Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Is being a mom the hardest job in the world?

On her show yesterday, Oprah Winfrey repeated something I've heard before: "Being a mom is the hardest job in the world."

We all want to appreciate moms, and those of us who are moms certainly want to be appreciated. So we tend to nod earnestly when we hear this statement. Hooray for millions of moms, doing the hardest job in the world!

But let's be realistic. Let's get past the feel-good emotions we get when we honor the difficulties of being a mom, and let's analyze Oprah's statement.

If being a mom was really the hardest job in the world, would very many of us actually choose to do it more than once? Sure, there's that whole childbirth amnesia thing that switches us from "I ain't doin' THAT again!" (while putting cold compresses on our nether regions) to, "Ah, it wasn't so bad" (three months later.)

But there isn't any amnesia that makes a woman forget that her child spit up, peed, and pooped on her, all in one day. When Mommy goes to bed with Daddy and makes another baby, Mommy knows full well that 45 minutes ago she was dealing with a toddler's bedtime tantrums.

Some jobs are really hard. A desk job that requires long hours of amazingly tedious, boring work. A position in a meat packing plant that leaves the worker with a raw cow smell that won't wash away. An assembly line job in a third-world country that results in repetitive use injury and doesn't pay enough to feed a family. Sometimes we moms get bored, stinky, and sore. But not every day, all day.

Don't get me wrong. Being a mom is, at times, hard. We remember all the less-than-glamorous annoyances our kids bring into our lives all day long. Yet many of us--on purpose--retire our chosen method of birth control, obsessively track our ovulatory cycles, and choose to do it again.


Because it's not all about vomit, nap difficulties, and tantrums. There are other aspects of being a mom that are easy, effortless, and rewarding. Cuddling with my daughter is easy. Smiling when my kids are silly is effortless. Most importantly, experiencing a pure love that grows with my children is unspeakably rewarding. What a paycheck--love.

Oh, no, Oprah, being a mom is not the hardest job in the world. In fact, some days, it's the best.


Rachel Cotterill said...

It's the only job where, once you've started, you're 'at work' 24 hours a day for at least 18 years (and, in some sense, for the rest of your life).

With other jobs you can expect holidays, the right to resign if you don't like it, and retirement in your later years... :)

Kara said...

My husband sits in a nice office all day, around adults who respect him and don't scream or throw tantrums. But honestly, I think his job is way harder than mine. I think most jobs are harder than mine. I am not really a fan of this culture of "moms are the hardest workers in the world!" yes, in some ways, I suppose. But on the other hand, I'm with the people I love best all day long, I mostly have really fun days with my kids... and I can be in pajamas all day long if I want! :-)

Anna L. (*Joyful*Heart*) said...

I enjoy starting my day with a fresh perspective. I agree: motherhood is not the hardest job in the world. In fact,(for me)it has been nothing less than joyous with a few (o.k. maybe more than just a few) difficult moments thrown in to keep it interesting.

I adore our son and every moment I am able to spend with him. It took us 7 long years to get pregnant. When I start to feel overwhelmed, I try to remember the feeling of emptiness before we were blessed with our son who forever changed our lives for the better; it never fails to soften my heart and make me more appreciate how good my life truly is even in the most frustrating moments.

Call Me Cate said...

I didn't see Oprah yesterday but as someone who is not a mom, I think it's hard to generalize anything as the hardest job in the world. For me, it might be that the hardest job would be being a mom. For someone super creative and active, being at a desk job might be the hardest. For an introvert with anxiety issues, being a presenter might be the hardest.

I do think that in most cases though, regardless of how hard or easy, being a mom seems to me like one of the most rewarding jobs because you *do* have those fantastic moments to help even out the tantrums and pee.

Beki - TheRustedChain said...

I do think it's an extremely tough job, but very worth it.

Steph at Problem Solvin' Mom said...

I like your perspective on this, and as you point out, we in the US are pampered and have a totally different perspective than someone in a country lacking in human rights...
I think what makes being a mom so challenging is that it is nonstop - but in addition to being one of the most challenging, it is in my estimation the most rewarding! :) I think that's what keeps us coming back?

Stephanie Labbe said...

