When I became a mother, I don't remember filling out an application, or submitting a resume, or answering silly questions about my strengths and weaknesses. My obstetrician back in Boston did not check first to see that I hadn't assaulted anyone in a supermarket or stolen from company coffers before he performed an emergency Cesarean. And, though I wasn't entirely my uber-attentive self that day, what with the blood and numbness and all that, I am quite sure that I wasn't paid when my firstborn flew out of my uterus and latched onto my boob.
Motherhood is not a job. Let me say that again. Motherhood is not a job. Though it seems to be the popular political stance these days, what with the need to rate women and their struggles while once again stripping away the things that help them struggle less -- the things that men get, without the blood and numbness -- the premise is not right. While I appreciate those who view the work, the dedication, the worry, the passion, the laundry (for those of us who do it) as something akin to banking or lawyering or selling sandwiches, their empathy is misplaced and, to be honest, ridiculous.
If your mothering "job" is not going well, you cannot quit and find a different line of work. If you solve a particularly challenging mothering problem, you do not get a pay increase. You do not get a bonus once you've read 1,000 books out loud, or kept your kids away from marijuana. You do not get the Productivity Award when you have another baby. And you do not get the closest parking spot in the lot if your colleagues like you. Kids are not colleagues, and they don't have to like you.
Hilary Rosen did not make a mistake, or word anything incorrectly, when she said that Ann Romney hadn't worked a day in her life, implying that she hadn't performed a service for a fee. She hasn't. She has been a mother, but she hasn't worked at a job. Calling motherhood a job is patronizing, though it makes people think they are being fair and respectful to mothers. If you ask most women who stay at home with their kids whether they have a job, they will say, "No, I stay at home with my kids." They won't say, "Yes, my job is staying at home with my kids." Would a father say that his job is to be a father?
Most mothers, I'd venture to say, view their role as a commitment and a responsibility, as something they must do and do well, whether they have a paying job or not. Relationships can't be turned into lists of tasks; mothers don't expect reimbursement. We have children knowing that they will demand us to work hard at being mothers.
In Romney's case, the ones with the job in her house were the helpers who were hired to make her life easier. We all know that when there are helpers in the house, they are the ones who vacuum, cook, fold, shop, dust and take out the trash, who do the "work" so that Mom can do the fun stuff, like go to the zoo, or the important stuff, like supervise homework and talk about worries and inspire greatness every which way.
Romney needs to cop to her life of privilege, a life that didn't require her to earn money to pay the electric bill, and to understand that hers is the exception. A good many women do exactly what she did plus what her staff did, and also leave their homes to hold a job that their family desperately needs. These women probably don't write "Mother" on the line marked, "Occupation." It is just what they do, who they are. No credit necessary, not even when they are faced with losing pay to stay home with a sick child or attend a teacher conference. Not even when their kids perform as well as or better than Romney's. It seems that the ones who do the most rarely ask for recognition, or definition.
Next year, I will have been a single mother for ten years. Head of the Household. Captain of the Ship. I have worked at home as a writer, for most of those years, and out of the house as a teacher and a copywriter. I have tutored English and math and French, sewn fabric handbags at the kitchen table until 2 am, written press releases for construction companies, fought with people over $150 invoices. It took three citations from the town code enforcer before I repaired my back fence. The air conditioning system needs maintenance. My car needs a 30,000 mile check up. I need a new shirt.
No one really knows any of this, except for my girls, who know most of it, and know that they have exactly what they need because of it. I don't know if they realize that every spending decision is an either-or, but they are two very appreciative kids. As a mother, I determined that their lives would go on as planned despite the financial adjustments I had to make a decade ago. For me, and for millions of women like me, that means we vacuum, cook, fold and dust, earn money from a job, and inspire greatness, every which way. We do this without a fallback income, or a fallback person. Or cheerleading, except for the kind that is in our own heads.
Stay-at-home moms who are married, like Romney, need to realize that simply knowing that someone else is around, just in case, is as much a luxury as not having to earn an income. It creates peace and calm. When my daughters were younger, if one kid needed the emergency room in the middle of the night, the other was woken up and taken. If I didn't buy my own birthday cake, I didn't have one. If I don't do it, whatever it is, it doesn't get done. If I don't earn it, it doesn't get earned. Forget the new shirt, there is a house to pay for, albeit a tiny house to pay for. Not so peaceful and calm, I know. Do-able, but not calm. Even the most considerate women, and I'm sure that Romney is one of them, don't realize the perspective because they haven't experienced it.
I live in a place where during the school day, women trot around in tennis skirts and running gear. They shop and get their hair colored and pick up art supplies for their kids' school projects. Restaurants are jammed at lunch. They are no better or worse at mothering than anyone else, no more or less dedicated to the futures of their children, however they designate what they do. They are just lucky that they don't have to punch a clock, too. I suppose, according to acceptable parlance, that these ladies are doing their jobs. If I were buying shoes at 11 in the morning, I would not say that I was engaged in the duties of my employment.
Rich stay-at-home moms, and really rich ones, like Romney, who don't manage cottage businesses or supplement incomes with part-time work when the kids are napping or in school for eight hours, should think about what would happen to their jobs if they took a two hour lunch or ran errands on company time. If the answer is "Nothing," then it's not a job.
Not long ago, I was offered a position outside of my home that required me to arrive by 7:45 am. To do that, I would have had to leave the house at 7:00, drop my kids at school by 6:50 (when classes begin at 8:10), and make sure they were up by 6:15. I told my prospective employer that I could get there by 8:15, and would skip the half-hour lunch period to make up the time. He told me that I had a choice: be late, be written up and ultimately fired; or, don't take the job (and the salary and health plan that went with it). Some choice. Some appreciation for the work women do.
I didn't take the job, naturally. What kind of mother would leave her kids waiting outside a locked building in the dark. Not me, and I'd bet, though she probably has never had to consider it, not Ann Romney.