Recently I saw through different professional networking and social media accounts some of my old friends, who are also mothers and amazing at their jobs, had received a promotion or exciting job change. As I typed “Congratulations!” on their posts (and meant it), I also felt a sinking feeling inside.
Despite the fact that I really enjoy my job, love the people I work with and the community I am surrounded by — and really believe in my employer’s mission — part of the reason I also love my job is because it gives me space to be there for my kids. Is that such a bad thing? (Note, this is why social media can be dangerous, and I don’t doubt for a second my friends’ abilities to be rockstar professionals and great mothers.)
But, I thought to myself as I scrolled mindlessly on, I made this choice, I am happy with it, and I love my job. I shouldn’t grade myself on my professional titles. And I’m not going to fall into the trap society sets for women and feel like I’m less than just because I place a high personal value on being a mother. At the end of my life do I want my direct reports to be more devastated that I died than my children, who should be saying, “Wow, Mom really helped me be the best I can be?” No. And then it hit me: Why shouldn’t my kids be my best life’s work?
Why do we devalue motherhood and the care of children so much?
As women, we are told we can be amazing, do anything, achieve it all, even though realistically in our only-12-hours-on-a-clock-world, this is actually impossible. Having a fulfilling professional career and being a great parent is not completely mutually exclusive though, I believe that. The personal satisfaction I get from work is not something I get from my children, or my marriage, or my friends. The time I spent getting where I am is something I am proud of. But why, in our crazy world, is a person’s occupation or professional accomplishments, their success and the things they can buy with it, an almost complete measure of their worth? Why is being a mom not considered one of the most positive contributions one can make to society?
In our often tragic and broken world, raising good humans should be the most valuable thing anyone can do. Who wouldn’t want to create loving do-gooders who want to make their communities better places? Who want to solve social injustice, cure heartbreaking diseases, or create art to make the world a more beautiful place? Being a mom is one of the most valuable things we do with our lives — we are the ones who encourage small beings who drink the bath water they just peed in to become productive people who nurse others back to health, work for peace and bring food and clothing to those in desperate need. Moms are the ones who help make this happen — through setting boundaries and rules, driving to practices and school, and setting a personal example of how to love and treat others. Moms aren’t the only ones who make that happen though — it’s anyone devoted to childcare.
Heaven forbid you are a teacher, devoting your life to educating and molding children. Nope, those three months of summer vacation put you in the professional “slacker” category, to be paid less and valued less, even though, in my opinion, what you contribute to society is far more valuable, longlasting, and life-changing, than say, an NBA player or tween pop star. Every preschool teacher should be entered into sainthood; anyone who can spend eight hours a day with six 2-year-olds is doing the hardest job on the planet — and yet the greater world doesn’t seem to see it that way. Why isn’t teaching a 2-year-old how to get along with others, not bite and to share, such an undervalued skill? We couldn’t run important meetings at big companies and make a lot of money if employees starting pulling each other’s hair when they disagreed.
And God forbid you choose to stay home and make raising kids your only “occupation.” You’re either labeled as a tennis-playing country club snob who eats bonbons and drinks their lunch — sobering up only in the carpool line — or as someone who just couldn’t “cut it” in any way other than to be a free diaper changer who watches soap operas all day while the Crock-Pot takes care of dinner. Every mother knows these stereotypes are completely ridiculous and that being home with children is hard. When I stayed home with my first baby and people asked what I did, I’d say, in almost a whisper and completely apologetically, “Oh, I’m just a mom.” Like it was something to be ashamed of. Ten years later I know better.
I am not just a mom. I am a mom, and it is the most important thing I have ever done with my life. Let’s lose the JUST there. And stop apologizing for raising people who will one day make the world a better place.