Look, Ma’, I Work!

Hello! I am Stella! I am a new mom on a mission!

I wanna show the world how Mothers are multi-competent knowledge workers, and how the skills they put forward to tackle motherhood are, actually, indispensable to the Business World. And vice versa: the Business Skills we acquire at work, can serve us well into Motherhood. It may sound a bit complex right now, but we will take it slow, through short stories and narrations broadcasted live from mommy-land. So here goes!

I am currently on a maternity leave from work, enjoying the time I get to spend with my little one as much as possible, while trying to set a good pace of habits to prepare ourselves for when I will need to get back to work a few weeks from now.

Ever since I became a Mom, my everyday life has changed quite a bit. I am faced with new complications and, at the same time, have developed new problem-solving capabilities. For instance, since its now flu season, I try to minimize outdoor errands and order in as much of our shopping needs as I can. This way, I’ve managed to expand my social circle too, and am now good friends with people I had never come to meet before, like the Postman and all the other nice fellows that deliver packages to my area.

I have packages delivered to us almost every other day. It’s like a household ritual. The doorbell rings; I rush to answer; I open the front door, and greet the delivery guy with a smile; I get smiled back; I sign-off and wish him “another great day at work”; he politely thanks me and goes about his day. This series of events gets replayed every other day, with almost no variation. Except for a particular day… a day I just can’t let go.

My baby stuff had just arrived, and I am all pumped up to replay the ritual. I open the door, greet the delivery guy with a smile, get smiled back, sign-off and wish him “another great day at work”. His response felt like a tiny sharp dagger flowing swiftly down my spine: “You too! Well, I mean, you are not really working but hey, have a good day as well!”

Photo: Bruce Mars (Pexels)

His response was cheerful and spontaneous. He kept his genuine smile as he rushed down the stairs, and I stayed there, by the door, as if struck by some weird epiphany. An unexpected emotional bomb had just been delivered to me, generating a whole bunch of new feelings that sounded like mini explosions in my head. I wasn’t really working? Where was that coming from, and what did it even mean? And, most of all, why did I care so much about what was said to me?

If there’s one thing to know about me, it’s that I’m a serial bookworm. I can find a book solution for every problem I am faced with. (If you care enough to know two more things about me and my overall motivation for creating this blog, I got you covered in another post, here). So, when I was delivered with the “you aren’t really working” package, I go myself into thinking. What is work, really?

The Oxford Living Dictionary is always a good place to start if you are in need of core insight:

Work [noun]:
1. An activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result

  • Mental or physical activity as a means of earning income; employment.
  • The period of time one spends in paid employment
  • 2. A task or tasks to be undertaken

  • A thing or things done or made; the result of an action
  • Good or moral deeds
  • Ok, now, on to the reality check. Being a mom who is at home taking care her little one and, according to some nice delivery guy, she is not really working

      1. Am I performing any physical activity while not really working?
      I seem to be constantly on the move to perform a series of activities for the sake of my baby’s well-being, like changing diapers, washing, bathing, feeding, playing, singing, talking to, reading to, cooking for, doing laundry and shopping (only to name a few).
      2. Am I performing any mental activity while not really working?
      Judging from the toll sleep deprivation has had on my overtired brain who seems to be constantly overthinking (and fretting) about planning paediatrician visits, scheduling naps, arranging play dates and keeping up with feeding times, I would say the mental effort is pretty intense as well.
      3. Am I earning any income while not really working?
      I am lucky enough to be on a paid maternity leave. So, yeah, you could say I am earning income, thanks to both my employer’s (very) good will, and the legal foundations set by the country I reside in.
      4. Am I undertaking any tasks during my time spent not really working?
      My daily To-Do list seems to never run out of tasks! As soon as the baby wakes up and up until sleep time, I seem to mentally manage a dreaded list of tiresome tick boxes. Did I remember to change the sheets for the crib? Check. Did I wash the baby’s clothes? Check. Did I schedule the next paediatrician appointment? Check. Did I prepare the home made puréed baby food on time for lunch? Check. Did I sing the lullaby for the night sleep routine? Check.
      5. Am I doing a good and moral deed while not really working?
      If caring for a tiny new human who cannot support himself does not count as a good or moral deed, I honestly don’t know which deed is moral, and who makes those definitions.

    Bottom line? I am working. Really! And, wanna dig a little bit deeper on the nature of this particular type of work? Because it’s not even merely full-time employment. It’s all-time work. Wanna hear more?

