I work 7 days a week.
I begin with this because it is important that people understand the scope of my work, its importance, and why I am so committed to what I do. I help people in various ways, and in doing this work, I believe I’m contributing towards making the world a better place. I work every single day because I need to make use of as many hours of our time as I possibly can to get as much of this work done as possible.
I’m a social worker, an author, an editor, an activist/community organizer, a public speaker, and professional drinker. OK, the last one doesn’t pay me, but where there is a will, there is a way!
I am a mother 7 days a week.
I have to reiterate this, too, because people often use language, when speaking about co-parents, that suggests we’re only “part-time parents” or we somehow stop being parents when our children are with their other parents. We’ve almost come to expect fathers to be the lesser parent, but we get mad at them when they don’t contribute and we shame mothers who actually work with fathers on sharing parenting responsibilities in more equitable ways. We’re weird, truly, but this off behavior ultimately harms our children more than anything, so we ought to put an end to creating gender-based parenting hierarchies.
Working mothers are now the breadwinners in 40% of American households and this isn’t a trend that everyone is comfortable embracing. There is still a struggle to accept women as competitors in the workforce, for high-level positions and comparable wages. Mothers who work hard and make having a career a top priority in their lives are still often viewed as contributing to the destruction of “The Family”*. And when a woman openly discusses how hard she works, how many hours she puts in, how much she travels or how many sleepless nights she has, she can be sure that she’ll often be asked: “Who is taking care of your child(ren)?”
*We still have pretty skewed views of how “Family” is defined and many of the definitions of heterosexist, classist, sexist, and racist*
As a working mother of a young child still in grade school, I’ve been on the receiving end of these types of queries, either presented with genuine curiosity or snarky condemnation, many times over the years. Two years ago, I wrote about my co-parenting arrangement with my ex-husband and how some have said I’m a bad mother because I don’t have my son with me for more more days than he is with his father. Thee days, we split evenly, about 3 1/2 days a week each, despite my workload increasing over the past couple of years, and still… some people think I’m doing something wrong by not relegating his father to a “weekend dad”.
Even the use of “relegating” is important. How do we think of fathers who pick up their children on the weekends? As stated earlier, we almost expect this, don’t we? So with that expectation, do we really vilify dads who see their children 2 days a week, and does only spending 2 days mean they are lesser parents? I argue that we don’t generally hold fathers to the same “time spent” standard as we do mothers, even when mothers work longer hours and/or make more money, so no, it isn’t “relegating” them to anything society doesn’t already expect and accept.
If a mother says she has her children 2 days a week, most people immediately speculate about what could be wrong with her. Does she has a psychiatric disability? Is her health unstable? Is she abusive? Is she negligent? The assumption is often that she is a “bad mother”, but is that assumption made of so-called weekend dads? Hardly.
And when a mother decides to work or pursue her education and trusts her child(ren)’s father to support her goals, she is accused of prioritizing work over motherhood in ways men are NEVER. Texas state senator Wendy Davis was highly scrutinized and condemned when it was revealed that she moved across country, away from her family, to obtain a law degree from Harvard when her daughters were younger. Her daughters spoke out about how proud they are of her decision and how her hard work inspires them, yet Davis was accused of abandoning her children even though 1) they were with their father and 2) she traveled back and forth to spend time with them.
We don’t talk about men this way and we don’t hold them to the same standards as fathers. This is horribly sexist and sends the wrong message to our children. If we’re trying to change the landscape by eliminating wage gaps, protecting reproductive choice, and increasing women’s representation in government and business, we have to begin at home.
We have to first accept that family is what we make it and no one has the right to define family based on sexist, racist, classist, or heteronormative terms. Being a married couple does not mean you and your partner will be better parents. Owning a home doesn’t mean your children’s lives are more secure. Being a same-sex/ same-gender/ non-binary couple doesn’t mean your children are any less loved and provided for. Being poor doesn’t mean your children automatically go “without”.
We also have to accept that when it comes to parenting, no one parent is better than the other based on arbitrary constructions of gender, race, and class. A daughter doesn’t need her mother any more than she needs her father simply because her mother is a “woman”. A son doesn’t need his father any more than he needs his mother simply because his father is a “man”.
Mothers should not be granted full or primary custody simply because they are mothers, nor should they be given extra points because they are moms; these decisions should be made based on the best interest of the child(ren) and who is able to provide for their needs. Every effort should be made to ensure that children have even access to their parents and that their care is provided equitably. If a mother makes more money than a father, for example, and it is because she works longer hours, is it so wrong that the father picks up more hours of “time spent” to balance out the child’s “care”?
Some will say that money doesn’t replace time spent and I agree 100%. I also know that the average child costs almost $300K to raise until high school graduation and someone has to foot the bill, right? If it is the mother, so be it. If it is the father, so be it. Better if it is both parents, but if it is the mother and not the father, we have to allow the mother the same freedoms men are given to make relevant career choices and prioritize her times and efforts according to what best suits all of their needs.
As long as we don’t condemn fathers for working 16 hours a day and traveling for weeks on end to attend conferences…
As long as we don’t bat our eyes or put men on guilt trips when men make important decisions to forward their careers that take them away from their families…
As long as we pay men more…
As long as we don’t expect men to work 8-10 hours, pick up the kids from school, come home to cook, clean, and do homework with their children…
As long as we don’t ever talk about “work-life balance” as it relates to men’s lives…
As long as we don’t write articles and books wondering whether or not men can “have it all”…
Let’s just say that we’ve not made as many gains as we think we have and we still have a LOT of work to do to fully embrace the idea that working mothers are not evil destroyers of families around the world.
I love my son. I love my work. I love my co-parenting choice. And I’m not evil.
If you enjoyed this post, check our more stories about #WomensLives and learn more about why telling our stories is important.