When I was young, Erma Bombeck was the definitive voice on motherhood. With wit and wisdom she managed to balance the absurd and sublime that distinguishes the life of a mother. She was one of the greatest humorists of her day, yet capable of great sentimentality as well because she understood the deepest truths about motherhood and family life: that it is challenging, exhausting, comical, frustrating, profound, exciting, and oftentimes tedious, but most of all, sacred.
To all the mothers, happy Mother’s Day! Thank you for understanding the value of the work you do. It’s heroic.
Faithfully for families,
Tori Black, President
Best Job Ever:
A Millennial Mom’s Response to the New York Times
By Caroline May, Editor
On Sunday, April 27, the New York Times ran an article which, as many have before, takes on the topic of motherhood, warts and all. A casual reading of “Job Posting for the Dumbest Job Ever” offered some chuckles, as only parenting can, as the author, Ms. Harrington, discusses lack of privacy with children, disinterested (at best) spouses, and the ever-present exhaustion that consumes young mothers. Infused with just my flavor of sarcasm and wit I found the piece rather entertaining – until I didn’t.
Moms are found the world over, offering a universal appeal to motherhood tropes because, let’s face it, we’ve been there and done that. The sorority of motherhood allows women to bond instantly as we swap stories of sleepless nights, potty-training mishaps, and the quirks and irks of the mantle. Ms. Harrington rightly lists the first responsibility for the advertised position of “Mother” as “Keeping co-workers alive”, and then lists all the ways in which this is nearly impossible and how the most inane things pose the greatest threat. (Uncut grapes! Run for your life! Or just cut them.) And this: “Become unnaturally intrigued by what gets stains out of clothing, trade tips with other moms and hate yourself for it, bookmark stain chat blogs and hate yourself for it, share hot tips (sunlight! vinegar!) with your friends via text and hate yourself for it.”
Because, I’ll admit, I wondered what my life had become when I Googled “How to get sharpie off a baby doll” and shared the remedy when it worked. (Magic Eraser, and I don’t hate myself for sharing that. You’re welcome.)
But then something in the article changed. While I enjoy my fair share of biting satire, probably more than I should, I grew more uncomfortable the longer I read. I waited for the “But then there’s this moment …” comment and for the underlying angst and resentment to follow a natural character arc and change to one of love and compassion. Instead, the author summarizes the “job” posting with: “Told you it was dumb.”
Throughout the article, Ms. Harrington makes one comparison she assumes will be accepted by her readers as truth, and her entire premise hangs on this one comparison: families are little corporations. This is summarily false. As much as we might want to believe that management science is pertinent to all aspects of life, statistics and numerical algorithms will never apply to nuclear relationships found in the home. Children are not co-workers to whom you are beholden for advancement and favorable treatment in the “workplace”. The linear model of minimal-effort-for-maximum-
And speaking of reverence, while motherhood is hilarious, and jokes abound at Play Group, the absolute mockery of motherhood displayed in this article is no laughing matter. The caricature is funny, the acerbic despair is not. The author’s caustic attitude towards her primary purpose as a mother, “to train the people you love most in this world to leave you. Forever”, leads one to ask “What is the point?” Sadly, when just reading her article there is no point. To her there is no return on investment and her chaffing banter points to a bitter and self-centered resentment towards her family.
What Ms. Harrington fails to do is recognize the sweeter cliché of motherhood: that the most difficult moments are met in equity by the euphoric – the sweet sighs of an infant asleep in your arms, the smashed dandelion your preschooler saved all day for you, the moment your preteen, too old by his estimation for kisses and hugs, spontaneously declares “Love you, Mom!” and gives you a hug and kiss (in front of his friends! GASP!). Ms. Harrington fails to recognize that, more than raising children to be “more competent, independent, well adjusted and successful than you”, we raise ourselves as we raise our children. We model for our children the behavior we wish for them to emulate, and we become better because of them. Being a mother requires us to be about something more than ourselves. It requires a higher level of thinking, feeling, and relating. This sacred sacrifice, offering who and what we were so that we might become more, is hardly deserving of the bitter abuse leveled in Ms. Harrington’s opinion piece.
Yes, there is pettiness and absurd caricatures amongst mothers to which a healthy dose of cynicism, and self deprecating humor, should be applied. However, being a mother is not dumb. To make such a claim is not funny. While I appreciate a good joke, and there were many to be had in this article, families deserve more than to be reduced to a synergized corporation. And motherhood deserves better than “superficial attention and lip service” such as this.
This article appeared in Meridian Magazine on May 2, 2018.
Caroline May is the editor for United Families International. She currently does her reading and writing in Michigan where she shares her life and home with her husband and four children.