Invisible Work

Laura Williams – Getty Images

I’m a child of the 80s (I’ve now revealed my approximate age and managed to conjure up some nostalgia for what is arguably, the greatest decade ever!)

However, my point is harkening back to a time when many folks, like me, had a Stay At Home Mom (SAHM). Which wasn’t even a thing back then, ya’ll. Instead, if your Mom worked outside of the home you’d say she was a doctor, or a lawyer, or a teacher, or a nurse, or whatever. But if you had a SAHM, then you would just say she’s a “Mom.”

Flash forward to 2021 and the reality of how many women have been forced to leave the paid workforce due to the global pandemic caused by COVID-19.

From the start of the pandemic, many working families were faced with shrinking or no childcare options, and had to figure out how the hell they were supposed to balance caring for children under the age of 5, while simultaneously working full or part-time jobs from their dining room table. Something had to give.

That something for far too many women was their part-time or full-time paid employment. According to this article from Politico, nearly 1.8 million women have stopped working since the start of the pandemic. But have they really stopped working?

I recently posted about this on Instagram. According to this article from Motherly, SAHMs work 106 HOURS A WEEK and they should be earning upwards of $184K annually in compensation. Ya’ll, 106 hours a week breaks down to OVER 2 ½ full-time jobs!

And what, might you ask, are the duties that go into those 106 hours?

Driver, Staff Nurse, Nutrition Director, Conflict Manager, Psychologist – M.A…. Just a few of the many, many other titles that correspond with the work of raising the next generation.

So much of the work that parents do to raise the next generation is INVISIBLE. It is work that goes UNNOTICED. By anyone. By everyone.

We live in a culture that favors the kind of work that comes with a paycheck. That’s the work deemed valuable in our society.

But what about the work of raising kind and caring humans? They are, after all, the future stewards of this world we live in. What about all the time, energy and effort that goes into making sure our children are growing and healthy and that we’re meeting their needs consistently? If you’ve never been tasked with what goes into raising a tiny human from the start, let me break it down for you…

Human babies come into the world completely and utterly helpless. They MUST rely on the connection they share with at least one adult caregiver for their most basic needs of food, clothing, rest, and shelter to be met. Without this, they would never make it out of infancy.

Newborns have teeny, tiny tummies that need food often – every 2-3 hours at first, around the clock. The sheer exhaustion of interrupted sleep is close to torture levels! Learning how to breast/chestfeed is challenging for most parent-baby dyads – and yet it is essential to this little person’s survival! (So, you know, no pressure or anything!)

Initially, newborns are more fetus-like, than baby. So, you do ALL the work of feeding them, changing diapers, soothing them to sleep (rinse and repeat ad nauseam) and they don’t give you a lot in return. They haven’t yet figured out how to light up your world with their smile or shown their obvious preference for YOU over everyone else. One reason this work is so hard is because you have to do it, but no one acknowledges the challenges involved or tells you that you’re doing a great job!

If you happen to have a partner to help you with this work, then count yourself lucky! But that doesn’t mean you get much of a break because you’re BOTH tired as hell and trying to figure out how this 8 lb peanut has turned your lives upside down. And THAT’S just the 4th Trimester, folks!

Parenting is a forever job! It never ends. It is both the best work you will ever do and the hardest work you will ever do. But unless – and until – we acknowledge this and start putting policies into place that will actually support you as new parents, you’ll continue to feel underappreciated and resentful in this work. And this makes all of it harder than it has to be. The first step, as always, happens in our own homes.

We need to RECOGNIZE and BE RECOGNIZED for the work that we’re doing to raise our children.

Back to my own childhood for a moment…

My Mom (The G.O.A.T., MT, The Mother Of All Mothers) held various part-time jobs once we’d all started elementary school. But her work hours always coincided with the hours of our school-day. I think she’d been employed for the better part of 6 months before I knew that she even HAD a job.

She was there for us when we woke up and got ready for school, and there for us when we got off the bus in the afternoon. So despite part-time work, she still held the title of SAHM. My Dad was very engaged and did a lot more than most fathers of that era when it came to helping raise us to adulthood – but my Mom definitely did the lion’s share of the work.

Every once in a while, during the middle of dinner, apropos of nothing – my Dad would speak up and say something along these lines: “I want you to turn your attention to your mother for a moment and realize something: if it weren’t for her and all of the work she does for this family, we would fall apart.” I’m happy to tell you that this was not a one time thing, ya’ll.

With one simple sentence, my Dad, my Mom’s parenting partner, acknowledged what he knew to be true: That the work my Mom devoted to raising us – all of it unpaid and discounted by our culture and society – had VALUE. He asked each of us – the direct recipients and the ones who benefitted most – to show her the respect and gratitude she deserved for taking care of us, day in and day out.

Now you may not be a SAHM. Or maybe you are – but not by choice. Or maybe you’re in the workforce either part-time or full-time and STILL have to do the lion’s share of the work of parenting. Or maybe SAHM/SAHP is the title you wear proudly, now and until the kids are grown (or at least until they go to school).

Whatever your family situation, I sincerely hope that your work is not going UNNOTICED. That you never feel UNDERVALUED or INVISIBLE.

If so – please share this post with the people in your life so that they get it… When we tie the work we do to a paycheck, it devalues the work that’s happening in our homes 24/7.

I will never stop saying it: raising the next generation is the most important work you will ever do in your lifetime. And – you deserve some damn respect!

*If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that I often take the opportunity to tie in a song if possible. So, here’s a little Kate Bush singing about “This Woman’s Work.” (1989 release)


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