Well, I think it can be a job that's unspeakably rewarding yet at the same time really hard. Motherhood can be such a drain on so many levels. My husband has very demanding clients who can be needy. But that's only during the day. They're not needy in the night, they don't need him to wash their clothes and when they get sick they stay at their own house! They're okay with him being sick and staying at his own house! I always joke that I have the worst bosses EVER. I love them and am so lucky to be with them but they never let me have a full night's sleep, a day off, a sick day or a vacation day.

I think it's not so much the physical part but the emotional parts of being a mom. Every day I struggle to make sure that I provide all my children need, physically and emotionally. Making sure everyone gets out to play, plays with educational toys inside, eats well etc. Do I really give that fourth child enough attention every day? What about the six year old who is bright but is struggling academically? Is my bright and curious nine year old being enriched enough? What about potty training the three year old? Plus making time for my wonderful husband. Unfortunately, my needs often come last.

As a mom, I know I'm the sun in the center of my family's solar system. (corny, but it's always how I picture it!) I have to keep a gravitational pull on four little planets and one big husband planet. Keep them close, nurture them but at the same time give them their space to develop into the great men they're destined to be.

So yes, I love my job and yes it's considerably harder than I thought it would be. Sorry this has turned into my own blog entry!(blush)

Unknown said...

This is a great post, Beth. And, since I have a friend who had to walk among the dead in Mogadishu, I would add the military to your list of hard jobs.

Strange Mamma said...

Okay, so I was writing, and writing...and writing, and I figured it might be best to actually put it in my own post since I apparently had so much to say on the subject. Thanks Beth!

Dani said...

Wow. You know, I think being a mom is rather tough... but often the toughest jobs are also the most important. I believe it's safe to say that motherhood is the most VITAL job in the world, whether or not it's hard.

septembermom said...

My job as mom makes a huge difference in the lives of my four precious kids. They do drive me crazy often throughout the day. As you say, I can handle all the tantrums, messes and fights since I know that those hugs and smiles are waiting for me. I do think that motherhood is a long journey will many ups and downs. Trying to be a good mother is a daily challenge that is hopefully fueled by unconditional love and tons of stamina :)

Dani said...

By the way, I posted about this but it's scheduled to post on Saturday at Dani's Daily Drop for Saturday Speaks. You'll have to take a look- I'll try to remind you.

Becky said...

I recorded yesterday's Oprah because I knew Dooce was going to be on - but I'm about three weeks behind on my Tivo'd shows so it'll be awhile before I get around to watching it. :-)

But, I agree with you. I think being a mother is a hard job, but I can definitely think of some that are harder. None as rewarding, though, and that cancels out all of the negative, with a lot left over.

CDB said...

Great insightful post, and I enjoy being able to relate to both sides of the argument. Like any other job, some days are absolutely impossible. Other days pass quite nicely.

And either way, we wake up the next morning and do it all over again.

Julie said...

I have to confess I didn't see Oprah yesterday, but I think 'Call Me Cate' hit the nail on the head- what's hard for one person is easy for the next. For example, I love giving presentations in front of several hundred people (it's so exciting!), but speaking in front of any formal group, no matter how small, makes my husband a wreck....

For me, being a mom has been the hardest job I've ever had. I'm guessing there are many jobs that I'd like less, but few that I'd struggle with more. Being a mom is unpredictable and you don't ever know if you're doing it right and if you screw it up, it's your own child's life on the line! If you knew me well, you'd know these are HUGE for me. On the other hand, being a mom has been incredibly rewarding- more than any other 'job' I can think of. In the end this is why I do it. I feel called to be a mom and I just rely on God to help me through the rough spots. In fact, sometimes I think God put the desire for children in my heart so I'd have to rely on him more!

C. Beth said...

Rachel--True--but I think most moms I know would prefer to be a mom 24/7 than to be in a job they hated for 8 hours a day! :)

Kara--I agree!

Anna L.--What a great story you have!

Beki--I think sometimes it can be extremely tough--it seems to go in cycles, sometimes simple and sometimes hardly doable. But you're right--definitely rewarding.

Steph--I agree, that's what keeps us coming back!

