Every Mother’s Day the mothers of America are treated to a little condescending gift from the newspapers and magazines of our country. This year, thanks to Hillary Rosen and the Romney Campaign to Blow Everything out of Context and Proportion, our gift came early.
The gift is article after article (and politician and pundit after politician and pundit) explaining why being a mother is “the hardest job in the world” and how much said mothers would earn if they were being paid for their services. Here’s an example from Forbes from last Mother’s Day stating that SAHMs would earn $115,000/year.
At the risk of being assaulted, I will state for the record that I don’t believe being a mother is the hardest job in the world. I mean even if you accept that taking care of small children is more stressful than being a brain surgeon operating on a small child or President of the United States, or more disgusting than being the custodial staff at a bus station, or more heartbreaking than being a hospice worker, you would have to admit that the person who has it hardest is the live-in nanny from another country whose own children are back in that country. But my real question is, why do we feel we need to call it a “job” at all?
I’m not saying that being a mother isn’t valuable, I’m asking why that value has to be defined in dollars and the language of the economy. It’s “econo-centric” (a term I plan to TM) to say that the only experiences that are worth something are those to which we can attach a dollar amount. To me that seems by extension, sexist.
A few years ago I read a short interview with Martha Stewart in the New York Times magazine. The reporter asked Martha if she really thought that decorating and crafts were the most important thing modern women could be doing with their time. To me this seemed so blatantly sexist. No one asks professional sports commentators or writers if they believe that talking about a bunch of men in tight white pants giving each other life threatening concussions over a ball is the most important thing modern men can be doing with their time.
Why are shop classes still offered in high school but home ec classes are getting harder to find? Why are traditionally male activities seen as necessary or at least worthy of multi-billion dollar industries, but traditionally female activities are not?
Unless you hang out with Marxists, or over-eager, slightly-stoned college students, you are rarely asked to explain how your paying job adds value or beauty to the world. So, why do we feel like we need to assign a dollar amount to being a parent? Why isn’t being a mother (or a father) valuable simply because it is. Simply because we value it?
Why do we have to call it a job or pretend that if it were a job it would make hundreds of thousands of dollars? Because here’s the thing, we do assign a dollar value to being a full-time parent, it’s what that full-time nanny from Guatamala makes and guess what, it isn’t $115,000/year.
So this Mother’s Day when the waitress at brunch tells you that you have the hardest job in the world, smile and nod politely (because she does have a hard job and needs your tips and it isn’t polite to make her feel bad for thinking she’s being polite) and think to yourself, no, what I have is much more valuable than a job.