please stop saying that motherhood is the hardest job in the world

Nice job, Hilary Rosen. Seriously. With one thoughtless swipe at stay-at-home-mothers–

“Ann Romney has never worked a day in her life…”

you’ve become the new Hillary to hate. Which is good, because this one stopped giving a hoot about being liked a long time ago.

That Hillary is wayyy too busy to be sucked into another tired Mommy War, and we should all be too. But despite some pundits arguing that Rosen had a point about the plight of working mothers just above the poverty line, and that what she said was taken out of context, nobody’s talking about that– just the firebomb Rosen threw.  Why should we give Rosen the benefit of the doubt, consider what could have been a well-reasoned argument?  Unfortunately, that’s not what she said. To me, that’s kind of like saying “But some bitter people DO cling to guns and religion,” which they do, but we all knew Obama was a bonehead for saying it.

And so here we go again, with every politician and pundit tripping over one another on their way to the podium to announce that THEY honor mothers, and that motherhood is the hardest job there is.

I hate when people say that. I really do. “Motherhood is the hardest job in the world.” Because the person who says it is usually someone who couldn’t have any idea whether that was true or not. (viz: Oprah. Joe Scarborough.) It’s patronizing, devoid of meaning, and wrong. Was getting my kids to school this morning harder than working in a Chilean mine? Of course not. Is juggling dinner, homework, and bathtime harder than rush hour air traffic control at JFK? (About the same, I’d say.) There are times when being a mother is way, way harder or soul-sucking or monotonous or impossible than anyone who hasn’t been one can imagine. But painting us all as selfless saints is a ridiculous generalization that allows public figures to pay lip service to motherhood without standing behind it.

Yes, I was bothered by what Rosen said. But I’m even more bothered by the rush to respond with this head-patting “mothers are so wonderful” nonsense that is meaningless and does nothing to promote mothers’ standing in the world. Peggy Noonan went on Morning Joe today to wax on about the saintliness of women who stay home to raise their children (again, not someone who would seem to have much experience on that). She said, “It reminds me of the women 30, 40 years ago who would say they were ‘just a housewife’ at cocktail parties. It’s the tender moments like that.” And I almost threw my cereal bowl at the television. Is it “tender” that women who stay home feel unseen and unrecognized, then and now? No. It’s tragic, is what it is.

Please, pundits, spare us SAHMs the patronizing pats on the head and the empty plaudits about how you think we have the hardest job in the world. Rosen will suffer the consequences but she told the truth: people who aren’t SAHMs think being a SAHM isn’t a job at all. And until that conviction changes, on both sides of the aisle, the real issues facing women- childcare, pay equity, health care, and the freedom to work outside the home or in it– will never get any better.


{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Angeladigaetano April 13, 2012 at 3:05 pm



Msenula April 13, 2012 at 3:30 pm

I love the way you express your thoughts,Amy! I would agree that the commentary of being a MOM after Hilary made that statement, was not SINCERE at all. That is what bothers me most!


Paige April 13, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Amen, Amy.


Ron April 13, 2012 at 3:57 pm

It’s a campaign non-issue.  It only makes sense as an issue if the Romneys had a host of domestic servants and sent their kids to boarding school.  

I think Rosen made the mistake of emoting her reaction as a middle-class working woman reacting (I guess with kids) to a wealthy stay-at-home mother vexed by the additional hassles of horses. 


Guest April 13, 2012 at 5:56 pm

…and breast cancer and MS


Dusty Earth Mother April 13, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Bravo. Well said, Amy.


Jnwfam April 13, 2012 at 4:38 pm

As a SAHM, and yours, I might add, I love your words.  You have expressed so much of what I have felt. 


Jennifer Wilck April 13, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Thank you!


Abby April 13, 2012 at 5:09 pm

YES: “Rosen will suffer the consequences but she told the truth: people who aren’t SAHMs think being a SAHM isn’t a job at all.”


Ann April 13, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Fantastic post.


