Is Motherhood the Hardest Job in the World?

Last week, I read this article and immediately upon finishing it, I wanted to reach through my computer screen and throttle the author. After my first reading, it seemed to me that the author was contending that motherhood was not the hardest job in the world. That Chuck E. Cheese employees and corn huskers have it much harder, and that mothers just need to chill out.

The absolute last thing I need to read was an article telling me that what I'm doing every day with three kids under age 3.5 isn't difficult, and that really, I need to shut my yapper and give "bean picking in a hot field" a try before I complain.

Sasha's post on this same article made me give it a second read, and upon completing it, I realized that what the author was (probably) trying to say (I agree with Sasha in that the article lacks clarity, therefore leaving it open to vastly different degrees of interpretation) is that mothers put too much pressure on themselves and in doing so "professionalize" motherhood, which sets the expectations for motherhood way too high. Perhaps we're all trying way too hard to be "perfect mothers" and in killing ourselves to achieve this impossible standard, motherhood becomes less of a relationship and more of a job.

I will readily admit to trying too hard and putting too much pressure on myself. You've all read about my fears about not giving the twins enough stimulation and Isabella enough attention because their basic care, my work, the move, and everything else that's part of everyday life requires so much of my time. I constantly feel inadequate. I always feel as if I'm failing. And I never feel at the end of the day that yes, each of my children had enough of my time and enough social, developmental, and cultural enrichment. When I look at things this way, then yes. Motherhood is a job, and one at which I am not particularly succeeding.

But for me, motherhood is indeed the hardest job I have ever held, even if I wasn't self-imposing pressure to achieve perfection. My desk jobs as a technical and marketing writer and editor for the first 10 years of my professional life were cake-walks compared to what I do now.

Of course, it's not just a job. It's also an ongoing relationship, like the author of this essay suggests. Motherhood is all-encompassing, enormously fulfilling, and intensely gratifying, but for me there are many parts of it that are hard work, and I don't believe that admitting this means that it's entirely within my power to change it.

Is it easy for me to balance working with staying home with three small kids, two of whom are extremely high-needs and fussy, all day long? Absolutely not. I never have enough time. I have to stuff my work into the leftover cracks of the day (often early mornings and late at night) because I don't have any significant blocks of time in which to do it.

Is it fun for me to continually subjugate my own needs for peace and quiet and time to clear my brain in a house that's perpetually noisy and in which at least one child is seemingly always crying? No. There are times when they're all crying and I literally want to get into my car and drive away.

Is it enjoyable to try and decide whether it's worth it to lug two high-needs babies and an increasingly difficult preschooler to the store to get milk, to Target to buy mittens, or to the museum to have fun, only to end up staying home rather than face the explosive and temperamental personalities of two babies you love dearly, but who are slowly sapping you of your will to live? Of course not. I make decisions similar to this one every day, and more often than not, I opt to stay home, which makes me feel completely trapped and unhappy.

Would my view on motherhood as a job be a bit different if I had had two singletons? Probably. Would I view the "work" aspect of motherhood as less soul-sucking if I had had a Luci or a Nicholas but not both? Perhaps. But for me, being a mother to three small children is the hardest job in the world. The never-ending needs, the endless schelpping of gear and bodies, the exhausting preparation and cleanup that are involved in virtually everything we do make these parts of motherhood a job for me.

This is hard work. These things are not the joys of motherhood, of which I experience plenty, of course, but which are often forgotten in the face of dozens of diaper changes, 3am wakeup calls, and the heaving of way-too-heavy infant seats.

I know it won't always be like this. In about five years I will look back at this period in my life and wonder how I managed to maintain the thin shred of sanity by which I hang on a daily basis. It will be easier then. The work will still be there, of course, but it won't be so consuming and exhausting. Perhaps it won't even seem like a job anymore.

But right now it does. And no amount of "chilling out" will make it seem less so for me.

I'm really interested in reading your thoughts. What's your take on motherhood: job, relationship, combination of the two, or something entirely different?

