Long, long ago, when I was married, but was not yet a mother, I remember my husband and I marveling at a friend’s ability as a mother. She has twins and had not only breastfed them for the better part of the first year of their lives, as they grew she scheduled library visits and outings to the park or kids’ cultural events with ease and without complaint. “I treat it like my job,” she explained.
Good idea, I thought. Years later, when I had our first child, I did treat the new role like a job. It was easy. I put her on a schedule as soon as I could and stuck with it. She responded beautifully and I was able to maintain my second job (a home-based PR consulting business) without interruption. As she got older and I had another child, I realized how much structure was a part of her personality as much as it was a part of her life. Nature over nurture. It worked for her because her personality thrived on it, but not all kids are like that and they change. They grow into little people.
Something happens to children and as much as you tell them “No,” they discover they have free will. It happens around year three. The terrible twos are nothing compared to the thrilling threes. In year two, they test the water; in year three, they dive in! The business you have set up has just undergone a hostile takeover, chaos abounds, and you hear yourself yelling much more than any ‘One Minute Manager’ ever should. You find that the only way to manage is through manipulation, threats and bribery. I must have missed that business success book.
This is when mothers want to quit. This is when mothers who thought they would home-school their children are frantically searching for a pre-school–a pre-school that will take kids in diapers and have a summer program, no less. I gave up on the business model and began searching for something else.
When my kids were five and three, a woman I admire whose children were about 10 and 12 commented in a passing conversation about motherhood that she was always most concerned for the women who treated their mother role as a job. I didn’t get to ask her why, but it struck me when she said that and it made me feel better that I wasn’t the only one to have a problem with extending the term “job” to an all-encompassing, 24/7 lifestyle change that starts the moment you bring your child home.
I’ll tell you why childrearing is not a job: because childrearing is like corraling cats! No business can be run with little people who have a ten-minute attention span and do not have a grasp on any sort of protocol–AT ALL. I have never had a business lunch meeting with a colleague who licked ketchup from her plate. I have never been in a boardroom with a professional who unabashedly picked her nose and ate it. The fact is, as a mother, you have to teach skills from square one: alphabet, colors, shapes, matching your clothing, socks and shoes, hygiene, manners, etc.
The only department of a corporation that resembles parenting is human resources with a huge accent on training. Kids are the employees you cannot fire. They are born into tenure with a retirement plan in the works. Human resources is constantly grooming them to someday start their own corporation, or more literally, a family.
Stephen Covey says in “7 Habits of Highly Successful People” to keep the end in mind. As a parent, you do that, at every step. From potty training to choosing a college. One thing leads to another and enables the next step in a developmental ontogeny.
Nonetheless, the reason motherhood is not a job or a business in any sort of professional way beyond low-level HR, is that above all else, it is a labor of love. It is sacrificial in ways you never knew it would be. The emotional skills you bring to the role are more important than any negotiation skills you have–but let’s not underestimate those skills. Boundaries are definitely important and consistency is paramount to successful discipline.
On the flip side, colleagues never want you to kiss their boo-boos or read them a bedtime story. They don’t thank you for bubble bath or coconut-scented shampoo. They don’t stroke your cheek when you’re sad or hug your leg when they are scared. Motherhood is not a job, it’s a trusteeship.
As a parent, you serve as a steward to the young apprentice that you were lucky enough to have been given by whatever higher power you recognize. Larger than teaching them how to use utensils and the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, you foster their talents and try to help them make the right decisions the rest of their lives. You teach them ethics and morals, you share your opinions with them and hope they become good people. All the while you learn too, sometimes more than the kids do. Childhood and parenthood are inextricable and symbiotic—as painful as that might be. I am reminded every day to be more patient, more understanding, and that I am the only mother they have. While I sometimes want to pull my hair out, I know that motherhood is a privilege and I need to appreciate it for what it is and what it is not.
Take My Word For It!