What do you do?

>> April 7, 2009

A blog I follow had this post today.  As I was reading through the comments I was struck by something. We keep referring to motherhood as a job. I agree with what Rachel said in her comment, a job is something you get paid for, get time off from, go to and go home from, can change if you want. 

I think it's part of the Western culture to find our definition in what we 'do'. "What do you do?" "I'm a doctor/lawyer/secretary/janitor." "Oooh." We hear what someone 'does' and make decisions about who they are as people.  We feel defined by our jobs and so as mothers, especially stay-at-home-mothers, there is this desire to make sure people understand that we still 'do' something, that we have value, that we are still contributing to society. 

A friend was speaking at church last mother's day and she brought up some website that calculates what you're 'worth' on the job market.  There was an entry for Mother and several aspects that that entailed, cook, laundress, chauffeur, etc.  Of course it comes up with something in the $250,000 per annum range.  At first she was, like Beth, nodding her agreement, thinking "That's right, I am worth all that."  Then it struck her, that this was putting a price tag on what it was to be a mother.  That the only way we know how to value something is to put a monetary value on it.  To call it 'The hardest job in the world'.  After realizing that, it kind of offended her.  

I was about to go off on a diatribe about putting a price on a child's laugh, etc. and I realized that that's not even the point I want to make.  It's that we feel we need to that I find a bit sad.  How does the saying go?  The best things in life are free.  That statement means something completely new to me today.  It's not that they're 'free', it's that their worth, their value, has no monetary equivalent.  I have to admit, I'm having trouble saying all that's going on in my head because it's like I don't have the vocabulary to express it without referring to what we automatically associate with money.  It's not like these free things don't cost us.  Being a mother is very costly, but you could never pay someone else to do the job for you.  Take heart in that all you mom's who also have jobs, no matter how great a nanny or caretaker you have, even if it's a relative, even if it's Grandma, even if it's Daddy, they can never be Mom.  Being a nanny, that's a tough job, I've done it, I would think long and hard about doing it again.  But it's just a job.  It is so far from being a Mom.  

I have to admit, I'm finding this a little paradigm-shifting and somewhat freeing.  I always feel a little awkward when someone asks me what I do.  I've said 'stay-at-home-mom', 'domestic-engineer', I've even pointed at my son and said, 'Him, full time'.  It was very witty to me at the time.  Now I think I will have to say "Nothing" and let them be as puzzled as they want to be.  If they clarify that I'm a SAHM or whatever, I think I may have to share a little about how I don't see that as my job or what I 'do' but simply it is my life.  In my life, I have a husband, I have a son, I feel that I am blessed to not have a job.  I am looking forward to settling into our new life here in Oxford, to getting some projects done and taking on new volunteer work, but I think I will no longer feel the need to put "Housewife" or "SAHM" in the occupation sections of forms.  I can be confident that I am a contributing member of society, I am not a lay-about, I have value that is not limited to being defined by what I do.  I have no job.  It frees me up to spend a lot more time with my son and my husband.  

3 people had this to say:

C. Beth April 7, 2009 at 5:14 PM  

Oh, Heather, I love this post! I think it's saying so much of what I wanted to say but didn't even know I wanted to say. Thank you.

I was concerned writing my blog post that it would seem I was being disparaging of mommy-ing, and of course that wasn't my desire. I love what you wrote--it honors mothering as something more than a "job."

Being moms--that's who we are, more than what we do, and we are so blessed to be given this role.

Thanks for the great thoughts and for the link! Always feel free to post links to the posts you write; I can't regularly read all the blogs I'd like, but I'd like to stop by here more often.

Rachel Cotterill April 7, 2009 at 5:30 PM  

For a short while after I finished my undergraduate degree, I did 'nothing'. It was fabulous! Nice side-effects included that the house was always clean and I always had time to cook a nice meal for my husband, but I certainly wasn't a full-time housewife. But I was very, very happy! :)

My husband is about to retire (in his early 40s) and people keep asking him "but what are you going to do..?"

Julie April 7, 2009 at 7:27 PM  

Tell me more about what DOES define you then? I've thinking a lot lately about a line in a song about the Paparazzi not understanding that "who you are is not what you do." So who am I? If you ask yourself, "who am I?" what do you say? I wonder if the need to define ourselves is cultural as well?

About This Blog

I love this adventure I'm on with my Rocket Scientist. The most recent addition to our expedition has me in awe daily. I can't wait to see My Little Man as a big brother. We started off by moving from Western Canada to Chicago and now we're in the UK. Will this Strange Mamma ever not feel like a stranger in the land?

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