14 Responses to “Is Motherhood the Hardest Job in the World?”

  1. # Blogger

    Having never had so many little ones as you have, I can't quite imagine it. But know this: As they grow, it doesn't get easier, persay. But you DO get more sleep. And that? Makes it EASIER to parent. Being physically demanded by 3 little ones who need you for not only the emotional stuff (like older kids will, too) but also for the physical stuff of diapers, clothes, car seats, carrying, burping, lifting, etc. is a looooong and physically demanding job.

    I won't say that motherhood is the "hardest" job in the world. There are jobs where you are required to cut into someone's brain and stand perfectly still and be focused and precise and... Well. Let's just say I am glad to have a job that allows me to make small mistakes that don't result in someone's death or mental impairment.

    But being a mom Is hard. It's just that a lot of what we think is hard is what we put upon ourselves. Will the kids survive if their clothes aren't clean? Will they thrive if they get only 1 book a day? Will it REALLY matter if they don't get all of the food groups each day?

    Not really. Kids grow up without attention, love or proper food. But it matters to US, because we love them. If we could just keep it to THAT, though: the food, clothing and love and forget about the "enriching" crap a little bit? Then we'd all be a bit better off, I think.  

  2. # Blogger

    Damn! That was a long comment. Sorry.  

  3. # Blogger My Wombinations

    I am not going to offer advice since I get the sense that might only tick you off. Having multiple young children is extremely, extremely hard whether there are three or two or hell, even one.  

  4. # Blogger Mom24

    Kristi, I'm sorry it's so hard for you. I've been very, very blessed in my life. I grew up with a lot of chaos and upheaval and being a mother was all I desired out of life. I wanted to be a mom and create a family that was everything I always wished my family was, but wasn't.

    I've been lucky and that is indeed what I have been able to do with my life. Maybe it's because it is what I've always wanted, or maybe it's because my first three kids were widely spaced, I don't know, but being a mother is the most wonderful thing that's ever happened to me. I don't look on motherhood as a job, but I do think the life that I live is easier in many ways than the life my hubby lives.

    I'm not saying every day is sunshine and roses and that I love everything my children do. Sometimes the days are just plain awful. Sometimes it's completely overwhelming and I feel like I s*** at it. Sometimes I think my children would be better off with Mary Poppins. Fortunately, those days aren't every day and I do get the chance to get my mojo back. Plus, I have to remind myself that Mary Poppins is not real. I'm me, I love them more than anyone else in the world, and there's no one better equipped to raise them than me, even with all my faults.

    Now I am completely separating running a home from being a mother, because while I feel like I'm a pretty good mom, I'm not so great at running a home. That is a job, one that I'm not good at, don't always enjoy, and do feel like is very, very hard. I can't find the formula to have a clean sparkling house all the time with laundry done, beds freshly made, groceries in the fridge and dinner on the table. I don't know if it's the hardest job in the world, but it's definitely a difficult one.  

  5. # Blogger Mom24

    Oops! I guess this topic inspires long comments. Sorry. :-)  

  6. # Blogger Sunny

    I have only have one toddler right now, and honestly he's a RELATIVELY easy-going kid at this point. (I did say RELATIVELY -- there are still tantrums and intense clingy-ness at times, let that be clear.) So my perspective at this point is much different than it will be 12 months. :)

    But speaking in the present, I don't feel like motherhood is a job. Maybe some days, sure. But overall, I *love* being a mother. I am not always so good at it (the house is a mess and I'm horrible at meals) but I am incredibly fulfilled watching my son grow and learn every day. I did enjoy my job as a mental health counselor, and I look forward to resuming the career one day. But even though I used to love the work, it's nothing compared to how much I *LOVE* deep-down-to-my-core being a mom. I think that's why it's hard for me to see it as a job... it's more of a blessing to me. I know, it's cheesy. I think infertility made me that way -- I have a new perspective on my life.

    That being said, I did not enjoy the early months of my son's life. Sleep probably had a lot to do with that. I don't think I'm going to enjoy parenting multiple children until AT LEAST I am getting several hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.

    The "motherhood" you are experiencing now is the hardest of the hard -- three little ones so young. I do believe it will get easier as they get older. At least, that's what my Dad says and I choose to believe it. :)  

  7. # Blogger Mel

    Hey my friend. I *hear* you loud and clear. My combination was 5, incredibly high needs 2 and a newborn...and I thought I was going to lose my mind AT ANY GIVEN MOMENT.