Carinn Jade April 13, 2012 at 5:54 pm

I respectfully disagree.  I do NOT want anyone to stop saying it.  I want Obama to sing it from the rooftops and Mrs. Obama to tweet away.

It is a selfless job.  Where else are your basic needs secondary??  Is it as dangerous as mining?  Thankfully, no.  My guess is that air traffic controllers have just as much monotonous downtime.  It depends how you define hard, but in my opinion it certainly qualifies.

In the end I do agree with your main issue – the “truth” as you call it.  People that aren’t stay at home moms don’t think staying at home is a real job.  THAT to me is why we need the Obamas of the world to stand up and say for us that is the hardest job.  We don’t have the same platform as they do.  And if they say it enough, maybe someone someday will begin to believe it.

Fake it til you make it.


amywlsn April 16, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Oh I think motherhood is hard, don’t get me wrong. I have a problem with people thinking they can say “it’s the hardest job in the world” and count that as a position, or action, or *doing* anything for mothers whatsoever. 

Maybe we should get them to start tweeting “Motherhood is the most misunderstood job in the world.”


Lyn April 18, 2012 at 12:38 am

Um, I was a SAHM, a working mom and now work pt while my kids are at school. And, no, being SAHM is NOT the hardest job in the world. It is hard, very hard when you have small children, but it gets easier and by the time they’re in school you get whole days to yourself. And that’s…. Be real. It’s not hard at that point.

We need to have an honest conversation, as women, sans hyperbole, so that our needs and our families’ needs can be better understood. When you say you want Obama to recognize that it’s “the hardest job in the world,” you’re ONLY asking for a nod. Who cares if he or anyone says it is? It actually does more harm than good, because what can people do for mothers who do “the hardest job?” Apparently motherhood gives women unlimited access to energy and compassion, they do what nonmoms don’t do every day, they’ve got this.


See what I mean? The nod is not just meaningless, it’s possibly harmful.


Becki April 13, 2012 at 6:24 pm

I may be the only person in America who thinks that Rosen wasn’t taking a swipe at SAHMs. What I understood her to be saying, albeit clumsily, is that Ann Romney really isn’t in any position to tell Mittens what American women think is important with regard to the economy because she’s never HAD to be out there working and trying to take care of her kids and making sure they have health insurance and taking them to the doctor. Ann Romney chose to be a SAHM, which is a perfectly good choice, as long as it IS a choice. I think Hilary Rosen was trying to say that most American women don’t have the luxury of that choice, and that Ann Romney can’t really understand their experience. 


Mitzi Easley April 16, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Yes! This! I am a conservative woman, and I believe this exactly. Unfortunately, Ms. Rosen didn’t handle the phrasing very well.


Anon April 17, 2012 at 12:39 am

Yep. But Obama said that he and michelle didn’t have the luxury not to have her work earlier this month, while he was making $162,000 in Congress and Michelle was being paid $350,000 to do a job that mysteriously wasn’t important enough to replace. I think this whole working man vs the rich argument might be meaningful if there weren’t two totally out of touch people running against each other. Rosen just was just trying to use SAHMs as short-hand for rich which was obviously a total fail, which just goes to show how clueless they all are…thus the platitudes.


theslackermom April 21, 2012 at 12:48 am

 That is how I read it too.  The sacrifices we had to make as a family for me to stay home were sacrifices the likes of Ann Romney have never had to face in their lives.  She may be a SAHM, but she doesn’t speak for me.  I never thought I would have the ability to stay home but managing my sons autism dictated that I did.  If it would have been an easy choice or a financially sound choice I would have done it years ago.  Instead we had to keep pushing through with me working until it just wasn’t going to work anymore.  And then we had to cross our fingers and hope our little ship didn’t sink.  Thankfully, we’ve been OK.


Heather Westberg King April 13, 2012 at 6:58 pm

I hear you. Totally get it. WORD. Thank you.


Pearl April 13, 2012 at 7:14 pm

I absolutely agree.  I found the statement to be patronizing as well.    Great post!



Liz McGuire April 13, 2012 at 9:54 pm

Right there with you!


