Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Devil of a Job

"Being a parent is the hardest job in the world."

You've heard this statement before, right?  I've been guilty of using it too, at some point or another.  But, come on.  Is it really the hardest job, or was this statement coined by a  full-time parent feeling guilty over not being able to bring home the bacon?  Trust me, having been home for 6 years, I know that feeling... especially as a male.

If you were to apply for a job as a parent, perhaps this would be the ad:

JOB DESCRIPTION:"Long term commitment needed for challenging, permanent work in an often chaotic environment. Applicant must have excellent communication and organizational skills, and be willing to work around the clock.  Some overnight travel required, including trips to primitive camping sites on rainy weekends and endless sports tournaments in god awful locations. Travel expenses not covered. Sense of humor, a must."

PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE: None, unfortunately. On-the-job training will be provided.

WAGES AND COMPENSATION: You pay your way, offering frequent raises and bonuses to those you supervise. No workers comp provided.

How's that for a scary job description? Yikes!

My problem with the above statement is not that we call it the "hardest" job, but rather that we call it a "job" at all.  Is it really a job? Is your marriage a job?  Is giving advice to your best friend a job?  Last I checked, I wasn't able to buy myself an iPad  with the extra income I earned by reading to my daughter at night. And wiping butts never paid for a weekend getaway in Vegas. 

When I stop and think about hard jobs, my mind conjures up visions of waste disposal employees, ER doctors, Pediatric Oncology nurses.... just to name a few.  By comparison, being a parent seems like a walk in the park, don't you think?

To me, being a parent is simply a relationship.   A relationship between us and our children.  A relationship we chose to be in.  We attend to their needs and keep them safe.   By viewing parenting as a job, I believe it takes away from the importance of what we do. 

We can always quit our job if we're not satisfied, right (perhaps not in this economy)? We can change careers if we're not happy.  And yes, I admit, there are days when I would like to trade my children in for less "hostile" co-workers, but I don't.  Our jobs may be disposable, but not our kids.

So what if we say: "Being a parent is the hardest relationship in the world."  How would that sound to you?  To me, it adds value and meaning.  I'm also reminded of what the focus really is.  To listen. To encourage. To teach. To comfort.  To reassure.  To sit on your hands when your first instinct is to give them a big whop!

I find parents come to me, seeking advice, when their child doesn't fit into a mold or expectation.  When they can't understand why their first child was so "perfect" and their second or third is just a holy terror.  Some children may be happy and ebullient from the time they take their first breath, while others may be sullen and detached.

Regardless of who they are, we adjust how we relate to them according to their personality style.   But if we take parenting on as a job, then we may fall into the trap of developing a workplace mentality.  Mainly, measuring our success by the quality of our product.  If we haven't produced a child who is "good," responsible and high-achieving,  then, alas, we have failed at our job! 



  1. This is something that's been on my mind a lot lately--or maybe just for the past 13 years, since I became a stay-at-home parent. It is, in fact, a relationship. But it's also a job. We know it's a job because if one parent isn't able to do it, we pay someone else to do it, like you would carpentry or housekeeping. I think I take more issue with the, "It's the hardest job in the world" statement. I hear this all the time (never more than from "working" parents) and it never fails to sound condescending. Politicians say it a lot during election season, then promptly forget once elected. The fact is, there are much harder jobs in the world (coal or diamond mining in a developing country comes to mind). The challenge with full-time parenting that I find is that, unlike most professions, I live at my job. I sleep here, have sex here, relax here, work here. The whole of my life is played out at my place of employment. With that my job and title--"Mom"--quickly become my identity. Not many other jobs do that. You may be "Doctor" at the hospital but you're still "Bob" at home. I am Mom 24/7. (Except, of course, when I'm meant to transform into "Sex Kitten." Can I just say how hard it is to feel sexy at work?)

    I love my job and am glad I chose it. No one should do this job who hasn't chosen it, because while it may not be hardest, it is hard. Terribly fun, too. Silly. An emotional roller coaster ride with a staff of bi-polar slobs. The best I've ever had.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking piece.

  2. An e-mail from a subscriber:
    I totally identify with everything you said. In fact my parents used to argue all the time about this, my dad would say that raising kids is such a hard job and my mum would snap back that it is not a job, it is just building a relationship with people you chose to bring into the world. I never thought about it that much until I read your post just now. Keep them coming! I love to read these.