard, I wouldn’t dare presume to tell a mother that her job isn’t the hardest job in the world, or the most important, because I’m not walking in her shoes.

While I don’t know what it’s like to have one child, I see that for friends who have “only” one perfectly healthy, neurotypical child, that parenting is still work. There is stress and worry and tedium. Sometimes it is excruciatingly challenging to be patient. Sometimes I yell. Sometimes I cry. (Once I also made an elementary school principal cry.)

Ms. Valenti writes, “the truth is, we can simultaneously love parenting, find it fulfilling and valuable, while also recognizing that the minutiae of our mothering isn’t as critical as society would have us believe.”

The thing is, each single action, the minutiae, isn’t all that important, but the culmination is. Each single diaper changed is not the most important thing I’ve ever done; but on the other hand, if I hadn’t, my kid would’ve had a hell of a diaper rash, wouldn’t he? Each single time I took my autistic son to the bathroom may not have mattered, but after working consistently and patiently for four and a half years, he is independent in the bathroom.

“Do American moms really believe that diaper changing trumps pediatric oncology?” Ms. Valenti asks. “Or that child rearing is harder than being a firefighter or a factory worker?”

Um, yeah. I do. I don’t know if Ms. Valenti has ever asked any factory worker moms or firefighter moms which they think is harder. But I was a soldier in the U.S. Army, and this? This job of parenting? Is really f**king hard.

Ms. Valenti also writes:

And if we do believe the hype, if full-time motherhood really is the hardest job in the world, why isn’t it paid? If it’s the most rewarding, then why do so many of us have other people care for our children? And if parenting is the most important job in the world, why on earth aren’t more men lining up to quit their frivolous-by-comparison day jobs in order to work for the world’s most important (and littlest) employers?

This is a flip argument, and a poor one. One’s pay does not define the societal or personal value of one’s work. If it did, teachers would make a whole lot more, as would social workers, newspaper reporters, and public defenders. The women who run our Girl Scout troops are unpaid, but their work is still valuable, both to individual girls and to society as a whole. Of course day-to-day parenting is work. But that doesn’t mean that paying careers aren’t also valuable and necessary.

Also, my kids have moved beyond toddlerdom and into a whole range of fresh challenges. Come back and talk to me about what’s hard about parenting when your nine-year-old daughter has had her soul crushed by mean girls. Talk to me about what’s hard when your ten-year-old daughter’s OCD has manifested in pulling out her own eyelashes. I’m not trying to be competitive, but the hard part isn’t the diaper changing, for God’s sake. The hard part is seeing your child in physical or emotional pain, and not being able to take it away.

As much as I adore being told to free myself “from the expectations and the stifling standards that motherhood-as-employment demands” by a new mom, I’ve got to disagree that being happy in my role as a mom means that I’m expected to “find satisfaction in spit-up.”

The satisfaction is not in the spit-up. It’s in the moment that my son finally gained independence in the bathroom after four and a half years of potty-training. It’s in the moment my daughter learned how to change a car battery. It’s in the moment my daughter correctly observed that a television character said “gay” when he should have said “transgender.” In those moments, I don’t need bonuses and pay raises to know I’m doing a good job. Those moments, and the hundreds of other tiny moments throughout any given week, are enough for me. They are joyful, and meaningful, and if there are “stifling standards” out there, they’re not in my house.

Ultimately, I believe that parenting is incredibly important. In fact, I’m pretty sure that solid parenting is the glue that keeps our barely-functional society from completely imploding. Ms. Valenti seems very concerned about “helicopter” parents; in my community I’m more concerned about single parents trying to get dinner on the table and still make it to parent-teacher meetings. Being involved doesn’t mean you’re a helicopter parent; it means that you’re doing your job. If children don’t learn to be kind, open-minded, and intellectually curious at home, it’s just not going to happen.

Jessica Valenti is a smart, thoughtful feminist writer, and I agree with much of what she’s written in the past. The post on Babble is an excerpt from her new book,  Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness.

(Photo Credit: Meme Generator)

Read more from Joslyn at Babble Pets and at her blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Recent posts:
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About joslyngray



Joslyn Gray is the mother of four children with a variety of challenges ranging from allergies to ADHD to Asperger Syndrome. She writes candidly and comedically about this and her generally hectic life on her light-hearted personal blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy.. Read bio and latest posts → Read joslyngray's latest posts →

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15 thoughts on “Actually, Motherhood Is the Toughest Job I've Ever Loved

  1. carolyncastiglia says:

    She’ll figure out how hard it is when she has to potty train her kid for four years. Or when she loses a loved one and has to parent through grief. Or when her relationship fails. Or when the paid work dries up. Not that I wish any of these things on anyone, but this is just a sampling of the stuff that has complicated my life since my daughter was born – and I only have one child. Then again, maybe she won’t *need* to figure it out. Maybe she’ll be a writer and be paid well and have a nanny and not have to deal with as much of the hands on stuff. Who’s to say? I don’t know her personally. But I am shocked that someone with only one child (that is still technically a baby) feels confident enough to tell American women at large what motherhood means and how significant or insignificant it is. Experience schools even teachers.

