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On Wednesday Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist, made a comment on CNN about Ann Romney saying that she “has actually never worked a day in her life,” referring to the fact that Ann has spent her adult life as a stay-at-home mom rather than as an employee of another corporation. While the Obama campaign has indicated that Ms. Rosen’s comments do not reflect the position of their campaign I felt the need to address this line of thinking in general in the world. It’s something that was on my mind before this came up and I had considered writing this post anyways, but now I have a very good excuse to not procrastinate doing so 🙂
First, you ought to know my work history. I graduated from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics with a minor in Computers and the Humanities. In my life I have worked as a babysitter, software quality assurance tester, accounting clerk, department store customer service representative, theater technician (spotlight operator, stage hand and stage manager), web developer, and stay-at-home mom. Most of those jobs would be considered part time jobs that I held through high school and college. When I was a theater technician I was part of a touring theater group and most days would consist of waking up early (generally 7am-ish), driving to a theater, moderate manual labor all day (unloading/loading a truck full of theater equipment, setting up props, speakers, lights etc), doing a show, loading the equipment back up and finally leaving the theater late at night (generally 11pm-ish), going home to a host home and doing it all again the next day. As a web developer I held a traditional 9-5 salaried position with a local advertising agency which I commuted to on the bus, and came home to make dinner, drive it across town to my husband and only get home in time to go to bed before doing it again the next day. Suffice it to say, no one could say that I’ve “never worked a day in my life.” However, of all the jobs I’ve held, being a stay-at-home mom FAR surpasses any of my previous positions in difficulty and general amount of work that I do.
It amazes me how our society doesn’t look at full-time motherhood as “real” work. I know it may seem that those of us who have chosen to make our family our career just have it easy – getting to stay home and play with kids all day – but anyone who thinks that has obviously never tried it. As a mother I am on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. When I worked at my traditional 9-5 job, even though my days were long (starting around 6am and not really getting home until nearly 9pm), when I went to bed at night there wasn’t a baby in my bed who expected to be fed at 2am. My clients didn’t call me at 3am because they’d had a nightmare and needed some comforting. Except in rare situations, I had my weekends completely to myself. As a mom I get excited when I am alone for long enough to go pee without my boys trying to climb on me or get into something. Every aspect of my life revolves around my children. Sure I had to grocery shop, cook, do laundry and dishes before I had kids, but now I do those things while carrying around an 18lb child, or trying to referee the two kids so they don’t kill each other while I try to accomplish some task. Everything I do takes twice as long because these children require my attention at all hours. There are naps to be taken, joy school, bedtimes, playdates and a host of other activities that weren’t part of my daily life before parenthood.
I know that some people are thinking, “yeah, but the work isn’t very difficult.” Au contraire mon chere! One of the most difficult parts about motherhood and running a household is that in all my educational experience leading up to this career choice I didn’t receive much training that actually taught me how to do what I’m doing now. There wasn’t a single class in college that taught me how to keep a house clean with toddlers in it. I didn’t get a degree that qualified me for treating fevers or successfully baking bread (a skill I have yet to gain).
The hardest and most frustrating part (in my opinion) is that the work of a mother is never done, and it’s the same work over and over and over again. I can spend all day working on laundry, getting it cleaned, dried, folded and put away; but at the end of the day we take off the clothes we’re wearing and there’s more laundry to do. Every 3-5 hours throughout the day it’s time to prepare another meal, convince my kids to eat that meal (which takes far longer than just eating on my own) and then all the dishes that come afterwards. I change diapers only to have to change them again within a few hours. As fast as I can pick up all the toys, clothes and other stuff in our house our boys seem to make different messes just as quickly.
For the past several months my status message in GMail has said “I feel accomplished in a day if I complete one thing that won’t be undone by day’s end.” That pretty well sums up my life. To me, that’s the biggest difference between my career as a web developer and my career as a mother. As a web developer I would be presented with lots of problems – broken pages, new pages to build, typos, loading issues etc. But as soon as I solved the problem, it was done and I could move on to the next problem. The only reason I would have to revisit the same problem is if I did something to mess it up again, or if it was on a different site. As a mother I am constantly re-doing the same things, not because I did them wrong the first time, but because they are things that need to be done over and over again.
Even the things that look to others like leisure activities aren’t quite what they seem on the surface. Yeah I watch a lot of TV, but it’s mostly Super Why or Ni Hao Kai Lan that I put on for my kids so that I can try to get some dishes done without my almost one year old climbing into the dishwasher. I’m on Facebook a lot, but it’s usually because (like right now) I’m stuck at the computer with a sleeping baby in my lap that refuses to sleep on his own. I’m relatively active on Pinterest but mostly to find ways to save money, clean better, cook new things, find good educational activities for my children or generally researching how to be a better homemaker. Playdates look like fun and games, but between getting kids prepared to leave the house, behave appropriately at someone else’s house, and getting them back home (not to mention the disruption to their routine which can be very unwelcome, even with the fun of a playdate in mind) – it’s a lot more effort than you might think.
Please don’t take these comments the wrong way. I love being a mother. My life right now is completely devoted to what I consider the most important endeavor I could embark on – raising my children to be good, productive, smart, responsible members of our community. It requires long hours, patience, organization, creativity, wisdom, endurance and most importantly hard work. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, and I feel so grateful for my wonderful husband who shoulders the burden of providing financially for our family so that I am able to spend my time focused on running our household and raising our children. But just because I don’t receive a paycheck doesn’t mean what I do is any less work. Hilary, I daresay that you don’t know what it’s like to have worked a day in your life until you’ve been a stay-at-home mom.