At a school careers day a while back, my daughter knew what she wanted to dress up as: “I’m going as a mother!” she said.
Of course that’s FINE. But we talked about how mothers can also be other things, like, y’know, Freudian analysts. In the end she decided to go as Amelia Earhart, whose flying attire is jauntier than that of mothers or shrinks.
But in recent years – and indeed recent weeks with the emergence of the “Tiger mother” – the “job” of being a mother has been hotly debated. The mother’s role in her children’s lives and development has been analysed, focussing on one question in particular: How do you best do your job as “mother”? Often it’s described as being the important job in one’s life.
And like any job, there are targets to hit, career goals, as it were. Your success is measured by your children’s success and the desired result – violin virtuoso, scholar, what have you.
There’s been so much emphasis on the “mother” in that concept and what she should be doing that we’ve overlooked the obviously dysfunctional word: “job”.
We would never say our marriage is our most important job or we’re making a career of our role as sister or daughter is. So why define the relationship we have with our children, with all its emotional nuances, as a results-oriented role that we apply ourselves to? All relationships require work. But I don’t want to reduce a rich and varied interplay of personalities and responsibilities into some kind of vocation I’ve hired myself into.
This attitude also promulgates the idea that the only opportunity to teach kids is at the piano or over a stack of schoolbooks. Yet some of my most vivid “lessons” from my parents came from watching how they conducted themselves and how their values played out within the family and without.
One time, I remember my father and a colleague discussing a university official in their department where they taught design. “He doesn’t know much about art,” they scoffed. “He’s all politics.”
I knew in that sentence the importance of study, of earning your position, of focusing on things of value and aligning yourself with people who share your values.
Defining parenting as a job ignores the profound influence parents can have on their children by being role models and being present. There’s another thing I don’t like about the idea of parent as job description. With jobs you’re always looking forward to your time off.