I Refuse To Be Special Because I Chose To Be A Mother

I completely agree that motherhood is hard. There aren’t many jobs where the employee worries that she may have scarred someone for life by having a bad day. Except for surgeons but at least they don’t have to see the person everyday for the first 18 years. Parenting is also 24-7 for most people. Even when we aren’t with our kids, we are on-call for them. No job beyond the presidency seems that constant, and we don’t let presidents stay on for more than 8 years. We’re moms forever.

But is motherhood really the hardEST job? Most jobs don’t let employees put the customers to bed early because they’re cranky. And when my day is heading in that direction, I have many other tricks that aren’t exactly employer-friendly. I can put my sweatpants on, turn on the TV, order pizza and chase my kids around the house with a broom. All of these are frowned upon in most job settings except for the pizza part, but I’d have to buy for 30-3000 people rather than 4 so it’s just not practical for every bad day.

I believe that by calling motherhood the hardest job, we are creating a competition of sorts between women with children and women without children and between women and men.

I have many childless friends who work hard. My husband works hard. And yes, there days when, head-to-head, I’d beat all of them in a craptastic crap-off of a day. And I hate those days. I’d rather lose the competition. The days motherhood isn’t harder are the best days.

I don’t want motherhood to be the hardest job.

Beyond the competitive nature of the superlative, to be the hardest implies some sort of martyrdom that I am unwilling to participate in. It is full of pride and ego. I am the best. I am the worst. I work the hardest. They are all the same. They are about being front and center or being removed or being above. Superlatives and pride are about being more different and more important than anyone else in the room. I don’t think being a mom is about being above everyone else.

I wish to be a mother among mothers, a parent among parents, a woman among women, a person among people.

Motherhood is hard in all the best ways any vocation or avocation (depending on one’s point of view) can be, but calling it the hardest job in the world is making me more than I am and in reality, making my parenting worse. Motherhood is about facing my fears, humiliations, and character flaws and demanding better of myself. Motherhood is also about letting go, giving in, and accepting that I am just another human being doing the best I can do.

I refuse to be special because I chose to be a mother. I will not be in competition with the world or with myself. I would appreciate support and some recognition for what I do, which makes me just like every human being on Earth.

Pedestals are lonely places. I’d rather be in the middle of humanity. Struggling. Hoping. Living. Loving. Mothering.

A friend wrote about how we should stop saying motherhood is the hardest job in the world, and I couldn’t stop thinking about why that phrase bothers me so much. Thank you, Amy, for inspiring me to write it out.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

43 thoughts to “I Refuse To Be Special Because I Chose To Be A Mother”

  1. Wow-thank you for helping me look at this in a very different way. A way that actually makes sense, and I want to look at some more!

  2. Now you’ve got me thinking what it is about us (women, mothers, people) that fosters the desire for superlatives…
    Is it female insecurity? A human need for validation? An inherently competitive spirit?

    Either way, I’ve sort of made it my life’s goal to avoid such extremes.
    So I wonder what that says about me?

    I love a post that makes me think.

  3. Thank you! This is exactly what’s been going through my brain ever since the “Rosen fallout”. I just couldn’t get the words out. And you wrote them perfectly!

  4. “I believe that by calling motherhood the hardest job, we are creating a competition of sorts between women with children and women without children and between women and men.”

    I think you really nailed it on the head. My son was just debating with me about what is harder, being a mom or a step-mom and I tried to explain to him that it wasn’t about harder, that they were both hard for different reasons and both fulfilling for different reasons. One didn’t have to be harder or better or…

  5. *clapclapclapclapclapclapclapclapclapclap*
    Standing O, baby. This is so beautifully worded and thoughtful. I wanted to stand up and cheer while reading this. Thank you. Thank you for putting into words what I’ve felt but haven’t myself been able to address.
    You rock my socks.

  6. I wrote about this back in January (I think). Of course you said it better. But I hate the pedestal that people immediately put mothers (or themselves) on. I’m not that great. I don’t play with them ALL the time. Sometimes I take the easy way out of a teachable moment. I wrote that I think there are jobs that are way harder: brain surgeons, social workers working with abused children, being the President…I’ll take my jammies and pizza over those jobs any day.

