Museum of Motherhood

MamaBlogger365 – The Stay at Home Mother and Her Brain by Peryl Manning

There are a lot of people — politicos, authors, strangers at Starbucks, my mother, to name a few — who question the absolute value of the work of a stay-at-home mother. While most people will acknowledge that it’s a tough and worthy job, a woman is not expected to be fulfilled by it; at least, if she is, this sense of fulfillment should be temporary (they helpfully imply). Linda Hirshman, Author of Get to work: A Manifesto for Women of the World famously said:

“Women who quit their jobs to stay home with their children [are] making a mistake… the tasks of housekeeping and child rearing [are] not worthy of the full time and talents of intelligent and educated human beings. They do not require a great intellect, they are not honored and they do not involve risks and the rewards that risk brings.”

Hirshman and others imply that while she might feel physically and emotionally drained at the end of each day, any mother with a little pride and education should rightly feel her brain atrophying, her intellect curling up and dying, just a little, at the dearth of the real, adult, respect-compelling components of her days. So of course stay-at-home mothers themselves struggle with the intellectual depth of what they do. Many, while feeling that child-rearing is the best and hardest thing they’ve ever done, and ultimately the most important, still worry about their lack of an “adult” occupation.

They worry about not using their brain, as if parenting was something just anyone could do well, as if at wasn’t phenomenally challenging to to keep one or more small children happy, active, and healthy, day in and day out. But really? Is full time parenting truly such an intellectually poor occupation? I suggest it is not, and that anyone who views it this way has a sadly narrow view of what constitutes intellect, and the use of it.

Just watch a mother unload three children from car seats at the grocery store, coordinate who will be sitting where in which cart (the regular cart, the cart attached to the fire-truck which seats only one small fireman-in-training, the cart shaped like a fire-truck that seats two small firemen-in-training, but is almost impossible to steer and will almost definitely cause a slower shop and surplus of nasty looks from the elderly), determining who may need snacks or a potty break; watch her enter the grocery store and buy everything necessary for a week of nutritious meals everyone in her family will actually eat, circumvent potential meltdowns on the way, avoid buying anything from the multitude of candy and toy displays calling to her children, pay, and successfully pack all the groceries and children back into her car, and tell me the whole experience doesn’t involve a staggering amount of intelligence, time management, and organizational skills.

Might one argue that such tasks, while organizationally challenging, cannot truly be considered intellectual hurdles? To you, I suggest answering a curious four-year old’s questions for a day. Just a day. You might need to explain to his satisfaction how we can be sure that other people exist in the way that we do, and are not actually robots that behave like humans — a question many great philosophers take on and answer to the satisfaction of no one. Or you might need to name your favorite carnivorous and non-carnivorous dinosaurs, with reasons and supporting examples. Or provide a convincing answer to the question of whether anything truly lasts forever (Note: a four-year- old will not be satisfied with the answer “Love.” They’re smarter than that.)

Anyone who spends time teaching, molding and influencing a couple of small, bright, and curious children (read: any children at all, for they are all, with a little bit of encouragement, excessively interested in learning about the world around them), uses their brain in as many acrobatic academic and esoteric loops and figure eights as your average accountant, customer service manager, family lawyer, or executive at a major coffee company. I offer up my own brain for examination to anyone wishing to take the challenge. Though I warn you it is prone to leaving its keys in the refrigerator, and does possess the attention span of a piece of tuna, after five years of stay-at-home-parenting, I’m pretty sure it’s as intellectually agile as the one next door.

Bio: Peryl Manning is a freelance writer and stay-at-home-mother to two small boys. She juggles her home and her boys, her writing, and her volunteer work with varying degrees of success, and is convinced of only one certainty: Parenting is really, really challenging. Since being blindsided and overwhelmed, overjoyed and then at times underwhelmed by the whole business of motherhood, she has had a lot to say about it, and says some of it here. ’Parenting ad absurdum’ is now on twitter: @momadabsurdum. Should I be following you? Let me know! And if you would like to be on my highly classified secret double-lockdown mailing list to be advised of new posts, leave a note or send an email to parentingadabsurdum AT gmail DOT com. Visit http://blog.seattlepi.com/parentingadabsurdum/ .