Mollie April 14, 2012 at 12:01 pm

This is terrific, and I just want to add that in my personal Hell, “Morning Joe” is playing on all the televisions, and Peggy Noonan is always the guest. But I guess, it being Hell, I wouldn’t be able to take pleasure in her self-parodying qualities… I have to love that her touchpoint for the housewife’s experience is a dim memory of meeting someone’s spouse at a Beltway cocktail party.


Joanna Shupe April 14, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Shared this everywhere. WELL SAID!!


jenny April 14, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Thank you, Amy.   There is no easy answer here…and you sum up the issue perfectly.  


SquashedMom (Varda) April 15, 2012 at 7:15 am

Love this. And yes, I hate that Rosen was saying important things about women and economics and chose the really wrong words to do that with. But there’s always something that sets off the media feeding frenzied “mommy wars” which are stupid and pointless, and not real at all, but make for good ratings somehow. Yes, it’s amazing how “motherhood as calling” is always being vilified and / or glorified by people who have no business spouting off about it – but that doesn’t stop them does it?  Thanks for being such a smart and thoughtful writer, as always.


Courtney April 16, 2012 at 5:06 pm

This is the first time I have disagreed with you, I think. I don’t understand actually what you are trying to say – are you saying you think being a stay at home job IS or ISN’T hard (you say both) or are you saying you are sick of the conversation altogether? I totally agree with what poster Becki said – that what Rosen was trying to say was that Ann Romney has never been in the position to HAVE to work out of the home. This is what I got from what Hilary was saying, too: “I think Hilary Rosen was trying to say that most American women don’t have the luxury of that choice, and that Ann Romney can’t really understand their experience.”

And this is SO true. If you have to work and make a paycheck, you work and make a paycheck. If you don’t have to and you WANT to stay home with your kids, then you stay home with your kids. Some people have a choice, some don’t. I know stay at home moms that wish they were working and making a paycheck, and some who love staying home with the kids, and I know moms who work out of the home that love it, and I know some that wish they were home. Again, some people have a CHOICE and some do not.

Personally, I have done both. I have been a stay-at-home Mom of one child, and now I am a working outside of the home mom of two children. Both scenarios are hard, both are wonderful. Personally, I did see my time as a stay at home mom as a “job”. My job was to take care of my child, and when my husband got home, I was relieved of my “job” for a few hours so that I could tend to personal things. Now my job is at work 9-5, and then I get home and my job is at home until I go to bed. Is it perfect? No. Is it wonderful and rewarding and utterly exhausting? Yes. Do I really care what other mothers think of what I am doing? Nope! Not for a darned tootin’ moment.


amywlsn April 16, 2012 at 8:19 pm

What I’m trying to say is I’m sick of the silly platitudes taking the place of useful conversation, and legislation, and making things better. Sick of people saying every mother is Mother Teresa and thinking that’s enough, no further engagement with women’s issues necessary.

I think everything Becki said was spot-on right– and I do believe that that’s what Hilary Rosen set out to say– but she drove it into a ditch by saying something ugly and off-topic (in my opinion) that has now driven what could have been a useful national conversation entirely off-topic as well.


MuchaMomma April 16, 2012 at 7:10 pm

“But some bitter people DO cling to guns and religion  ….”, you say.
You mean those bitter people in Switzerland?  All of those bitter families over there?

Or: are only Americans bitter …. “which we know they are” …
The ones in the innner cities who like to use them on each other.   Those very bitter ones.


MuchaMomma April 16, 2012 at 7:20 pm

I quickly read up on you on your own website.
Sounds like you are traveling all over the place.
I hope you’re not also claiming to raise your three children by your lonely self? 
As in:  wake up , feed them breakfast, drive them to school, quickly shop for dinner, go home, make the beds, walk your dog (?), vacuum clean, re-grout dirty tub, pull some weeds from yard, run the laundry machine, fold clothes, eat, shower, pick up kids, do advanced math and grammar, cook dinner, clean dishes, bath kids, get cloths ready for the morning, kissie, kiss goodnight (x3), pay bills, plop on couch for an hour, drag yourself to your bed.  Run back.  Pry husband off couch ’cause he fell asleep. 


