Motherhood is a Full-Time Job
Forty years of feminism, and women no longer find child rearing a challenge. I contend it is--but not the challenge career-minded women conceptualize after toiling at a four-year college. Changing a smelly diaper hasn’t moved anyone up a corporate ladder, but when the baby stops crying and Mom sighs in peace, the baby is gratefully aware of her presence. And everyone else rests easier, too. Day care employees do not receive the same peace of mind-–it’s on to the next diaper of someone else’s child. There will never be the tug of heartstrings when a child experiences discomfort or joy, hurt or playful delight.
Children were not born to intellectually stimulate or entertain adults. That is not their purpose. On a small scale, there is challenge in the management of our time as a mother. “Husbands don’t understand that accomplishing the simplest project with a tiny baby in tote is an enormous task,” Jamie lamented. “One day, I had all I could do to keep Veronica quiet,” I agreed. “Todd came home, and I told him what I did that day-–it was one thing that would normally have taken an hour or less, and I needed the entire day. He looked at me and said, ‘Good for you.’”
There is a true effort to complete daily tasks at work. But imagine the constant effort at home while working around interruptions from a baby that cannot grasp reasoning. Wiping up a spill on the floor is not important to a screaming baby wanting to be held. But spills and screams aren't what motherhood is about. Moms are easily distracted by the small details and lose sight of the big picture: Moms raise humanity. Raising our future to be respectful and responsible is genuinely difficult. To leave this in the hands of overworked and underpaid child care workers who "care" at a maximum capacity for the children of strangers... Well, I would be willing to bet the children get the short end of the deal.
“Where’s my mommy? She’s usually here by now. I don’t understand why she’s not here yet. Do you know where she is?” Jenna’s sad, blue eyes looked up at me, glassy with tears. Her voice was softly urgent. It was 4:25 p.m., five minutes from the end of my shift at Kinder Care, and I was seven months pregnant. I was temping at the Kinder Care, not wanting a full-time job that I would have to quit when I came due. “She may be stuck in traffic, sweetie. Or maybe she had to get one thing at the grocery store. I’m sorry it feels like you’ve been left behind, but I bet anything your mom is on her way now.” I tried to be genuinely positive without sounding patronizing.
Each generation pays close attention to societal values the previous holds dear, regardless of whether the values are agreed upon or not. Our children watch very carefully how we treat the defenseless, regardless of age. The young, set aside while we pursue intellectual challenges, will also grow to neglect raising their children. If this is so, imagine what they will do to aging parents if we ever come between them and intellectual pursuit.
“I quit breastfeeding after the first week. I couldn’t wait to get back to work. Sam is in the best day care around. I am so happy to be back at work teaching a fresh new crop. I am so looking forward to the new school year; I cleaned the cobwebs out of my lesson plan while on maternity leave.” Kelly was, in addition, glowing over her fortune having the entire summer to adjust to the newness of being a mom. Sam came along at the end of April, cutting short what she hoped to accomplish in the final quarter. I never mustered the courage to ask what Sam’s reaction would be when he learned mom was institutionalizing him in day care to teach 20+ children she didn’t know. As I give the situation more consideration, I regret with every breath I take that I didn’t dare ask-–for Sam’s sake.
Recently, Dr. Laura Schlessinger was the guest on a popular talk show. A talk radio host herself, "Dr. Laura" advocates moms staying home with their children, among other things. As she expected, she got a lot of dissenting and very pointed questions about the necessity of a woman being home. She turned the table and asked how many in the audience, when children, preferred the day care system over the care of their own mothers. No one raise a hand. In her bestseller, Parenthood by Proxy, she cites a letter written by the director of the National Foundation for Family and Education, Dr. Mark Genius:
"Our latest analysis examined over 25,000 children in studies covering from 1957 through to 1996. Numerous considerations were made regarding the year of the study, quality of study, and so forth. The bottom line appears to be that regular separation for more than approximately twenty hours per week places young children at significant risk of impaired development in areas of bonding, cognitive development, behavioral development and social development."
This is our future, a future we claim to depend upon. And how much forethought have we put into investing wisely? We want what we want – NOW. Gloria Steinem stated years ago, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” Well, we'd better get training wheels; these fish need to start peddling. Men are dependent on women all of their lives, rugged as they are. They are brought into this world by women, raised by them and, when the time comes, men marry them. It is not about helpless women being dependent on men to get by. They share a joint venture in which labor is divided and the load is shared. There is no unequal yoke here. Men can slay dragons, but women can motivate them to see that it’s worth their effort.
Men today have grown accustomed to the Women’s Movement rhetoric, and women are paralyzed by it. There was a time when a man never considered starting a family unless he was financially/physically capable. If he accidentally got his girlfriend pregnant, there was a shotgun wedding. Now shotguns are going the way of the wild west and the horse and carriage. Thanks to the sexual revolution and, subsequently, Roe vs. Wade, there is no longer an obligation to be responsible for the creation of life. There is abortion; occasionally a man is even required to cover some of the expense.
I am saddened as I listen to women who, on the one hand, try but become too impatient with the crying, screaming, and stress to stay at home with the children they voluntarily conceived and brought into this world. Alternatively, those who need intellectual fulfillment don’t question leaving dependent children only weeks old at institutions filled to capacity as they dash off to work. Mom caring for her children developmentally and spiritually is an afterthought somewhere between work and bedtime. It doesn’t occur to new parents today to consider the responsibility or the necessary expense tied to these bundles.
Once, I rescued a pet from the Humane Society. When they asked me to sign off on my ability to care for it, they wanted to know if I realized how much the minimum yearly cost for a pet was. I was baffled. I anticipated minimal care but was earnestly lectured about medical expense, care for the animal if I was traveling or if it was sick, etc. The only difference between this and having children was that no one ever put forth such questions prior to my daughter’s conception. No warning labels, nothing. Do we not have our priorities out of order in our postmodern society?
Even today, I still catch myself saying that I am "just a mom" when instead I should be saying, “I am Mom; hear me roar!” A news article in the weekend edition of the Star Tribune focused on the up and coming GenXers now moving into management. This is the next generation, and they are replacing entrenched Baby Boomers, who are preparing to retire. An interesting and very subtle point I picked up on was that this is the first round of young people to come out of the day care setting from parents who never questioned the necessity of day care for their children as they continued careers. That has had an impact on the GenX perspective on work. They do not see the career as a necessity and are not as power driven because of it. They put in their forty hours and go home to their family and friends. I thought it was almost a sad reflection on their experience, but at the same time, I am hopeful that this means a change in the way the next generation thinks of children and family. Our future depends upon our treatment of our children.
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