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)
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