Motherhood, housework, caregiving

Not my dishes.

I got this acknowledgment from my sister, when she read the first few entries of my blog:

I feel I do more work as a “part time” consultant and a “full time” wife and mom than I ever did as a full time Marine (which is by the way a 24-7-365 job).

My sister

Can we stipulate that being a wife or a mom is not a job? Far be it from me to say there’s not a lot of work associated with motherhood (hopefully not with wifehood, although I myself found that to be somewhat the case). But motherhood itself is a relationship: it’s that thing made by birth–though not always–and hugs and snot and worries, built of love and need and pride and hope. Sometimes motherhood seems like an identity, more so for some than for others. For me personally, a partial one. But what it ain’t, is a job.

Why make the distinction? So you can love motherhood, and not feel guilty about all the shit you can never get around to doing. When people say “motherhood is the toughest job you’ll ever love,” I hope they’re talking about the parenting part: helping your kid through the trials of being human, like the loss of a friend group or a learning disability or a bad breakup or depression or anger or addiction. Helping them find the things that turn them on, that challenge them and help them grow.

Let me point out what motherhood is not: grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, or picking up toys. Those things are housework. Motherhood is not bathing or diapering or carpooling or helping with schoolwork or filling out camp forms or remembering to make dentist appointments. Those are caregiving tasks. Wiping off the kitchen counters and filling out financial aid forms are drudgery, plain and simple. We never talk as if fatherhood is all of those things. What the hell. I do think men nowadays understand their joint ownership of the caregiving tasks for small children (e.g., diapering); but are often either oblivious to much of the rest or conflate it with “motherhood,” conveniently for themselves.

People used to talk about “quality time,” do you remember? Quality time is the Not Work of motherhood and fatherhood. The work is inevitable, yes, and it should be shared equitably. And just like you shouldn’t let yourself get buried by work in life, make sure you don’t get buried by the work in parenthood. Men especially: you don’t get a pass to let your partner do all the work, just because she will. Women: let the work go if you have to and can. You need the energy for better things.

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