    For me and other Moms like me out there, tasks don’t have a fixed duration, or an end of day. Our exclusive customers do not allow us to wind down just because a clock says so. And they don’t have the ability to acknowledge that we have done our fair share of work for any given day, either. They are there, looking for us and expect to see us, so we are practically on call around the clock!

    Moms don’t have day shifts or night shifts, because nights and days are mainly a mixed blurry area, primarily defined by our little ones’ sleep and nursing schedules. Some days are longer than others, and some nights (especially when we have a cold and are waiting for the fever to go down) seem to never end soon enough.

    Did you notice how I said we are down with a cold just now? I didn’t really mean the Moms. I meant the Babies. But we is what you get from carrying the emotional burden of empathy and true care 24/7. A feeling like this (which, before motherhood I personally never knew existed) has the power to bring you to your knees when that tiny somebody you deeply care for is in trouble, and relies on you being there trying to bring your best self to make it work. I sincerely doubt that any level of engagement with an employer could ever match the emotional levels of bonding with your kid.

    And, guess what? Moms can’t call in sick either, even when we are down with the flu. Because for some of the things we provide, it’s practically impossible for others to pitch in. Therefore, if it happens that both Mom and Baby are sick, Mom will still need to find a way to be up to nurse, comfort and provide for the baby’s emotional needs, while also seeking ways to secure support from others or putting the extra effort to take care of herself.

    I think I have made a strong point here, that motherhood feels like work to me personally, and therefore I can resonate to how other moms out there may experience the whole thing. But I am definitely not a lonely voice in a desert of subjectivity.

    Take this article from the World Economic Forum, for example, discussing the findings of the latest UN’s World Women Report, clearly stating that caring of children (and elderly relatives, and doing household chores too!) is, indeed, work. And it’s, in effect, unpaid.

    Caring for children doesn’t stop when a maternity leave ends. It goes on after you return to your paid employment (provided you have one). And when all work – paid and unpaid – is accounted for, women are found doing longer hours than men.

    According to the same report, only half of women of working age are in the global labour force, compared to 77% of men. Why are those women out? Did they choose to do it, or where they cast out by lack of opportunity or circumstance? I cannot know for sure. But I bet some of those women simply chose to become stay-at-home-moms (they call them SAHMs now – what’s with the acronyms, really?) because dealing with all that paid and unpaid work is, in many cases, just too much!

    And, although I did my fair share of reading on some (not all!) of the works published by advocates of women’s Leaning In towards a seat at the corporate table (here’s looking at you, Sheryl) I still can’t help but witness a great paradox here: how can women hope for equality in their paid employment environment, when they don’t seem to be getting any for their unpaid work for the household?

    According to the same UN report, women in developing countries typically spend three hours more per day than men on unpaid work (household chores, caring for children and elderly relatives), and two hours more than men in developed countries.

    Personally, I am not surprised. I may run the risk of oversimplifying here but, I think that the same professionals who would keep a woman out of gaining that seat at the corporate table in the morning, are someone’s husband who wouldn’t raise a hand to help take care of the colicky baby at night. I can’t help but wonder how we expect different behaviors in different settings, when the underlying moral principle of the person remains the same!

    I will do a pause for now to reflect some more before my next article, but every day I get to savor as a SAHM, enhances the feeling that we have much discussing to do on the matter. I feel we need to talk more about stuff like this:

    • About the true meaning of work.
    • About the place of women in society, in the workforce, and at home.
    • About the role of men in parenting, and the paradoxes of having women take up responsibilities while at the same time not alleviating any of the burden.
    • About how unfair it is to underestimate and oversimplify the dynamics of complex situations like motherhood.

    So, this (long) first post is for any person like that (still dear) delivery guy, who may think that mothers don’t get any work done, just because they (sometimes) happen to be at home by 11am to get the door.

    It’s adding those oversimplification and judgment elements in a thinking process that (deliberately or not) get to fuel the (despicable) SAHM shaming that still exists out there, and serves for nothing but start silly conversations about whose personal decision making deserves a Medal of Honor.

    But this post (and the others that will follow) is also for me, and my need to explore and grow and challenge the system with the power of my thinking. And it’s for other Moms out there trying to juggle their every day motherhood and professional activities and take on more that they can (or should), leaving outsiders wonder in awe: “I don’t know how she does it“.


    Featured Photo: Danielle MacInnes (Unsplash)

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