Flipping through the newspaper a few months back, I found some really thought-provoking stuff on motherhood in a syndicated Reuter’s column by Sue Pleming called “Perspective: A Move to Put Motherhood in its Proper, Postive Place.” I was so interested in the article that I took it to my book group to share it with my friends, all of whom are young mothers. The article spurred a lot of interesting discussion about the way the rest of the world views the work that we do as mothers. Let me share some thoughts from this article as well as some ideas that came up as I discussed it with my friends.
The article centers around a book by Ann Crittenden called The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is the Least Valued” (2001, Metropolitan). Ann Crittenden worked for the New York Times for years, but after having her first child in her early forties, she left her career to stay home with her son. She was surprised to see how differently people perceived her once she left her job and became a “full-time mom.” She was amused but quite bothered when she ran into someone at a party who said to her, “Didn’t you used to be Ann Crittenden?” This remark combined with many others spurred her to write her book. She found her job as a mother to be very challenging and rewarding, but was saddened that so few people in the “professional world” understood or appreciated what she was doing. She said, “Being a mother is like being a master therapist, teacher, minister, counselor. I truly was convinced how important my job was, but I got the impression that no one else agreed. All my former world looked down on me.”
To write her book, Ann interviewed hundreds of mothers and analyzed decades of statistics. Her general finding was that American business, government and the law do not really respect America’s stated family values. She pointed out that government policies do not define care of dependent children as work. Babysitters earn Social Security credits, but mothers do not. Employers do not understand the valuable multi-tasking, management, and people skills that motherhood helps women develop. Ann makes an interesting comparison between serving your country as a soldier (men’s traditional service to society) and serving your country as a mother (women’s traditional service to society). She points out that employers give former military men “extra credit” for the time they spent serving their country and gaining valuable skills and should do the same for mothers. Ann says, “If a woman goes in [to a job interview] and says, ‘I’ve just spent five years with my kids and here I am, good management material,’ they think she’s been in Siberia and her brains have been on ice…I want employers to say, ‘Wow, what you did was hard and incredible and you have great management training.” Women who step out of the workforce to be full time mothers lose approximately $1 million in financial income over their lifetime, not to mention the social security beneifts, 401K savings, and health care benefits they would be entitled to if they were working outside the home. So basically, Ann points out that motherhood is given lip service, but that no one puts their money where their mouth is. Full time mothers enable their husbands to contribute to the economy by working outside the home while helping their children become responsible citizens and productive members of society. Mothers build the future and make the present more pleasant and smooth for children, neighbors and husbands as they manage households and schedules and lives. According to Ann, “Mother’s work, which creates enormous material wealth, should receive more material recognition.”
In book group, as we discussed the ideas in this article, we realized that yes, it’s not fair that women get so little recognition and monetary compensation for the enormously difficult and valuable work they do. But we also realized that what really matters is not whether or not we get social security benefits or whether or not the professional world starts to recognize the amazing skills that motherhood helps women develop. What really matters is how we view ourselves as mothers. We are all better mothers and better people in general when we realize our own worth, give ourselves a few pats on the back, and keep our self-esteem high. When I stop and think about some of the unique and very marketable skills I’m developing as a mother, I feel pretty good about myself.
I’m a multi-tasker – I can nurse the baby and talk on the phone while helping my two-year old stack blocks. I’ve got money management skills – I can plan how to make our income cover necessities, figure out ways to get deals, save by cutting everyone’s hair myself and figuring out simple meals to make with cheap ingredients. I’ve got the ability to manage complex schedules and keep everyone happy (on good days) – I can somehow fit grocery shopping, some time on the stairmaster, a super quick shower, writing this article, returning stuff at Target, cleaning up sticky juice spread across the kitchen floor, weeding half a flower bed, talking with a neighbor about her suicidal tendencies, watching a friend’s child, putting a child in time out and having talks about his actions, and working on ABC’s into the spaces around nap time, play time, diaper changes, and mealtimes for the kids. I’ve got negotiation skills and I’m good under pressure – I can talk a toddler out of a tantrum in the middle of the grocery store (at least sometimes). I’m good at talking to people on their level and in their language – I can explain just about anything to my audience’s satisfaction by incorporating “Bob the Builder” and Elmo terminology. Look at me go! And I’m sure anyone reading this article can do all sorts of amazing things in addition to the things I’ve mentioned. You’re skilled! You’re doing things that would knock most famous or rich or highly educated or highly trained people out there right off their feet. Any of us could probably get out in the workforce and do amazing things for monetary profit. But we choose to be with our kids and do amazing things for the profit of souls.
I do hope that one day motherhood will be more fully appreciated by society as a whole – not just as something nice, but as something necessary and vitally important and beautiful. I hope that one day someone other than other mothers out there will understand what I do all day, how hard it is and how adept I’ve become at so many crazy things! But mostly, I hope that husbands and children and mothers themselves will learn to more fully appreciate the amazing things that mothers do and the fact that mother’s work is really the centerpiece of our society. Maybe one day this sort of realization will spread beyond families and lead to some policy changes and to mothers being heavily recruited for their invaluable skills if they decide to rejoin the workforce at some point. But more immediately, a more full appreciation of the importance of mothers’ important work by husbands, children, and mothers themselves could lead to some changes of actions and some changes of heart right now, right in the home.
Challenge: If you liked this article and want to apply it to your life, try one or more of the following:
(1) Make a list of all the skills you’ve developed since becoming a mother. Don’t be modest. Put it all down. Then go back and circle the skills you feel especially proud of. Share your list with your mom or sister or friend or husband. You’re pretty amazing, aren’t you?
(2) Point out to your kids some of the things you think you do especially well. It’s good for them to see how hard you work and how talented you are at certain things.
(3) Make a list of all the things you love about being a mom. Make a list of all the things you get to do as a mom that you couldn’t do in any other profession. Make a list of the perks you get in your career as a mother. Pretty good stuff, isn’t it? Share your list with your husband or kids to make sure they know that amidst the hard stuff about being a mom that they just might hear about from time to time, there’s some really great stuff too.
(4) Make a point of patting yourself on the back every day for something that you were able to do or accomplish that day. Did you keep calm when your 2-year-old had his 4th tantrum of the day? Did you help your tearful little girl figure out how to deal with a friend issue? Did you make a really tasty dinner? It’s good to be proud of yourself and to celebrate the little feats and accomplishments of your everyday life!
QUESTION: How can you help lead changes of the heart right now, about motherhood?
CHALLENGE: Apply one of the suggesions in your daily life.