I get it, I do, I get what people are trying to say when they say that being a mother is the most important job in the world. They are trying to put value on something which is devalued, and which historically has been very devalued.
But what does this actually do? Let’s take a look at it. It says that ALL other jobs are not as important. It tells the father that their role is not as important. It tells the gay couple raising their children, that they aren’t and could never do as good a job as the mother does. It tells the women who don’t want to have children that nothing that they can do will ever be as important as being a parent, and it tells the people who have infertility problems and cannot adopt that they have failed.
So how should we respond when someone asks that curly question, what do you do for a living and we are a stay at home parent? I’ve heard responses that range from the mildly humourous to the downright offensive. I’ve heard the “I do the most important job in the world,” I’ve heard the “domestic goddess” amongst many others. Somehow we seem to think that by valuing parenting, particularly mothering over and above what other people do we have somehow rectified the past. No we haven’t. We don’t gain credibility or traction by climbing over other people, we simply don’t. It also plays into the deification of motherhood, something which Maria, from Barrel of Oranges discusses here.
When people use all those cute and what are considered to be funny phrases to say what they are doing is creating further division. Being a stay at home parent is not more valuable than being a parent who is paid for their work. There are plenty of parents who work and don’t want to, they would rather stay at home, but they are not privileged enough to do so. Equally there are plenty of parents who want to work but may not be able to do so. There are parents who want to work, who do not wish to stay at home all day with their children, and that’s okay too. Saying you are a full time parent doesn’t make a parent who works a part-time parent, but that’s what it implies, and it’s simply false.
When people ask me what I do for a living I try not to use those phrases, I try and say that I stay at home and look after my children, I’m a student, and I run a small business, and I am very conscious that I have a degree of privilege in being able to do that. The key for me is in not devaluing other parent’s choices in how I respond.
We don’t raise the status of parenting by crapping on other people’s choices.