In the last weeks of my pregnancy my friend Beth, who didn’t have kids yet either, came to my door bearing good wishes and a stack of novels. “I thought you might like to read these once the baby comes and you stop going to work,” she offered. That made sense. I should have tons of time on my hands. So I gave her a thank-you hug and set the stack on the table. Of course, once our daughter was born, my bubble quickly burst. I had no time to myself. Every minute was spent taking care of her or doing stuff around the house. I rarely had a minute to read the headlines on the front page of the newspaper let alone a novel. Every once in a while, I looked at the stack of books, sitting on our table for months, unread, in the exact same place I put them down. Where did all that time go that Beth and I thought I would have?
Then when our baby was about six months old, we tagged along on my parents’ vacation in the desert town of Palm Springs. While my husband David rose early to catch a morning tee time, I rose early to prepare the morning bottle and change the morning diaper. As David played the ninth hole, and my parents played with the baby, I played house. I prepared bottles, did laundry, changed diapers, coordinated nap times, rocked her to sleep—all the round-the-clock stuff I’d been doing at home. I broke down, saying that nothing about this trip felt like a vacation to me. David quickly offered to stop golfing and pitch in. Then my mother and sister said, “But poor David, he’s been working so hard. He needs a break.” I nearly bit their heads off. “Excuse me!” I insisted, “I need a break too!” Though I couldn’t really explain from what. Why would anyone need a vacation if they weren’t “working”? Fortunately, my father chimed in, “Wait a minute; Kristin’s been working hard too.”
Working. Yes, he was right. I was working. I’d been working nonstop. I’d never thought of it that way. Growing up, my mother was never employed and I often wondered to myself, “What does she do all day?” What my dad did was work. Whatever my mom did was simply what moms do.
Then bam, I became a mother myself and I found myself doing a bunch of work day after day that had been completely invisible to me before, and was still invisible to everyone else, as if you needed special x-ray glasses to see it.
Because we assume caring for family is “simply what moms do” the work disappears into the role of “mother” and can’t be seen. And what can’t be seen can’t be shared, can’t be measured, can’t be valued, and couldn’t possibly be “work.”
Except it is.
So for Mother’s Day? Just get me a pile of x-ray glasses I can start handing out to everyone else.
- Choose a six-hour block of your day, at least part of which you will spend with your children and family. Make notes about how you spend your time. Be sure to include mental work like making lists or planning meals. The first step in challenging the unconscious belief that caring for family isn’t work is to make the work visible to yourself and your family.
- Read and share this post by the fabulous economist, Nancy Folbre. “Valuing Family Work”
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Remodeling Motherhood offers fresh perspective on mothers, fathers, money, marriage and work paired with tools to remodel and improve the lives of parents and families.