Moms, Does Society Do Your Job? Didn’t Think So.

Jan 20, 2023

Recently, members of PWH’s support group for new moms emphasized a problem. A problem that they grapple with as individuals, having to do with their values, identities, wishes, needs, and the natural oscillations that happen when one becomes a parent. This is also a social problem.

The first “small talk” or “getting to know you” question people tend to ask in American culture is “What do you do?” The underlying question being--"What do you do for work?" And, underlying statements being--“I assume you have a job that earns you a paycheck, tied to some sort of career path...I’ll try to relate to you through this assumption first, and if you don’t have a ‘real’ job, I’m not sure who you are.”

American culture has always done this, tying one’s sense of self-worth to the work one does, and perhaps even more so, to the perceived social status of that work. Upon introductions, how about we show interest by saying, "Tell me about yourself." Let's push ourselves to ask people who they are, versus what they are, and be in charge of defining our identities by more than our perceived social or economic status.

Back to moms and jobs... Here’s the thing. Being a parent IS a job. A huge job. If you also do a job that earns a paycheck, then you have multiple jobs, and as group members pointed out, you may even be paying someone else to do the job of caring for your kids while you’re doing your other job. (And let's be real, being a parent is many jobs, with only one title.)

Society is stubborn and takes a very long time to evolve. Social norms are embedded in culture, created in a different time, by people who were in positions of power, often that benefited their own desires and agendas. Sometimes they are well-intended for the greater community, and sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes they are intended to oppress and maintain hierarchies, so people in power, stay there. Culture is also impacted by collective knowledge and technology available at that time. Outdated expectations, assumptions, and judgments are maintained, as long as we play by those “rules.”

Fortunately, women have careers now in a huge way (continued inequality in the workplace is for another conversation!), AND they’re still “supposed to be” moms first. Women end up damned if they do, damned if they don’t--work at a “job," then you’re not spending enough time with your kids. Stay home and do the 24/7 job of childcare, and you’re not being a “good feminist,” exercising your right and ability to work in the field. It can feel as if you’re always failing.

Kim and I are here to tell you that you’re not, and that you need to do what’s right for you, at this time, in your life. And, it can change. You get to decide what your “job” is, based on your own values, goals, and gut-feelings. Don’t let anyone make you believe that being a “stay at home mom” or working part-time is less-than. Or that working a "workplace" job full-time makes you a less-than mom. It's all about finding the arrangement that works for you and your family, in this present moment of your life. -Sam


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