  7. I get so cranky when I read “motherhood is the hardest job”… it’s really not. I’m sitting here watching Doctor Who, wearing yoga pants and laughing my ass off watching my 1 year old throw noodles at my 2 year old, who then catches them mid air like a dog. Yeah, at 2 am when the baby wakes up to nurse AGAIN, it’s gonna suck, but it’s still not digging ditches in south Texas or my DH’s job, crawling around in fiber-glass filled attics in 100 degree heat running Cat5 cabling. When somebody says my job is “the hardest” it tells him that my job is harder than his and it’s NOT. It’s just not. Maybe they’re comparing it to the folks that sit in an A/c office all day moving money from one account to another? My job is way harder than that. But there’s a ton of people in this country who do HARD work in this country, and they ain’t doing it in yoga pants while reading blogs and watching Dora.

  8. agreed…and i also think that a lot of the time, when people say that, they’re really just being patronizing. it’s an easy way of acting like you value the work mothers do in a culture that absolutely doesn’t. being a stay at home mom is really hard. my working mom friends sometimes say things like, “i don’t know how you do it.” but i often look at my working mom friends and think the same thing. it’s not a competition–we all have our challenges and we all have days when life is a shit sandwich. hopefully those are compensated for by the days when it seems like we got everything right (or close enough). those words, “i don’t know how you do it!” are like crack and crystal and chocolate all wrapped up in one to me–i love to feel like the martyr whose suffering and struggle make everyone else’s life worthwhile. but it’s not good for me, and it’s not good for my family, and when i start getting into competitive mode there is always someone to smack me down. being married to a man whose job LITERALLY means life or death to his clients helps keep me humble, altho it also sometimes pisses me off in an argument. i would be happy never to hear insincere pronouncements that motherhood is the hardest job in the world, if it meant that people in positions of power in this country would start treating mothers like their work really had value.

  9. Love.this.

    please submit it to HuffPo parents or somewhere where it can get the recognition it deserves! Well said, and something I’ll be thinking about all day. I wrote a post a few months ago on whether motherhood = martyrdom, and whether SAHMs (collectively) spend too much time proving that we work harder than our husbands. But it’s larger than that, as you so eloquently state. It’s about being a person among people. Bravo!

  10. Good thoughts. I personally don’t care if it is the hardest. “Hardest” is very subjective and everyone’s opinion will be different. I don’t care what everyone else says about it or how they feel. I just know that there are days when I feel like I want to run away and try something else because it is so dang hard. I only answer to myself, My God, and my family, so I really could care less what value others place on my mothering. It is what I have chosen to do and everyone else should just worry about walking in their own shoes.

    I’m really not a bitter person! I know it may sound like it, but after 24 years of parenting, I guess I’m tired of worrying about what others thing or what value others place on my life. I know my value. I know who I am and I know what I’ve chosen to do. That’s enough for me.

  11. Some days it’s the hardest, some days it’s the best. But I’ll tell you what, it’s one of the only jobs where you can pinch butts all day and get away with it.

  12. Such a thought-provoking post as always Alex. I am with you, I love being a mom but could do without the “I’m ready to run away from home” days. Earlier this week I had to get up at 5 and shower and be ready to get out the door by 6 and the whole time I was thinking about what a great life I have every other day of the week when I can take my kids to school in my pajamas.

  13. Yes. When I start thinking (on trying days like today, ahem) that no one understands how HARD it is to do what I do all day – how thoroughly exhausting and emotionally draining it can be, I end up thinking … and I just got interrupted mid-thought because my 4 year old threw a hacky sack at his baby sister’s head and all hell broke loose. i don’t remember where I was going with this…sigh.

  14. Just the other day my husband & I got into a discussion about who’s “job” was more difficult. We agreed to disagree, but I will tell you he told me he could “easily” do my job. (I shot daggers at him with my eyes and called him nasty names) This post made me laugh and I had to stop and think… is it really that hard? *sigh* somedays it just is was it is! Pizza for dinner, early to bed, and me collapsing into bed without washing my face or brushing my teeth.

    1. Oh I could write a whole post about how often my job is more difficult than my husband’s. It may not be the hardest in the world, but I definitely win some days especially when my son was a baby and I often got less sleep than when Scott was on-call in the hospital.

  15. Absolutely agree! I feel like we are always in some sort of the competition of who has it the hardest, who has the most struggles, etc. It’s all relative. Let’s just be supportive regardless of life choices. Amen!