Stephanie Precourt April 16, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Just getting around to it, but Brava, Amy!



Sara April 16, 2012 at 7:44 pm

As a 55 year old Mom of a 77 and 24 year old. the truth is it was always a no win everyday of being a Mom. If I went to work,  felt guilty and if i stayed home I felt guilty. maybe it was not guilt so much as torn. Did I want my kids to have a working outside of the home Mom? Today I can say YES. At the time, sheez, not so black and white. Now for the record, it is also no easier being a DAUGHTER of aging parents and having to make choices about time that involves my parents, children and work. Being a woman is far more complex than MOM< Daugther, employee, community activist, etc. 


Eve L. April 17, 2012 at 1:05 am

 My take as a non-mother in my 40s looking from the outside in
(and apologies if this, in part, sets off a firestorm) is this: I’m sorry, but I
just don’t see cooking and cleaning and laundry as work for a SAHM, and i think
much of the so-called work is self imposed. How much labor is laundry, really?
Load the clothes in the machine and turn the button. Do t-shirts really need to
be folded? Not unless you insist on it; toss them in a drawer and be done with
it. And sure, you can make work out of cooking if you want  homemade organic
food at every meal. Or once in a while you can slap down a healthy
frozen dinner that tastes just fine. I grew up on many cans of spaghetti O’s and
slices of Velveeta cheese and my mother never made my bed or re-grouted our
tub, and it didn’t impede my path to a good college. And with three kids, one of
us set the table, one washed and one dried the dishes as soon as we were tall
enough to see over the sink.


However, I think the real full-time job lies is in bringing up
sensitive, compassionate, empathetic, imaginative, connected children. And the
true work lies in teaching, guiding, listening and mentoring, much of which
still falls on the mother’s shoulders. I’d like to see the national conversation
steer in this direction and away from whether the daily labor of running
a household qualifies as a job. Women aren’t home scrubbing clothes on a
washboard or milking cows at the crack of dawn to serve breakfast. But tending
to a child who is being bullied on Facebook or beaten up in school, that’s where
the real work lies.


Carinn Jade April 17, 2012 at 6:40 pm

I am incredibly saddened by this response and even more so that it has two likes.  If people who found their way to this blog can’t even band together, I fear it is a hopeless cause. 

I cannot begin to explain to you what it takes to raise small children but I appreciate your insight, given your vast experience.  Particularly constructive:  “how much labor is laundry, really?”. 

You mentioned that you were a 40-yo non-mother but you didn’t say what you do.  I might have liked the opportunity to wax poetic, even if in just my own head, about what meaningless activities you fill your day with.  Because that’s what you have done, right?  Called my each and every action meaningless?  My husband does the laundry on Sundays and I don’t make organic homemade food at every meal, so apparently I do NOTHING all day with my one year old and three year old.  

Any suggestions what I should do with all my free time now?  Oh wait, let me guess…get a job, right? 


Liz April 18, 2012 at 12:28 am

Okay. You really don’t get it. See, bringing up compassionate kind hearted people is essential. You can teach that around the house, with the very things you devalued. You can show them how to be thoughtful by teaching them to pick up after themselves. The value of a dollar by doing your own home repairs. Nutrition and botany by growing your own veggies. Life skills with cooking. Fold laundry together so the kids will understand how to take care of their own stuff. What you consider to be things that get in the way of parenting as a part of parenting. A big part. Your kids have to learn values and skills from more than words.


Courtney April 18, 2012 at 3:50 pm

I too am incredibly saddened by this poster’s response. You totally missed the point. But won’t waste my words trying to explain.


Julie N. April 20, 2012 at 7:41 pm

LOL. Oh, wow. Kind of funny. But you do make some good points, I don’t want to belittle them or demean you.

