At least once a week, I see a blog post making the rounds about the joys of motherhood and how, despite all the crappy moments in parenting young children, mothers should try to enjoy it. Two things jump out at me when I read these, and both have to do with the dynamics of work-life balance, equality of parenting, and the realities of having young children. One is that this message pulls women further into the double shift trap. The other is that it lays all the responsibility (and guilt) on mothers with no message for fathers.
Motherhood is often not fun, and it isn't supposed to be, but that fact is emphasized by its contrast with professional work. Modern mothers, especially anyone who has ever worked a career job, realize how under-appreciated and difficult the job of raising children is. Not only is it hard work, but nobody is giving you an annual review or raise to reward your effort. So, yes, these women need to be reminded that their self-worth isn’t tied to their children, and that children are an integral part of society. They also need to be reminded to appreciate the good moments, as fleeting as they may be, because it’s too easy to get lost in just getting through the days.
The other thing that strikes me is the point that it’s okay, or even preferable, for a mother to step back from her career in order to appreciate the joys of motherhood. Sure, those babies grow up quickly, but a missed promotion may never come back either. Where are the droves of blog posts addressing fathers and telling them to work less? Reminding them that their children will not need them someday? Reminding them that nobody regrets having spent too little time at the office on their death bed? The double standard is especially apparent in the low number of “daddy” blogs relative to their “mommy” counterparts.
In a dual-parent, heterosexual household, it's usually beneficial for a father to be involved with his wife and children. Both parents should be able to take a step back from their careers while their kids are young so that they can enjoy the transcendent moments of joy amidst the pervasive sticky messes. In fact, the drudge factor would be lessened simply by having another responsible adult around to share the load. As a society, it seems like a no-brainer to improve everyone’s quality of life by encouraging this.
Instead, we are chastising women for putting their work ahead of their children. We are scorning men who take time off to care for a sick child. We are effectively punishing people who support feminism with these attitudes. Combine that with our culture of overwork, and you have a perfect recipe for low or negative population growth. That might be fine once we’re all post-human and immortal, but for now we need to make more human beings. In order to do that, we, as a society, need to support both parents so they can support each other...and enjoy their children.