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!