Stephanie--Thank you for the comment! I have to say, I think being a mom of 4 would be very hard. Two is doable--four must be much more challenging! Kudos to you!

Dad--I agree; being in the military, deployed to a warzone, is definitely on that list.

Heather--LOVE your post!

Dani--I think that's a great point. It's an incredibly vital job.

septembermom--I agree, lots of great ups and difficult downs!

Dani--Oh, good, looking forward to reading it!

Becky--Dooce was very funny on the show!

CDB--Yep, we don't really have a choice but to be consistent--as someone else commented, we don't even get sick days! But it's worth it.

Julie--I think your comment was very insightful. There is so much that is out of our control as moms, and that can be difficult! Thank you for commenting!

IsDihara said...

This is a great post, Beth! So great, it made me cry. (But that's not your fault.)

I started my family at 40. I have one son -- he is my world and I am so grateful to have him! But I am finding out what havoc menopause plays with healthy baby goals.

Hug your kids because each one is a miracle!

Megan Fletcher said...

Nice perspective C. Beth! I don't watch Oprah...ever. But, I like your take on the subject. I accept the "you're doing such a hard job" statements, but I have to agree with you. I get really tired of always being "on" and not really getting a break. I'm constantly teaching and training and cleaning and entertaining and planning. But, I absolutely wouldn't want to do anything else right now! I think we hear those statements (and so many moms crave them) b/c we feel we need to justify our position of being moms, especially those of us who are home with our kids all day. We want to feel like we're doing the hard thing. Being a full-time mom has taken such a beating and is often not respected by those who are not SAHM, so we have to proclaim how hard it is all the time.

Scriptor Senex said...

I've had various jobs in my life and presumably some of them must have been hard on the basis that they paid well. Nevertheless, I think bringing up children is the hardest thing to do well. It may also be the most rewarding but then so is any job well done. The difference, I think, is that whilst we may do some jobs perfectly I don't know a single mum or dad who doesn't feel they could have done better at bringing up their children.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post!

It's easy for someone without children to label 'motherhood' in varying terms. I also think too many people are given a way out or let off the hook by using the 'being a mom is hard' card. And, as someone else mentioned many moms use it to validate themselves.

Don't get me wrong- being a mom is very hard work...yet, it is so MANY other adjectives besides being hard as you said. Most importantly, as you pointed out it is the most rewarding job because it expends LOVE that knows no bounds.

Yet, in my opinion being a mom or parent for that matter is only hard, if it challenges the parent to be a better person for the little one that is looking to them for guidance everyday.

Thanks for sharing, Beth!

(On an off note: I am so glad to have finally caught up a bit on how you've been doing. I so miss blogging...maybe I will be back soon?!?! Thanks, for still reading and commenting when I do post. BTW, can you believe our little ones are already 1??)

amani said...

I think the terms "hard", "harder" and "hardest" are all relative. For instance, I was homeless/underhoused for part of my adolescence. My nine-person family lived in two rooms, in a place that was not even zoned to be an apartment. Many nights I slept with my feet touching the stove. However, for many people in many places (the slums of India for instance) this is the norm, and actually they do not even hope for more. Does that make it any less hard? It was certainly hard for ME and my family.

Now onto motherhood, for some it is hard...I have a friend who is the mother of an Austic child. Once your kid throws poop at you, it ceases to be easy

Anonymous said...

You forgot Andrew Jackson’s Big Block of Cheese with nary a macaroni in sight.

Anonymous said...

When you have a child who is an alcoholic and hasn't spoken to you for more than year, you new moms will realize what Oprah said is true!

Anonymous said...

I've had a few jobs, some that I've enjoyed, some that I've hated. Being a mother is BY FAR the most difficult job I have ever had. I, (for one,) did not receive training, education, etc for being a mother. You are taking care and trying to be an example all the time. (Half the time I don't know what I'm doing!) The reason I wouldn't trade it? Because it is SO rewarding and causes so much joy. Is Oprah right,, (for once I will say YES 100%) does having the most difficult job in the world mean that I would chose not to have it? (sometimes that's tempting, but no.) Is saying that being a mother is difficult saying that I don't like or enjoy my children? Nope... it just means that I struggle knowing what to do. There :) My opinion.