One of A’s current favorite books (to the point where I had to hide it this morning because I couldn’t stand to read it again today*) is a reworking of Hush, Little Baby. In the author’s note, the author and illustrator explains that she never liked the materialism of promising a child diamonds, livestock, and other sundries and restructured the song to focus on the relationship between mother and child. I rather like this take, but the first sentence of the explanation gets to me every time. It says “As much as I love being an artist, my favorite and most important profession has been being a mother.”
Maybe I’ve spent too much time in the practice of law, but I’ve always thought of a profession as something you get paid to do. Mothering is a job, no doubt about it, and it’s definitely an undervalued one at that. I think you can even accurately describe it as a vocation for some. But a profession? Not so much. I’ve read this book to A at least twenty-five times over the last three nights, and wind up reading the author’s note to myself on every reading. (Gives me an extra thirty seconds to pause before starting to sing again.) Most important profession…most important profession. As I start on Hush, Little Baby again, I’m vaguely annoyed. Profession? Really?
I think my annoyance is exacerbated by the fact that certain women (read: white, partnered, affluent, and without a disability at present) are encouraged to talk about how much mothering is important to them, how it’s the greatest thing they’ve ever done in their whole lives, how nothing could be as important. There’s a language of self-sacrifice and a sense of what an honor and privilege it is to be sleep-deprived and uncertain of when your next shower will be. (See this great post by Mindy at Hoyden About Town for a dissection of that kind of rhetoric.) Even if you’re privileged enough to be taking care of a child in physical, financial, and emotional safety, taking care of a newborn is frequently exhausting. Every age going forward presents a whole new series of challenges.
Motherhood is damn hard work, even before you get into the level of moral judgment that inevitably seems to accompany it. But it’s not a profession.
*An important lesson for new parents: never buy a book for your child that you’re unwilling to read at least 15 times in a row.
P.S. Googling for fatherhood and profession (a tangent I wound up not getting into here) led to some very interesting results, like this 1913 NY Times article on the need for a new profession of fatherhood, because, as the subtitle puts it: “Men Are Too Busy Nowadays to Make Home a Centre of Education and Recreation for Children as It Was When Fathers Took Their Duties More Seriously.”
- The Motherhood Discounting by Natasha August 26, 2010
- The nice pregnant lady’s guide to not offending polite society* by Natalia Antonova January 18, 2011
- Little Girls Are Natural Nurturers. by Flea May 21, 2007
- Diets all around! by evil fizz August 5, 2010
- Children will teach you about helplessness – and not only children by Natalia Antonova September 4, 2012