My job is moderately difficult. I deal with thousands of words every day, but most of them don’t have more than three syllables. Sure, there are personalities to manage and deadlines to meet, but there’s also an hour for lunch and a Keurig machine in the break room.
I play with new toys and read new children’s books. The windows face tree-lined streets. I receive samples of YoBaby yogurt and Gerber Puffs, and eat them while enjoying the office’s perfect temperature of 73 degrees. It’s great when you can be at work and feel like a well-fed toddler living in Southern California.
Mother is a more difficult job. The job description includes pick-ups, drop-offs, playdates, bathing, cooking, wiping, folding, homework-ing, negotiating, peek-a-boo-ing, timeout-ing, I’m counting to three-ing, and don’t-make-me-come-up-there-ing. There are also the domestic CEO duties that often fall on mom: bills, doctor’s visits, PTA meetings, lawn care and impromptu dishwasher repair needs. The hours are tough. The pay sucks.
Being a mother is a mother of a job. If you’ve been tuning into the talking heads over the past week, you’ve heard as much. It started with Hilary Rosen saying stay-at-home mom Ann Romney “hasn’t worked a day in her life.” The Obama camp denounced it; the First Lady Tweeted about it; the Romney campaign used it to raise money. (“If you’re a stay-at-home mom, the Democrats have a message for you: You’ve never worked a day in your life,” read a Romney campaign email titled “War on Moms.”) Of course Rosen had to backtrack, later saying, “Being a mom is the hardest job in the world. That’s the truth of it.”
Actually, that’s not the truth of it. Maybe we can’t handle the truth: Being a mom—working mom, stay-at-home mom, fill-in-the-blank mom—is not the hardest job in the world. Not even close.
Wait, what? Did he just write that? Oh no he dih-nt. Oh yes he did: Mother is not the most difficult job in the world. Being a parent is a hard job, but it is not the hardest job. If you would like to try a hard job, join the migrant workers in Immokalee, Florida, who pick endless heads of lettuce, tomatoes and onions for the items you order at Taco Bell. Or an inner city schoolteacher faced with flaky parents, busted equipment, and not enough chairs for her entire class. Or a triage medic in Tikrit or Baghdad, stemming the physical damage done by the IEDs. If an Animal Planet or Discovery Channel reality TV crew is following you at your job, chances are your gig is tougher than being a mom.
Being a mother—or a father, for that matter—is neither treacherous nor terrifying. It’s not even that time-consuming. If your kids know the songs from Toy Story and The Little Mermaid, your job is not that hard. If you have browsed the throw pillows in Target’s home department, your job is not that hard. If you’ve written a status update in the last 72 hours about how hard your job is, your job is not that hard.
And unlike most professions, mom enjoys a very high popularity rating. The world is your public relations team. Nary a television commercial or Oprah segment passes without someone giving props to Mom.It's like being an astronaut or animal rescuer: You’re automatically beloved. Even if you're bad at being a mom, the halo effect still sheds its heavenly light on thee. If a mom were to walk down the street and drop her diaper bag, half a dozen people would rush to her aid. If a dictionary salesman were to walk down the street and drop his box of Websters, someone would walk by and tell him to look up “indifference."
Why is chief female procreational/adoptional domestic engineer getting such excessive lip service these days: Because in this election year, Mom is critical. Whether she’s stay-at-home or working, soccer or NASCAR, biological or foster, she must be wooed and won. You won’t see a political battle for the support of migrant vegetable pickers or triage medics or Chilean miners or Alaskan crab fishermen. These people can’t help you carry Ohio or Pennsylvania.
It may be the most important job. It may be the most critical job. It may be the most underpaid job. But it’s not the most difficult.