Included on the list of things I do want for Mother's Day this year are a stack of homemade lemon ricotta pancakes and a bunch of tulips. On the list of things I don't want this year, or ever, is a thank you for doing "the world's toughest job."
And yet this is what Cardstore.com suggests we should all be telling our mothers — and if we are mothers, tell ourselves — in their new "World's Toughest Job" ad. The video, which has over 10 million views and counting, presents itself as a series of interviews for a job requiring the following: constant exertion; working from 135 to unlimited hours per week; degrees in medicine, finance, and culinary arts; no vacations; no sleep; and no salary. At the end the applicants and us viewers learn that the job is a "mom" and billions of women already have it. Cue the tears, and cut.
But positioning motherhood this way is actually terrible for women. For one, it offers up a definition of motherhood that creates an impossible standard, setting off a ripple of guilt that reaches even the most liberated mothers, present company included. It also ignores this guy — I think they call him "Dad" — who in recent decades we discovered is completely capable of helping cook dinner and tucking the kids in at night while mom catches up on Nashville. Get this: He can even man the house while mom takes a weekend away with a friend.
Though you know who else this fetishization of mother as martyr hurts? Kids. If I ever see tears well up in my son's eyes over all that I sacrificed for him I will feel like I did something really wrong.
In the video, they tell the candidates who are unknowingly applying to be moms: "If you have a life, we ask you to give that life up." Thank goodness that's B.S. because if it was true my stock as a mom would plummet; reduced to sacrifice and drudgery, I am not sure I make much of a good mom at all. I don't plan elaborate birthday parties or schlep him across town to the $40 an hour class that will, or so they say, help him reach his milestones faster. I would rather spend that money and time on something else. Also, I have a job. It's one that I love and is as much a part of me as being his mom.
But what we give our kids is so much bigger than life manager, chauffeur, and cook. We are, for the first 13 or so years at least, their tour guides through life. It is up to us to inspire passions and uncover the big questions that will make their lives meaningful as they grow up. How can we do that if we let go of these things ourselves?
It is the part of me that I didn't give up, my curiosities and interests, and even my longings and disappointments, that make me the good mother I believe myself to be. These are the traits I need to do my job well, and what I hope I will be thanked for come Mother's Day. And maybe one day, these are the things that will make my children cry. That, I'm okay with.
Elissa Strauss writes about gender and culture for TheWeek.com.
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