MamaBlogger365 needs you! Tell us how you’re re-framing motherhood and help the Museum of Motherhood secure a permanent home in 2011!

Image credit Kenn W. Kiser/aka click, MorgueFile

About M. Joy Rose

Woman, Mother, Human, Rocker, Educator, Activist Director; Museum of Motherhood President and Founder; MaMaPaLooZa Inc. a company by Women, Promoting (M)others for social, cultural and economic benefit. Dedicated to a more educated, more peaceful, more musical planet.


26 thoughts on “MamaBlogger365 – The Stay at Home Mother and Her Brain by Peryl Manning

  1. BEautifully and exquisitly written, Peryl!!! I wholeheartedly agree. Motherhood is the most intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically challenging thing I have ever done in my life. LOVE this essay. Going to tweet it out to the world!!!

    Posted by Organic Motherhood with Cool Whip | March 23, 2011, 14:44
  2. A few thoughts come to mind: 1. So would these people say that all day care workers, nannies, etc are not using their brains either? Because they’re taking care of kids all day too. Only their sole job is to just to take care of kids. They don’t have to run every errand, clean the house, make all meals, pay the bills, make it to every appointment on time WHILE watching the kids at the same time. I think a day care worker would be pretty insulted that her job is insignificant and doesn’t use her brain. — especially since many of them have degrees in child development.

    Another thought: I wonder if the people who have the opinions that SAHMs aren’t using their brains enough are people who have never been SAHMs. And the first 3 months of maternity leave don’t count. Neither do the weekends or evenings. I’m talking full time for many years and raising different ages of children. At first it is pretty mind numbing with newborns! But once that child reaches a certain age, it gets a little more challenging. I’ve had to run to the computer to look up answers to these deep thoughts my kid has. Currently I’m getting a pretty good grade-school refresher course in Space. I feel like my kids are keeping me fresh and up to date! So many facts I’ve forgotten are all coming back thanks to questions and books.

    I say, don’t knock it till you try it. It’s more challenging than you think!

    Posted by aimeejp | March 23, 2011, 14:49
  3. Peryl,
    The people who actually think that Motherhood is not intellectually stimulating are apparently intellectually stunted themselves. They are looking at Stay at Home parenting in the most narrow of ways. I may not be having conversations about politics and finances, but I am indeed answering 7000 random questions at anytime, as you are. I am racking my brain to teach my daughters new and interesting things, or trying to figure out ways to unconventionally teach them about things that perhaps conventional teaching is not getting the point across effectively. All this while being a nutritionist, nurse, chauffeur, cheerleader, dancing monkey, always positive and aware and constantly teaching hard lessons with unconditional love. It takes a lot of organization and time management and self motivation.Life is extremely busy but exquisitely beautiful. I work hard mentally, physically, and emotionally to grow and raise my well rounded little people.Great essay, my friend.

    Posted by Truthful Mommy | March 23, 2011, 15:01
  4. You said it sister! I love this essay. Narrow view indeed – those who cannot appreciate the multidimensional challenges of child-rearing aren’t applying their own analytical skills to the issue. It is false and shallow beliefs like this that perpetuate the devaluation of motherhood/child-rearing in our culture. I would much prefer for women who don’t choose to stay home with their children (or don’t have the privilege to) to applaud the hard work that goes into nurturing these growing people. I don’t see a place for competition and judgment in this realm. If every woman were to adopt this view and “preserve their intellect” by focusing only on a career, who would be raising all the children?

    Posted by MOMSICLE VIBE | March 23, 2011, 16:30
  5. Oh puhleez. Get over yourselves.

    Posted by GB500 | March 23, 2011, 17:15
  6. While I know it, it is nice to be reminded some times! Thanks for yet another spot-on article, Peryl….