  2. Meredith Carroll says:

    Brava, Joslyn. And Carolyn. As for Jessica? Well, either she’ll get it some day or she won’t. For her kid’s sake, I hope she does.

  3. Guitarmom says:

    Like the author of this article points out, pay isn’t commensurate with the value of parenting. Once my kids were born, I no longer wanted any other job than to be the face my child saw every time he or she needed something and comforting words they heard when they were upset. I was fortunate to be able to quit my job after my second was born. Currently my kids are 17, 15 and 12. I am working again and once again, so fortunate to work from home on my own set schedule. I used to think everything would be easier once they were done breastfeeding, once they were out of diapers, once we no longer had to pay for day care. But parenting is still challenging at my kids ages. Attending all school events, cross country meets, basketball games, being an ear when it’s need and being told to mind my own business when it’s not. I love every minute of being a parent, even the hard parts, and it’s hard. Just like the Hokey Pokey…that’s what it’s all about.

  4. trish lauria says:

    I find it disheartening that a feminist writer would not understand that what is traditionally seen as women’s work is undervalued in our society. I could not live on the wage I made as a pteschool teacher and this is still underpaid work and a critical job for developing our society. There may be mind numbing days and sleep deprived nights but telling women that we have been duped into believing that this is a tough job implies that we can’t think for ourselves. I became a mom at 39 and had switched to teaching at an alternative school for students with emotional support (the type of kindergarten who can fluently curse out anyone while running out of class). I had it much harder being a mom, especially because I had twins 2 years later. And having a son who is medically fragile has driven home for me that being a mom is the best thing I’ve ever done. Knowing that I’ve done everything to make him comfortable and pain free makes my day. When he ends up sick or has a seizure it breaks me. The heart of parenting is understanding that there is so much you can ‘t control and maybe the author doesn’t understand that yet.

  5. Angelika Gurley says:

    Wow. I guess I feel like if parenting your child/children isn’t the hardest job in your life, or the most important, then you just aren’t doing it right. I love both my kids ridiculously. I love being their mom so much, that sometimes it physically hurts. I also feel like sticking a hot pointy stick in my eye if I have to listen to ONE MORE FREAKING YouTube video about comic book people (Austism- 13 yro son) or if I have to HANDLE ONE MORE FREAKING TITANIC MELTDOWN (11 yro daughter w/ Titanic filled diagnoses). I will tell you that even contemplating pointy sticks, Dr appts,IEPs, therapy sessions and all the other minutia, I know that what I am doing is important. What I am doing matters. I am a mom. I am (hopefully) raising human beings that will become productive members of society. I get paid in so many different ways, except by monetary means, and that’s ok.

  6. Von says:

    Joslyn – nice job addressing some of what was said in a thoughtful way. I think Jessica has some interesting points and does articulate her point of view well although at this time I haven’t read her article or book.

    I would add – parenting is something that becomes an undercurrent of our lives which exponentially increases the difficulty. No matter what is going on in my paid work or my husband’s we need to meet the kids’ need first. No matter how I feel I must respond to their illness. No matter how much I need to use the bathroom when we get back from errands I let them pee first.

    And if I fail at work that is a reflection of my skills. If I fail at parenting that is a reflection of ME.

    And yes, obviously, the day to day minutia isn’t the essence of parenting and can be outsourced – i.e. child care. It is the 20 years of developing those brains and hearts to be productive members of society that is parenting.

    This job is a marathon, not a sprint.

  7. Bren says:

    As usual, Joslyn, you hit the nail directly on the head with the eloquence that Ms. Valenti was shooting for, and missed. *I* am a mom of an only child and I can tell you that those first couple of years were a freaking BREEZE and my kid is HF Asperger’s and it was STILL a breeze compared to life now. I can’t imagine two, three, four (there’s a mom in our group who has *eight* under 12) but I can assure you that the older they get, the more work I feel I do.

    It’s easy to pontificate when you have a single two year old about how “easy” things are, how “depressing” they are (seriously lady, do you love your kid at all? I read the original article), how one doesn’t get paid (there’s more to life than cash in the can)…… some point the life she has now will change and she will be faced with any one of the realities that the rest of us experience and I strongly suspect her tune and tempo will falter.

  8. Ami says:

    Loved this post Joslyn. I can’t fathom what job could be more important than creating an environment that will enable a child to feel loved and part of a unit and thereby making it possible for them to reach their full potential.

