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Is It Accurate to Describe Motherhood As An Actual "Job?"

Is motherhood a job, in the same way we think of other jobs?

We’ve all heard it. Most of us (myself included) have said it or written it at one time or another: motherhood is ” a job.”  Sometimes, it’s “the hardest job,” and other times, “it’s the most rewarding job.” In this new Psychology Today blog post, motherhood is described as “the invisible profession.”  But is motherhood actually a profession? Is it a real “job” in the same way that we think of other kinds of employment?

In her Psychology Today post this week, Mindy Greenstein, Ph.D definitely comes down on the side of motherhood as job, a job that is underpaid, undervalued, and unrewarded by society at large, despite the intensely personal gratification Greenstein gets from raising her two sons.  She even refers to mothers with paid employment as having “two jobs.”

I definitely agree with Greenstein that many of the practical requirements of childcare are actual jobs, in the traditional, “some people  get paid real money for doing this” sense of the word – tasks like grocery shopping, preparing meals, and doing laundry. However, I am put off by her job description for the actual mothering parts of mothering. She writes, “(mothers) must learn to be master interpreters of their child’s behavior, reflexively using hypothetico-deductive reasoning to decipher the secret codes of their baby’s cries, movements, facial expressions, connecting them to what had come just before and testing out their theories. Every mother is a Behavioral Scientist whose dissertation subject is her children, and who is regularly assessing the methodological errors in her ‘experiments.’”

(After I read this part of Dr. Greenstein’s blog post, I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s not a job for which I am qualified in any way, and there’s no way anyone would ever actually HIRE me for that position.”)

I recognize that the intent behind this sort of language is to grant mothers some much-deserved public respect and credibility – a little gravitas. After all, “Mom” sounds far less impressive than “Behavioral Scientist.”  But recently, I have begun to consider the idea that women are are on the wrong track in continuing to try to justify the important relationships we have with our offspring by comparing them to an opportunity one might find in a listing on Monster.com.

If motherhood is indeed a job that’s even remotely similar to the (generally paid) positions for which there are specific benchmarks, performance measures and outcome-based job descriptions, well then, I think many of us – maybe most of us – would be considered abject professional failures. I know that I would.  My own failure at this job – if that’s how we are characterizing our roles as mothers – would be considered obvious, extreme, and very public . But really, if there is some kind of job description setting benchmarks for mothers’ “professional” achievement, would any of us ever end up being considered a top performer?

So what do you think? Is motherhood an actual job? Is it a relationship? Or is it something entirely unique that deserves a new descriptive language in our culture? Is there continued value for women in how we so often compare parenting to paid employment? Or does this kind of characterization devalue and demean the very special role that mothers play in their children’s lives? Talk about describing mothering as a profession in the comments below.

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