    Posted by Jude | March 23, 2011, 17:50
  7. I felt it was intellectually stimulating the whole time. Nothing has ever filled me up like motherhood has.

    Posted by blueviolet | March 23, 2011, 20:33
  8. That quote gets me. But probably because I feel like I shouldn’t enjoy this (nonpaying) gig as much as I do.

    Posted by Kate | March 23, 2011, 21:39
  9. Here’s the real deal: Stay At Home Mothers = As Real A Gig As You’ll Ever Get (We just don’t pay you, so it doesn’t count in a capitalistic economy- BUT, HANG IN GIRLS, your day is comin’) FEMINIST FAMILY VALUES UNITE! And, what do I mean by that – I mean respect. R.E.S.P.E.C.T. for whoever, does whatever.

    Posted by Joy Rose | March 23, 2011, 22:21
  10. this is so overplayed. most people think stay at home moms are great. stay at home mom antagonism is pretty limited. dont worry about it. do what you think is best for your family.

    Posted by tamara | March 23, 2011, 22:56
  11. Anyone who thinks going grocery shopping with a couple of kids is a rigorous intellectual exercise is delusional. Performing brain surgery requires intellectual effort. Writing an appellate court brief requires lots of brainpower. Mastering organic chemistry requires intellectual effort.

    Caring for children, on the other hand, is the easiest work I have ever done. Most of it is mindless drudgery. And really, all over the world, uneducated illiterate adolescent women are able to care for and raise chlidren, so it is hardly a task requiring intellectual rigor. Modern mothers insist raising children is hard in order to bolster their own egos and make themselves feel worthwhile for adding another polluter and resource gobbler to an overpopulated planet. Caring for children is only difficult if you are trying to do something else, e.g. write a novel or earn a living. Just taking care of children does not tax the brain.

    Further, it appears that most women in this culture do a miserable job of child rearing. That’s why we have a generation of young males who are porn addict slackers who refer to women with the b-word and a generation of young women who let themselves get infected from hookups with slackers and players who do not care about them. Poor mothering is why we have a generation of young who are way less empathetic than any previous generation.

    We have all seen the mothers with their myriad gadgets and baby carriages gossiping and sipping lattes at Starbucks, none of whom seem to have the slightest intellectual curiosity or interest.

    Give me a break. Mothering children is really difficult in the poor coutnries where a woman must scrounge by her wits to gather enough food and water and firewood to care for her family. For the American mother with a husband’s financial resources, staying home cleaning diapers and making meals and wiping runny noses is a way of opting out of real engagement with the world and the intellectual sphere and abdicating any responsibility for making a better world.

    Posted by Irene | March 23, 2011, 23:07
  12. Bravo, Peryl!

    As usual, you are spot on.

    Posted by Mandyland | March 23, 2011, 23:52
  13. Irene sounds like my grandmother. The woman who wanted proof i had graduted with a NS in Computer Science because why would i just stay home popping out kids if i actually had a degree. Damn if I haven’t been hearing that voice for the last 9 years.

    Oh well. Intellectually stimulating or not, coping out or not, I have to strongly disagree on at least one point: raising four healthy, thinking, educated, productive citizens is most definitely work counted towards “making a better world.”

    Posted by AmyAnne | March 24, 2011, 00:42
  14. Well said Peryl! I think that Linda Hershman (and Irene) would benefit from reading the works of Rudolph Steiner. Of course there are some stay at home moms who don’t do that great of a job, but there are others who take their work quite seriously, always learning more, and striving to do their best while they do the important job of raising children. It’s never a good idea to lump a whole group of people into one category.

    Posted by Dawn | March 24, 2011, 11:48
  15. No one can say it quite like Peryl Manning! So smart, so kind, so straight to the heart! I’m a total fan!

