What It Means to Do Women’s Work

I wrote and rewrote this post several times.  It’s not because I’m afraid of offending men, per se. I’m afraid of offending my man.  

You see, within the confines of our household, “women’s work” doesn’t exist in his mind.  When I travel for work, everyone oohs and aahs over my husband staying home with the kids all by himself.  He finds this offensive due to the fact that no one does the same to me when he goes away.  He wonders if people think so poorly of his capabilities as a father that he can’t handle the same work I do as a mother.

But this post isn’t about unfairness to my husband, or any man like him, because I do know many who exist.  Even in a household where my husband and I share an equal partnership in all the work, there are certain societal expectations that creep in.

Ladies, I probably don’t need to spell them out.  We all know that the world expects more from us when it comes to cooking, cleaning, childcare, remembering special occasions and making plans.  It can be frustrating and easy to take offense.  Plus, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t in every area of our lives from motherhood to career choices.

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All’s Fair in Love and War, but Not Pandemics

It used to be easy to brush these off like an annoying mosquito.  After all, my husband and I both held jobs that were fairly equal in both time and money.  However, that all changed during the pandemic.  Like many other working mothers during this time, my career took a backseat when my kids’ schools went virtual. 

I’m a list person.  Every single day I stayed home with the kids, I had a checklist of the things I had to do, just like I do at work.  Unlike at work, I would check everything off, only to uncheck most of it the next day.  That’s because every day, the work was the same.  Taking care of kids and a home is like a messy, sticky version of Groundhog’s Day.  After several months of this, I started to feel…worthless.  

My entire life I’ve believed that the only valuable work is paid work.  Growing up, I was taught that there’s nothing more important than having a strong work ethic, which translated to having a career, not staying home to take care of kids and a home.  While times have changed, it’s still way more common and socially acceptable for a woman to stay home with the kids.  This is “women’s work”.  After spending close to two years doing exactly that, I realized something.  Women’s work is invisible.  

What I mean by invisible is that the goal of women’s work is net zero.  Every single day consists of getting everything back to how it started.  The house and clothes go from clean to dirty to clean.  The children go from asleep to awake to asleep.  The fridge goes from stocked to empty to stocked again.  It takes a ton of work, every bit of it is unpaid, and all too often, the only time the work is noticed is when it’s not done.  

That’s where I needed to do some reframing.  Perhaps many people don’t value this work, but I didn’t need to be one of them.  I can’t control how society views things, but I can control how I do.  I had to learn to appreciate my own energy, dedication, and above all, myself.  What I also had to realize is that work doesn’t need to be visible for it to have an impact.  When I realized that my “work” was actually acts of love, I was able to truly respect the value I brought to my home.

And let me tell you something.  The second school opened with a strong degree of confidence, I all but ran back into the office.  Work is hard, but women’s work is harder.  Stay-at-home moms, I salute you!

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