I am the mother of 5 children seven years old and younger. Before that, I had worked from the time I was fourteen years old: at a drycleaners, as a restaurant hostess, as an ecology tech at Los Alamos National Laboratory, as an arborist climbing trees and swinging a chainsaw around from thirty feet up in the air, as an intern at Harvard…..etc. etc. etc.

Then I had my first baby, six weeks early, during finals week, and 10 days before university graduation. And I’ll tell you now:

Motherhood IS the hardest *THING* I have ever done. But it’s NOT the doing of it that is hard….IT’S WHAT I HAVE GIVEN UP in order to do it.

You are wrong on the “non-work” items: Motherhood has everything to do with the laundry, the baths, the puke in the carseat, the newborn feedings every two hours for the first three months, the dishes, the cereal encrusted on the floor, the patience required when screaming replaces words due to a speech delay, the fact that the house IS NEVER CLEAN, but I keep cleaning it anyway…..

Because if I don’t do these things….who will?

No….those are the “soul-sucking” parts…although I actually find the juggling (shopping, managing finances and bills, getting kids to where they need to be) the fun and challenging part.

BUT, you are right, what makes motherhood the occupation of “the hand that rocks the cradle, rocks the world,” is raising those “sensitive, compassionate, empathetic, imaginative, connected children.”

For me, that happens in my home, with ME there. I don’t want someone else doing it.

The “non-work,” as you put it, can suck my soul dry…but I WILL take care of the home, so my husband can put the funds in the bank to let me stay home and raise my kids.

I hate hate hate being left behind when he gets to go out, have adult interactions, see projects concluded, receive accolades for his successes, and have some damn variety to life.

BUT this is a SEASON of my life. And I’m already seeing the fruits of my labor:

The tiny hand resting against my cheek; the award coming home from school telling me my oldest is recognized as “trying his best, and always willing to help others;” watching the social skills that I taught my children A THOUSAND times, finally surfacing in their interactions about two years later; listening to the sweet laughter of my kids playing together and KNOWING they are best friends;……….and it’s just beginning.

Good and bad…this season won’t last forever, and I’m sure I’ll mourn it when it’s over. But my interests will still be there, so will my Bachelor Degree, so will my experiences of living abroad and working at different places around the country.

I am not wasting those things by choosing to stay home NOW. This is a season.

Anyway, there you go.

A 29 year old FEMINIST, SAHM of five chitlins, seven and younger


Stacey @ Tree, Root, and Twig April 27, 2012 at 4:25 pm

As I read on a similar post last week: if it’s not work, why do people pay other people to do it? Next time you find someone to come into your home and cook, clean, and do laundry for you for free, let me know.


Alex@LateEnough April 20, 2012 at 12:21 pm

I think being a mom challenges us in ways most jobs do not like omg I just scarred the person I love more than pretty much anything. But I also think it contains latitudes that most jobs do not like declaring an early bedtime for ‘the boss.’ Haha. I think the superlative is the problem and also contributed to the mom vs not-a-mom schism with women. It is a platitude and the difficulty varies depending on your resources, both emotional and financial, your health and your children’s health


Julia Magnusson April 22, 2012 at 11:00 am

Why the hell does everyone keep mentioning grouting (or re-grouting) the tub? Did I miss something? And am I failing as a mother, as a SAHM, as a sometimes-working-mostly-part-time-but-sometimes-full-time-for-a-few-months-because-I’m-a-freelancer mother by ignoring our tub grout and caulking COMPLETELY? Because honestly, I have enough going on without worrying about THAT.


jan June 26, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Being a mother is NOT a job. It is a RESPONSIBILITY!

You want and choose to have children…..

It makes me sad when I see western mothers carrying on about how hard a “job” it is……when women in third world countries struggle and go without just to give their little ones a chance to live…..I”m sure they don’t regard it as a “job”…..just accept it as “life”. (and incidentally, most in the animal kingdom, if they could read, would also roll their eyes at this drivel.)

Seriously…..get a clue people….look around in the world….pay attention….see how the circle of life works….and get over the “job” thing….sigh


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