A Mother’s Work Is Never Valued

I wrote this on Mother’s Day and just found it sitting unpublished in my drafts folder. I thought it deserved an airing…

‘Happy Mothers Day to all the current and future mums out there. You deserve your day of thanks for doing a job that is worth $120 a day if you are a child-care centre, $20.30 per hour if you are a nanny, but considered ‘chilling at home’ and not worth anything if you are caring for your own children.’

It is Mothers Day in Australia today, and I was going to post this on my Facebook wall, but after the response I got when I posted about how a woman’s long-term health should not automatically be considered less important than her ability to have babies, I decided against it. The ‘chilling at home’ bit is a comment from a man on another post about what he thinks stay-at-home mums actually do.

Motherhood is the most difficult, time-consuming and exhausting thing I have personally ever done, and ‘getting to spend time with your kids’ is meant to be the only recompense we could possibly need. Women give up so much in order to produce and raise children, and we are meant to consider it a privilege. If it is the most valuable thing we can possibly do, why is it not considered to be worth any actual money?

I have had conversations with single people who are childless by choice, who go on about how people who have children are a drain on the system and how they resent, as a single person, paying taxes that go to things like family payments, schools and childcare. Why should they have to pay for things that they will never use? Why should they pay for other people’s choices?

I say if it bothers you so much, why not have a baby? If you think people with kids have it easy and have everything handed to them and have it so much better, why not join us? Oh, because you like your freedom? You like being able to go out with your friends? You like being able to work full time? You don’t fancy the estimated cost of $400,000 per child over their years dependent on you?

Now, I absolutely believe that any person in this country who works full time should earn enough to run a car, feed themself, pay their rent or mortgage, and save for the future.

I also believe that women should not have to put years and years of their lives into a 24hour-a-day role that men in our society have long passed off as ‘women’s work’. We should not have to give up our bodies, our sleep, our lifestyle, our career, and our every waking moment, while being patted on the head and told we are doing a Most Valuable Thing which should be its own reward.

I lived in a situation where I raised the children, the man earned the money, and I was not allowed to spend a singe cent without his permission. I regularly heard the cry of ‘what do you even do all day?’. And when I wanted to go out of town overnight to visit a friend I got ‘I don’t understand why you feel the need to spend time away from the family’.

I know I am not the only woman who as experienced this. I am probably also not the only woman who believed I was ungrateful and a terrible person for not finding doing washing and cleaning up baby vomit all day to be a fabulously rewarding experience.

Another topic that comes up regularly is how mothers are a liability in the workplace because they always have to take time off to care for their children and they don’t put work first like men do. Pregnant women, in particular, are considered to be a huge drain on workplaces. The prevailing attitude is that many employers would prefer not to employ women at all, that women are unreliable, don’t prioritise their work over their family, and expect all sorts of special treatment.

At nearly every job interview I have had, the revelation that I have children has been followed by a question about my support network. I only recently realised that this line of inquiry was to determine how likely it would be that motherhood would interfere with my ability to turn up to work.

Men claim that they contribute to raising children, but if this was actually the case would there still be the prevailing attitude that whenever the kids need a parent, it will be Mum who has to interrupt her work? When men who take care of kids are hailed as heroes and women are dismissed as unreliable, what hope do we have of any level of equality in the land of the working parent?

Women may choose to become mothers, but this choice is steeped in the assumptions of society. Women who don’t want children are seen as defective, selfish, even sociopathic. No man wants to waste his life on a woman who won’t give him children. And there is nothing more tragic than a woman who is not appealing to men. These assumptions lead to societal pressures that take most of the actual conscious choice out of a woman’s decision to have babies. She does it because she is expected. Because Mr Great Catch will leave her if she doesn’t. Because of that irritating biological drive that motivates us to perpetuate our species.

My kids are great, but you could not pay me enough to relive the pregnancy/newborn/toddler/preschooler stages again. If I had had any idea what I was in for, other than being told how wonderful and rewarding it would all be, I would have thought more than twice about what I was doing. There is a reason why we are not allowed to talk outside our Mothers’ Groups about what a drag raising kids can be.

I’ll be spending my one day of thanks for the year preparing food for days ahead, vacuuming the floor and trying to get the washed clothes dry while it rains constantly outside. The kids want me to play a game with them, which I will do when I have got all the other stuff done. I have taken a cheeky half hour to create this essay.

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