    Posted by Jhene | March 24, 2011, 17:54
  16. Peryl,
    This is an intellectually stimulating piece. One that reflects experience as both a thinker and as a mother. I’m not surprised by the naysayers (Irene) who have plenty to argue about with the incompetence, apathy and lack of intelligence for a large number of mothers. You, Peryl Manning, are not among them! Brain surgery and drafting appeals may take intellectual resources, but what emotional intelligence does it require? The reason good moms are exhausted after a day of mothering properly is that they are taxed: intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and physically. There is a choice to opt out, to disengage, but just imagine the possibiities if the smartest, brightest and most interested people were invested in raising the next generation. It is not the true mother who has created the lopsided value system…and it does not help when society does not provide the right intelligence, support and encouragement for ALL mothers (or fathers) to believe in the value of what they do. I’m glad your kids have you…and I’m glad I can read about what you do for them!

    Posted by meaganfrank | March 24, 2011, 19:04
  17. Wow, that was the most tactful, humorous, but completely pulled together argument I’ve read on behalf of stay at homes. I applaud for not attacking those who have chosen a different path than you and for recognizing the efforts of all moms.

    Posted by Mommy Crib Notes | March 24, 2011, 22:12
  18. Just wanted to weigh in one more time and say what an awesome piece this is, Peryl! Thanks for your always thought-provoking, yet considerately written insight. I love the way you can make strong points without ever attacking anyone. Love you, Peryl!!

    Posted by Organic Motherhood with Cool Whip | March 24, 2011, 22:22
  19. Wow Peryl, you struck a chord here. I appreciate your words and the ensuing waterfall of discussion. Right now, within earshot are my two teenagers, one practicing cello, the other sorting papers at her desk. The task of mothering, as it shifts with time, is of an increasing need for focus and laser clear thinking which, once fugged by the age appropriate funk of adolescents, requires great effort. I love what you have to say and that you are saying it.
    I’d love to be on your list.
    Love, Suzi

    Posted by suzi banks baum | March 25, 2011, 16:29
  20. Ugh! I don’t care what you call it intellectual, using wisdom or any other word that we need from a brain surgeon, parenting is one of the greatest jobs in the world. It takes a real mom to nurture a child that will one day become a brain surgeon!

    Posted by Nicole @Helpmamaremote | March 26, 2011, 09:30
  21. I am a SAHM and I think about this all the time. I have read the economic side of Hirshman’s argument and feel there is a lot of truth to it. But, I could never follow her advice.
    I have stayed home to raise the kids–I have no doubt I use my full mind–but I also know I am often exhausted–more so than I ever was in previous pursuits.
    Speaking of which…I should log off to get some sleep!
    Great post,

    Posted by Sarah | March 28, 2011, 22:24
  22. In response to Irene- If you don’t feel challenged by mothering, you’re not doing it well. Plain and simple. You are not emerging yourself in every aspect of the tremendous responsibility of parenting. Let me illustrate with just one tiny example. Many years ago I had a conversation with a mom of 3 who held a very respected position in her workplace. A seemingly intelligent woman. I mention the word “pertussis” to her. She said, “What’s that?” “Well, it’s the “P” part of the DPT vaccine each of your kids has received.” Later, I wondered how such a smart woman could allow something to be injected into the bodies of her children w/o even knowing what it is. I was “just” a SAHM but I researched each vaccine before I allowed my kids to receive it. I can’t prove it, but I’m fairly certain that the “uneducated illiterate adolescent women”, with whom you so casually compare us, do not do in-depth research on all things pertaining to their children. Ya, I’m thinking we’re doing just a wee bit more than what you refer to as “mindless drudgery”. But apparently you never did! Otherwise you would absolutely know the difference. Multiply my above example many thousands of times over in the 21 yr journey of raising a human being and you get the difference between “having a child” and what it means to be a “mother” in the fullest sense of the word! Mothering can be intellectually fulfilling and stimulating. Like anything else, it IS what you put into it.
    But, I must say, your insights clearly speak to the mindset of what I feel is the majority in this country. It further serves to validate the need for more “voices” like the author of this blog.

    Posted by Monica | June 10, 2011, 21:18
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