I know that I should know better than to wade into murky water, but over the past week, there’s been a lot of talk about work, motherhood, and how they fit together.
I am not going to tell you what I think women who are mothers should do, how they should finance their lives and families, how they should use their time and energy; we all have to negotiate those decisions for ourselves, and I have done so from a place of privilege and the amazingly flexible freedom that live there. But I am disturbed by the indiscriminate use of the word “Work” to describe motherhood, and I’ll tell you why.
I had three children under the age of four before I turned thirty. It was wonderful: a dream come true. It was also exhausting, physically challenging, emotionally demanding, thought-provoking, guilt-inducing, exhilarating, isolating, joyful and quite incredible. It involved continuing education: in the medical field (food allergies, asthma, boo-boos); early childhood education and, later, a refresher course in long division; conflict management and mediation, etc. There were times when I wanted to lock myself in a dark room with sound-proof, padded walls. There were times when I danced in front of strangers. I had begged, nay beseeched God Almighty for these children, and they were mine, and I remain humbly grateful to have been allowed to know them and be their mother.
But where does my aversion to the word “work” fit in to all of that?
When they were all very little, we moved to Singapore. The prevailing wisdom seemed to be that having three small children to care for was a lot like hard labour: too much like hard labour, in fact. People were forever asking me how I coped, managed, survived. The word “work” was frequently invoked. They were such hard work, people told me, in pitying, admiring, and resentful tones. I would respond that I had asked for them, I loved them, they were mine and they were my life.
My eldest daughter, always a bright little eavesdropper, after hearing this one too many times from one too many pretty strangers, suggested that I might wish to give away one of the three of them, so that I wouldn’t have to work so hard. She was worried about me.
I had to sit down with my beautiful, beloved daughter and explain to her that no matter how tired I got, or grumpy, how much other people complained about how hard I “worked,” she, her brother and her sister were not work to me. I reminded her of the dancing in front of strangers. They were not work. They were love. They are love. They are my loves.
Parenting, whether you are a mother, a father, or attempting to be both at once, is demanding, stressful, frustrating, exhausting, requires investments of time, energy, emotion, discernment, empathy and prayer beyond what any of us imagined before we became parents. It is also involving in a way that makes words like “rewarding” ridiculously pale and insignificant. If that fits your description of “work,” well then, okay.
But please don’t say so around the children.