A recent poll from Parents magazine found that 92% of mothers agree with the statement: “There is no tougher job than being a mom.”
The survey looked into whether or not the mommy wars actually exist — they don’t — and whether the decision to stay at home or work outside the house is a really a choice for most women — it isn’t. Most moms are just doing their best to balance their needs with their family’s needs and for the most part they feel supported by other moms.
Though regardless of where they spend their days, or nights, it seems like most moms are on board with the notion that parenting while female is the hardest work out there.
I’m only 8 months into the gig (albeit, some of the hardest 8 months), and I can’t deny that this is tough. Still, I am not so sure that moms do themselves any favors by categorizing their parenting work as the toughest job around.
For one, it perpetuates this “mother as martyr” vision of parenting that can be as bad for parents as it is for kids. Studies show that happy parents make for happier, more confident and higher-achieving kids. A mom who views parenting as the hardest thing ever, ever, ever is probably making too many sacrifices for her wee little ones, at the expense of her physical and emotional well-being, and, just maybe, her hair. She might think her kids are reaping the benefits of her bottomless selflessness, but they aren’t.
The other issue with this “toughest job” thing is that makes it sound inevitable. Mothering is the toughest job and there is nothing we can do about it, besides issuing every mom some lip service version of a Purple Heart for surviving it all. But the thing is, there is something we can do about it. A lot in fact. We can make sure that everyone in this country can spend a few months with their newborns without sacrificing their salaries and can have access to affordable and safe healthcare. We can also make sure that more Dads do their fair share of housework. And as long as we are at it, we could also convince my favorite Italian restaurant in Brooklyn to get a few high chairs. Mothering doesn’t have to be all about sacrifice. We can get by with a little help from our friends.
In response to the poll, Eleanor Barkhorn at the Atlantic suggests that we call mothering “important work” as opposed to a “tough job.”
It doesn’t do mothers any favors to overemphasize the hard work that goes into being a mom–the claim is too easy to ridicule and disprove. And anyway what many moms find undesirable about parenting is how un-stimulating it is: how repetitive and numbing it can be, especially compared with paid work outside the home. Emphasizing the importance of caring for children and running a household sticks closer to the truth–and may even inspire dads as well as moms to take it seriously.
Amen. By focusing on parenting’s importance, as opposed to its toughness, it is easier to see how supporting parents and children benefits us all.
Follow Elissa Strauss on Twitter at @elissaavery.
Elissa Strauss has written for the Forward over a number of years. She is a regular contributor to CNN, whose work has been published in a number of publications including The New York Times, Glamour, ELLE, and Longreads.