Shouldering Most of the Work
I was having lunch with a friend the other day who was sharing the heavy load she is feeling taking care of her 4 kids during another national lockdown here in Israel. Meal prep, managing the kids’ school schedules and WhatsApp messages, afternoon tutors, and all the emotional support she offers is incredibly demanding. While she is similar to many women in heterosexual marriages who have partners to bear some of the brunt of the domestic burden, as The Mom, she is shouldering most of it.
At the end of every day, when I have time for a quick call with a friend, I lament, “parents are in an impossible situation.” And after talking to this mom, I remember how mothers are feeling it most.
Making the Sacrifice
A recent NYTimes Parenting blog post entitled, “Women as Shock Absorbers of our society” comments how married women in heterosexual relationships who continue to earn less than their husbands are the first ones to scale back or leave their jobs when it comes to deciding who will stay at home to help their kids during this Covid period. As the blog points out, Moms aren’t always happy with this decision, and according to Betsey Stevenson, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan, “Sacrificing market skills to help your family comes at a really big cost…And potentially causes tensions in marriages, and when you put those two together, a generation of women may be pretty badly scarred by Covid.”
I wonder if one element of the challenge is that so much of the work that moms do at home is not seen, recognized, or appreciated. The positive feedback that working parents receive from their colleagues, or the feeling that we are ‘done’ with a task, and that there is a financial reward for our labor, are sorely missing in the domestic sphere. My kids rarely tell me, “excellent job mom! Keep up the great work!”
While my friend wondered why a senior public figure is not specifically recognizing mothers for their work now, I wonder how our own spiritual orientation might offer us sustenance. How can we be truly seen and noticed for our investment in our families and for the long process of raising human beings, especially when we, ourselves, are under stress?
Insight From Genesis
I am guided by insight from Genesis and the story of God’s creation of the world. The first two days of creation are characterized by God’s calling things into being: light and darkness, the heavens. These create a general framework of our lives.
Come day three and a different verb is used. Va’yar, to see. Land, sea, trees, and grass are created next. And then on days four, five, and six, the sun, moon and stars, animals, and human beings are also created. God, “saw that it was good, and there was evening and there was morning.”
The rhythm of the verses matches the rhythm of our weeks. There’s an evening of dishes and clean-up, and early morning trying to squeeze some work in before the kids get up. And there is sight, v’yareh. And everything is seen as Good. There’s a presence that sees our work, even when others might not. And that knowledge can give us solace.
Those Who Are Invisible
The poet, Mary Gordon reflects beautifully on all of this “unseen work” of ours in her series called Prayers. This one is called “For Those Whose Work is Invisible”.
“For those who paint the undersides of boats,
Makers of ornamental drains on roofs – too high to be seen,
Cobblers who labor over inner soles,
Seamstresses who stitch the wrong sides of things,
For scholars whose research leads to no obvious discovery,
For dentists who polish each gold surface of the fillings of upper molars,
For civil engineers and those who repair water mains,
For artists who suppress what does injustice to their visions,
For surgeons whose sutures are things of beauty…
For all those whose works is Your eye only,
Who labor for Your entertainment or their own,
Who sleep in peace or do not sleep in peace, knowing their efforts are unknown. Protect them from downheartedness – and from diseases of the eye.
Grant them Perseverance, for the sake of Your love, which is humble, invisible and heedless of reward.”
Mothers, You Are in Good Company
You are seen, noticed, and cherished.
Each one of you, each one of us:
The mothers that wake up before dawn to meditate, write or go for a run before the day begins.
The mothers who worry about their kids’ future late into the night.
The mothers who spend time on hold making doctors and dentists appointments for their children.
The ones sit and wait and then intuit when the exact right time is to bring up a sensitive topic with their child.
The ones who spend their days putting out fire after fire after fire, and try to end their day singing their child a sweet lullaby.
The ones who sweep the corners of the floor where the dust gathers.
For those who anticipate when the toothpaste will run out.
You are seen and loved.