Some women persist in giving voice to the attitude that if we are at home taking care of our kids, that we are “not working.” They say things like “as a career-driven woman, I have always worked,” implying that when a mom doesn’t have a paid job that she is a nonproductive burden. Or they’ll say that raising kids is work, but then agree that it is dull, and that any kind of paid work is more intellectually taxing.
Yet being a full time mom (or dad) is emotionally and mentally taxing. It takes a huge mental effort to be good with kids—and the effort level has to be constant. M. Scott Peck wrote on this subject in his 1960’s psychology book, The Road Less Traveled. He says it requires intense effort and focus to truly listen to a child. Peck might say that giving a successful presentation to a roomful of adults is less intellectually challenging than a conversation with your three year old (not to mention the physical work—diaper change, feeding, bathing, playing games and so on.) Add the stress of knowing you are responsible for keeping this helpless human alive, and suddenly going to any paid job begins to look like the intellectual cakewalk that waged work often is.
Imagine going to your paid job and always having to be mentally sharp, and focused on others’ needs. If you had to be this in tune with clients and coworkers you’d be off to the funny farm right quick. Yet mothers muster this focus daily.
Saying that caring for children is “not working” and not intellectually challenging harms women in another way. It perpetuates the shrinking of our nearly non-existent economic safety net for mothers. So if you’re poor and a mom, the safety net’s “work first” ideology will kick in to fix you. It doesn’t matter that the economy can’t even create paid jobs for every person who really wants one. Your kids will be deposited with the nearest poor mom so that you can go to “work.” Since career women are moaning that child care doesn’t require much intellect, they’ve set the stage for paying day care workers some of the lowest wages—about $8 an hour.
Once I even went to a women’s conference in which the audience was told that it is our duty to low income women to use day care because it “creates jobs for them.” Those women might have their own children who need taking care of.