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Is Parenting a Job or a Pleasure?

I noticed the blue van first, as it backed into the parking space beside our car. It made me feel romantic, with a particular kind of nostalgia. Tom and I owned the exact same van once upon a time, in the very first days of our relationship. We went on grand adventures, threw parties in the woods and camped all over the Rocky Mountains in that van. Our van was a golden rust colour, not blue, but it was in a similar state of repair.

The girls were hungry and excited after swimming, and we were slowly getting ourselves organized to get into the car. Mr Blue Van waited as I shooed them away from the corner where he was straightening out his parking job and towards the door of our own car where their car seats and seatbelts waited. As I went around to open up the car on the other side Mr Blue Van leaned forward in his seat and spoke through the crack where his van door was ajar.

“You look after those angels, OK?” he said.

I never really know what to say to strangers who comment on my kids, but I paused a moment and then said with a smile, “I will. It’s my job!”

“Not a job, a pleasure,” he replied. “They grow up so fast, you know. Enjoy it while you can.”

I smiled and nodded and did my job, buckling Bea into her car seat and making sure everyone had adequate snacks so we could make it home to lunch in one piece.

clay snowman family

As I drove home I thought about our exchange. He’s right, of course. Being able to raise my own kids is absolutely a privilege and an honour. Watching them grow and learn before my eyes is a pleasure, one that I try to appreciate as much as possible. Our days right now are filled with wonder and magic, and this time will pass just as every other phase passes.

So why am I so attached to the notion that what I am doing is work? How does that thought serve me in my daily life? Is it a defence against the mommy wars, my shield to deflect any criticisms that I may in fact be enjoying myself just a little too much in this lifestyle I’ve chosen? Feet up and eating bon-bons, you know, or surfing the net on my smartphone while the children wander off? Or is it a personal wall I’ve constructed to avoid any feelings of discomfort around the fact that I never really got a solid career underway before having children?

There’s no denying the fact that there is a good deal of work involved in mothering. Physical work, emotional work, spiritual work. But mothering isn’t just a job, even though there will certainly be jobs to do. I’m spending time with my kids, and that can be as much of a pleasure as I want it to be.

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{ 7 comments… add one }

  • Vanessa Betcher March 8, 2012, 10:18 pm

    Thanks for this post. The last couple of days have been a bit of a challenge just what I needed to read.
    Vanessa Betcher´s last blog post ..Self Sacrifice in Motherhood

    • michelle March 10, 2012, 1:47 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed this post… It can be so hard to see the pleasure some days (especially when the jobs involve being awake at all hours, or dealing with things that push our buttons emotionally).

  • Kristen March 9, 2012, 3:48 am

    Thoughtful post! I struggle when I get comments like that. It frustrates me a bit. I used to feel guilty as though I should be constantly enjoying myself as a mama!!

    “They grow up so fast. Enjoy every minute.”

    I always get that one. I think we live in a society where work and productivity are valued, so it’s natural to try to stick up for the immense value of the parenting we do by associating it with work. :-)

    • michelle March 10, 2012, 1:50 pm

      I get lots of people telling me that kids grow up so fast, but now that my eldest is suddenly on the verge of so many big-kid things like losing teeth, reading and writing I’m starting to believe it. Where did the little hedgehog-loving toddler go? What about that little baby? Gone, or at least hidden under several new layers of development. It really does go fast when you are looking back on it.

  • Erin March 9, 2012, 12:45 pm

    I know what you mean. When people ask me what I do, I hear myself say ‘I’m just a mum’ and kick myself. Why do I say that? It just comes out. I certainly don’t think it’s ‘just’ anything but amazing when other people do it.

    I think equating motherhood with a job may come from everyone else’s dismissive nature about it (aside from the clever man in the blue van!). When I mention I’m staying at home with my one child, I get many negative reactions – maybe it’s jealousy that we’re able to pull that off, maybe they think I’m being self-indulgent, I don’t know. Referring to motherhood as a job feels a bit like a shield, as you said, to ward off those grumpy people.

    I did have a good career before I had my son, and there is a little knot of festering frustration that I’m no longer ‘important’ in that way anymore. Maybe when I think of this as a job it makes the fact that I walked away from something I worked so hard to get less painful? I’m not sure.

    (please ignore any random typos, typing on an iPad and very tired…)

    • michelle March 10, 2012, 1:53 pm

      I think the reactions can vary depending on the social circles you find yourself in – I know there are neighbourhoods in Vancouver where it’s almost unheard of to stay home, and others where it’s a more popular choice. I don’t find I get many negative reactions when I say I’m home with my kids, although some people really have a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea of homeschooling. I try not to take it personally though – they just haven’t done the research I’ve done!

  • Rachael March 11, 2012, 12:49 pm

    Definitely work. Definitely a pleasure — sometimes. But a job? I have no idea. What is a job? I’m a freelancer. Do I have a job?

    I think the problem maybe is the word job. A few hundred years ago, folks didn’t really have “jobs” or “careers.” It was all just life. And mostly a pretty hard life, too, I suppose….

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