    I still think it depends on how you are wired. I do think you and I are wired similarly which is why we may struggle more than other moms.

    While parenting may not be the hardest job in the world is it the job that carries the most responsibility, you are emotionally attached and invested unlike someone doing a regular job.

    I am with you. While parenting doenst always feel like a job (I dont get a farking salary!) it still feels overwhelmingly like I am sucking at something that I should do really well by now!

    Let me just say - easier days are nearer than you think. Within 18 months I think you are going to feel like a new person!

    Hugs to you. Dang, I wish I could pop over!  

  8. # Blogger Mel

    Geez, my opening line is ambiguous - am typing with Hooli on my lap. What I was saying is that at the lowest point I had 3 kids...being 5,2,newborn!!! But you know that hey?

    Now they are 8,5,3 and life is WAY EASIER!  

  9. # Anonymous Ness @ Drovers Run

    Try picking corn husks 24/7/365.

    Does the corn talk back? Refuse to eat it's food? Hit it's fellow corn husks over the head with toy corn husks? Does the corn wake the farmer in the middle of the night because it needs water/fresh soil/attention?

    Nuff said.

    Motherhood = hard.

    Last job I had where I single-handedly managed the travel arrangements for an entire political party in the run up to - and during a national election and was on call 24 hours a day and they were only one of my 25 high profile clients?? - CAKE WALK in comparison.  

  10. # Blogger Hopeful Mother

    I think that motherhood is at least a REALLY HARD job because:

    1) the rules of the job change daily
    2) you have your own rules
    3) the rules don't apply to all of your children equally
    4) other people caring for your kids have different rules (or no rules)
    5) you debate internally all the time if your rules are the right ones
    6) every time you think you've got something figured out, it changes or goes away

    and lots of other reasons!

    It is definitely up there among the hardest jobs in the world.  

  11. # Blogger MsGraysea

    Bravo to you for raising this subject. Once again, I am probably one of your oldest commentors, so here is a little perspective from the now grandmother point of view. My youngest is 40 now and a new father! Anyway, my first two were 17 months apart and I was so miserable and overwhelmed that I feel I was just an awful parent. I really caved in to the pressure. You are doing much more and way better than I ever did. All I can say is that they turned out to be the most amazing adults and are all best friends to me today, and fine parents in their own right.
    It is HARD work, and in many ways it is the hardest job, BUT the most rewarding job one will ever have. It keeps on giving back. If I could go back, I would talk more openly about the struggle with peers, I would also have been honest with my own mother about how I was feeling, and listened to her experiences more raptly, and I would have relaxed my standards a bit to help me survive. My high expectations of myself have always tripped me up into doubting everything. Still happens!
    I am happy to see you get so much support from your writing and hope it provides a catharsis of sorts through these early years. You will always be happy that you have taken such close attention to the details of the changes in the children and that you care so much about what you are doing with and for them. Win/Win.
    Wishing you some peaceful moments and big smiles from each baby face to touch your heart and lift your spirits in a split second.

  12. # Blogger Pregnantly Plump

    I'm just now starting out with two instead of one child, so my perspective today will most likely be extremely different in just two weeks. I don't see motherhood as a job. I love my "bosses" and try to appreciate the "constructive criticism" I receive from them. I'm also not nearly as stressed as I was with any of my jobs (television news, even local, gets pretty stresful.) I have a feeling the stress will mount and get pretty rough over the next few weeks, but hopefully I will be able to handle it.
    I think motherhood is different for everyone, but the one thing I try very hard to do is not compare myself to other mothers. I think that's where a lot of the problems come up that that woman was talking about.  

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  14. # Anonymous Anonymous

    Being a mother is a difficult job because you don't get paid? You're taking care of a family member that YOU wanted. It may be a difficult job, but it is far from the MOST difficult job. Ever seen Deadliest Catch? Are you familiar with the oil rigs or lumberjacks or soldiers or doctors making life and death decisions in the ER every night? You bake cookies, watch cartoons, make sure they don't hurt themselves or others and yell at them for drawing on the walls with crayons. Big picture, your walls don't matter all that much.  

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