A Job, a Privilege, or a Hobby: What is Motherhood, Anyway?

A Job, a Privilege, or a Hobby: What is Motherhood, Anyway?

Hey. Let’s iron this out right here, right now. Let’s put our heads together and define these words that are so incendiary. These words that are thrown around so loosely, so carelessly, and left to smolder in the minds of mothers. These words that have sparked Mommy Wars. I’m not sure how, or why, or even when being a mom turned into a competition, but lately, everywhere I look women are taking a stance on what motherhood means.

Some describe motherhood as a job.  This group of fire-starters focuses on the aspects of mommyhood that are hard. Many stories are about poop – the kid pooped in the tub, the kid wiped poop on the wall, little darling shat on his hand and licked his fingers, etc.  Other popular topics include houses that are never clean, sleep that is never had, and showers that are never taken. These conversations are mediated by the ever-present introduction: “Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids, but…” This group tends to be bold, irreverent, and wickedly funny, hyped up on coffee and wine. Or maybe Xanax and vodka.  They are happy to tell you if you ask them.

They are right. Motherhood is hard; actually, it’s fucking hard. Even those who are too nice to swear are thinking it.  But is it a job? What exactly does “job” mean? According to a quick Google search, the primary definition of job is “a paid position of regular employment.” “Job” is also defined as “a task or piece of work, especially one that is paid.” Well. Easy-peasy. Motherhood is not a job. There is no parenting payment. Naysayers will argue that moms are compensated in other ways – kisses, hugs, giggles, tender loving exchanges, funny comments.  I say no. Heart-warming moments help balance out the hard parts, but they are not payment for services rendered. Those moments are given away freely – they are gifts.

Others take offense to the motherhood-is-a-job stance and argue that motherhood is a privilege. This group fans the flames by focusing on aspects of motherhood that are gratifying. They spew little nuggets of wisdom, like, “only women can be mothers” and “we should live up to our calling” and “life is an awe inspiring miracle, an honor, a wondrous unfathomable event!” These moms are happy to spend all night arranging some impossibly intricate Pinterest lunch for Junior. They don’t swear in front of children (it corrupts the development of good character). Instead, they make up non-swears like “oh fudge” or “coconuts” for those stub-your-toe instances. This group tends to be sweet, earnest, and giving, but also passive-aggressive. And probably also on Xanax, but that is impossible to prove. No member of this group would admit it.

They are right. Motherhood abounds with precious moments. Moments that are just between parent and child and are full of joy and reverence. But is it a privilege? The primary definition of “privilege” is “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available to only a particular person.”  An alternate definition is “something regarded as a rare opportunity and bringing particular pleasure.” Motherhood is granted only to women, but men are also parents and regularly engage in special moments. Mothers share a special bond with their children, but fathers share an equally special bond. And I think we can all agree there is nothing rare about motherhood. Anyone with a functioning reproductive system or a heart for adoption can be a mother. Hell, every female species in the animal kingdom has the potential to be a mother. So no, motherhood is not a privilege.

A small subset of the privilege group even compares motherhood to a hobby, like gardening, because it brings so much pleasure. If I may rephrase a cliche: I can’t even. Like, who thinks motherhood is literally just like a hobby? (Please say this in your head with an annoying teenager/valley girl voice. It’s much better that way). Just for the sake of symmetry, let’s define hobby: “an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.” Leisure time? Moving on…

Trying to define motherhood in terms of difficult qualities versus gratifying qualities is not only divisive, but it also makes us all look like a bunch of asshole sanctimommies. Moms who judge other moms about their parenting choices.

So what is motherhood? I could offer some cheesy solution, like, “Oh clearly it’s both hard and awesome! Let’s just get together and sing kumbaya. We can start a jobprivobby movement!” Or, I could offer up this thought: Why do we need to define motherhood with global characteristics? Each person will have a different view of what mothering is, based on their experiences. Many mothers will relate to the shitty moments described by the job mommies. Those same mothers will deeply connect with the pleasurable moments described by the privilege mommies. We need to feel safe to share all the moments. Moms need to share different opinions and have different viewpoints, because that is how we become better mommies.

Maybe we should look at mothering from the point of view of a child. My favorite definition comes from Urban Dictionary, and states, “The woman who loves you unconditionally from birth, the one who puts her kids before herself and the one who you can always count on above everyone else. Just telling her your problems makes you feel better because mom’s (sic) always know how to make it all go away. Even if you fight, know that she’s just looking out for your best interests. Where would you be without your mom?”

Boom. The fire is out. Let’s blow away the smoke and start sharing.