  16. Well said! Official apologies for accosting you while you were juggling pizza and two children today. I thoroughly enjoy your blog and my daughters adore your husband! (Although they show it by crying whenever they come in for a checkup) Have a great weekend!

  17. I agree with this … in multiple senses … I do believe that we create a competition by calling parenthood the hardest job … I do agree with the quote that it’s “the hardest job you’ll ever love” … but the hardest … not so much … I also think there is a problem with people over-competing in general lately in the world …. that martyrdom that you are unwilling to participate in and I think a lot of people feel the same way 🙂

  18. I find this to be such a compelling post. I find that I often claim my job of a stay at home mom to be “the hardest job.” But maybe some of that stems from insecurities in myself as though I have to justify my choice to stay at home.
    I feel there are elements of this culture that do not respect stay at home moms, so maybe part of making that claim is the attempt to justify the significance of this job?
    My husband is a doctor and whenever we go to family gatherings or social events his title seems to make garner so much respect, but I think my work is just as important.
    I guess it’s also a little bit of a justification to myself. I was always a super star student and won tons of awards and had so much “potential”. I was going to be somebody. But now I’m “just” a stay at home mom. I need to know that what I’m doing is important and valued, and yes, it is HARD!
    But, this really has me thinking. By saying it is the hardest, that is a de-valuation of other jobs. And you are so right, a lot of it is about letting go. Thank you for this. I love your words.

    1. I struggled so much with that as well. I would often complain that my husband the pediatrician was given accolades just for being a doctor while I was up to my elbows in diapers and no one cared. For 5 years, I always compared us — time, difficulty, support, importance. It wasn’t until the last few months that I finally settled into my “position” and realized that I wouldn’t trade it for Scott’s job EVER.

  19. Hmm. I have worked 18 straight hour days in the past and have been less tired. Eventually, I got a day off. Motherhood is hard because it challenges me emotionally and physically. The combination and the balance of it makes it hard. Is it the hardest? I can’t say. I haven’t worked every job on the planet. I guess I just don’t have strong feelings about it being referred to as the hardest job. Maybe being an older parent, I don’t feel the need to compete against other mothers. This is interesting though. Thanks.

  20. “I believe that by calling motherhood the hardest job, we are creating a competition of sorts between women with children and women without children and between women and men.”

    OH MY, yes, this. I’ve written about the competition and the wars, etc. before… the thing that gets me is that it’s hardest for some. I have a friend who’s a SAHM and she’s the first one to tell you that she’s not suited to it, personality wise, but she does it because she feels it’s important. Me? I have to work, but in my time as a SAHM, I found it the easiest job – that’s my personality. It always rankles me when people claim it’s the hardest job – to me, it makes mothering sound simply awful. Like, …gosh, it’s so terrible but I persevere. Praise me now… It’s a bad attitude, for sure.

  21. You seem to be reading my mind. Bill Maher said on his show the other day that he doesn’t like the saying “Motherhood is the hardest job in the world” and it got me thinking. Whenever Oprah, a politician or Joe (or Josephine) Blow says it’s the hardest job, there’s immediate applause and amens. You don’t dare question that or you must hate parenthood, kids and apple pie.

    But I’ve been thinking this weekend that it’s not really a “job”. Now, I don’t have kids, so I automatically assumed if I shared that I would be stoned to death in the nearest town square.

    I don’t mean it’s not WORK but it’s not a fair comparison to put parenthood up against a job where there is a boss (or you’re your own boss), specific hours, a paycheck, co-workers, uniforms or other compulsory dress wear, promotions, the option to get a new job, etc.

    As you also said, it’s a subtle (or not so subtle) way to pit stay-at-home moms against moms in the workplace, as well as moms against dads. I believe raising kids is extremely tough, but like any other thing you do with passion for years on end, it has great times as well. It’s just not fair or realistic to say it’s a “job”, same as any other job (nanny, doctor, construction worker, assembly line person, waiter, on and on and on).

    I’m so glad you wrote this and that I have an opportunity to express my opinion and not feel like 5 minutes later a line of angry moms will be at my door or in the comments section.

  22. I saw this title before and was interested but was also playing catch-up from being on vacation so didn’t stop by then. I think what’s hard about mothering for me is that I’m naturally a loner. It’s ironic because when you talk to me I’m as outgoing as they come so you would never guess, but I need lots and lots of alone time. With kids you don’t get that and that’s what makes it harder for me than when I was working in an office.

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