  9. FFW says:

    Wow-she really screwed the pooch on that one. While I got her ultimate point-that we breed competitive mothering and helicopter parents, she went about it poorly.
    I will seek more of her writing, hoping she will continue with her style of writing, hoping she does not continue to seek post hits due to controversial statements, only to meekly proffer a well-thought-out idea.

  10. Shelby says:

    Excellent response!
    Without mothers, who would raise future “pediatric oncologists”? As a neonatal ICU nurse, I doubt many folks would question the value of my day job. While I have contributed to saving hundreds of children over my career, my REAL job is raising my own child. And, wow! It is the ONLY job that had brought me to my knees.

  11. Rocky says:

    I remember when my first child was five or six months old and a friend emailed to say, “I can’t believe how much free time you have. Everybody else I know with a baby is struggling, but you’re kicking back watching Court TV while your baby is napping.” I was all, “I know! This is so easy! I want to have four more kids (at least!)!!”


    My son was an easy, easy baby. He was a joy. He ate! He slept all night! He napped like a champ! He only pooped once a day! I laughed in the face of anybody who tried to tell me taking care of a baby was hard, or that parenting was exhausting. It was a breeze for me in every way. That lasted for 18 luxurious months, after which my son was showing more obvious signs of autism and I was pregnant with my second child. Things have gotten way real since then.

    This “job” is hard for a million reasons, but the key is that you are responsible for the well-being and the education and the very life and safety of completely vulnerable people who rely on you for absolutely everything every minute of the day forever. That’s some heavy sh*t. The point is that once you are doing it, you are doing it. You have to dig in and make it work. You have to–it’s not a job you can quit.

    I’ve worked in a factory–on an assembly line–and it was one of the easiest jobs I ever had. All I had to do was stand still and move my arms in the same way over and over again. I’d kill for a job like that now. Just stand there, noise from the machines drowning out every other sound, doing my repetitive work automatically while my mind drifts off wherever. That’s like a beach in Barbados compared to motherhood.

    I would actually agree with Jessica Valenti if her point is to encourage women to avoid motherhood if they aren’t total badasses who can handle everything, no matter what (which is maybe how she sees herself). This is a job for fearless, confident women who trust their instincts and dream of having demanding houseguests who never leave.

  12. Kaylen says:

    Joslyn and all the commenters are completely right and I agree totally.

  13. anomynus says:

    The day she has to deal with a toddler with autism, who doesnt speak, and a newborn with colic, and still has to deal with a workaholic as a spouse, and deal with loosing 3 loved ones in a matter of a year, and deal with the fact that u have no family around but ur inlaws, who by all means have helped us through a lot, but are still assuming they have the right to tell me how to parent my own kids, or have severe ilness to top it all off is the day this lady will understand how hard parenthood is, not to metion some moms and dads have to deal with loosing a child, or having severe illness themselves, or loosing there spouse and be a single parent, sometimes with multipule children, parenthood is a hard job, no matter wat ur circomstances are, i dont care what anyone is going through, being a fulltime, or fulltime worker and parent is hard enough without ppl like her judging others and making them feel like they are less then anyone else, maybe she should have to deal with some of the things we deal with, then maybe she may understand, but then again, some ppl dont change no matter wat others say or do, may god have mercy on her soul for her judgemtnal attitude.

  14. Michelle! says:

    Parenting – I have been a married mom, divorced mom, a working mom, remarried, a “stay at home” mom, a military spouse, involved mom, etc… I have six kids, each with one or more impairments, disabilities, or health conditions. There are days I want to run screaming naked into the street and there are days my heart is so full of pride it feels like it could burst. When people ask me what I want for my birthday or Christmas I always say: “24 hours of uninterupted sleep!” But paid or not, I have made a difference in my kids lives, advocating for them and supporting them. I wanted the job title of ‘Mom” and I would do it all again, whether people think it was hard or not.

  15. John says:

    I don’t think she’s stating that parenting isn’t an important job. She is saying that being a stay at home mom is NOT the most difficult job on the planet. How about working 10 hours a day and still fitting in all of these things you all are listing? Parents who work still have to do everything you state you do, yet they work full time and still get those things done. That is her point. She is saying yes it’s difficult, but don’t try to state that staying at home and not working to be a parent is some sacrafice. It is MUCH easier than being a full time parent………….WITH a full time job. People on here are speaking about how jobs were so easy on an assembly line, ok, try having a NOT so easy job, full of stress, then coming home and getting all of the “parenting” you spend all day doing in half the time. Not to mention it’s not like most stay at home moms are spending their day with a school lesson plan. Lets be honest, any job you can do in your pajamas that involves bending over from the waist to put in a new DVD isn’t that tough.

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