Mom: are you a job or a relationship?

October 7th, 2007

I’ve just come from a weekend retreat so I’m feeling frisky and ready to mix things up.

The always energetic and informative Amy Tiemann of Mojo Mom had a post awhile back (waaay back in January) about whether motherhood was a job or a relationship. She came down convincingly on the side of relationship.

Now this is precisely the kind of thing that can set our heads to bobbling. Is it this way or is it that way? Are we one thing or the other? I want to take a look this week at how we deal with this question – how we see ourselves and the life that lies before us.

So tell me: is motherhood a job or a relationship? There are plenty of good arguments on either side. You don’t need to be a mother to have an opinion. Just tell me where you stand. Weigh in on any of our conversations this week, starting now, and you’ll be entered to win a doorstop an intriguing gift at week’s end. Keep the comments coming. I can be influenced by your effort, swayed by your attention, and romanced by having you near.

But wait – I reveal too much.

Let the bobbling begin.


  1. Months later, I still stand by the idea that “motherhood is not a job, it’s a relationship.” It’s important not to misunderstand by what I mean by that: it is NOT to take away from all the hard work that Moms do or undermine its economic value. Motherhood has many of the responsibilities of a job, but for me most of the rewards are those of a relationship. I find that if I judge my progress as a Mom in the way that I would judge my progress at work, that is where the “motherhood is a job” metaphor falls apart for me. If I have to choose a comparison, I would say that being a mother is being an artist–even when our sand mandala is swept aside at the end of each day, our labor of love is work of beauty and creativity. It is a challenge to learn to value our mothering when we might not have anything to show for it that looks like visible “progress” on a day to day level.

    Comment by MojoMom — October 7, 2007 @ 10:49 pm

  2. Motherhood is a relationship with a lot of jobs thrown in. The obvious reason motherhood is not strictly a job is that I can quit my job. I can walk out of my job. I could say, “Take this job and shove it…” I can’t do this to my son.

    Sure, there are mothers out there who have walked out, but those woman have trouble with relationships, not with jobs.

    The other obvious difference is that jobs pay money. My son has yet to walk out of his room and hand me a paycheck (but hope springs eternal).

    Being a mom is the hardest “job” I’ve ever had. Some days I’m good at it. Other days I think I deserve to be fired. But even if I do walk away to the next and take a mommy time out, I never really walk away. It is easy to forget but I’m in his life in a different way than he is in mine.

    For me, a night out on my own is a break. People say things like, “Hey, escaped for a while?” or “hey, he let you out?” or “hey, gonna cut loose for a night?” or some such variation. To him people say, “Do you miss your mommy?” or “Does daddy let you stay up late?” or something like that. It is a different worldview–my mother has gone without me vs. I’ve gotten away for a little while.

    This is a relationship.

    Since my own mother died 18 years ago, I know what it means to have no mother. To lose an employee is one thing. To lose your mother is something else again. My son says to me in that great, blunt way four year olds have, “your mom’s dead, isn’t she?”

    If everything she’d ever done for me had been work, I don’t think I’d still feel the pain of her absence. After all, I was 21. Surely her “work” was done. So, perhaps that’s my point. Work ends. Relationships never do.

    Comment by marta — October 8, 2007 @ 5:11 am

  3. Hmmm. Neither. Being a mom is cellular. You can quit a job. You can leave a relationship. But once a mom…

    Comment by denise — October 8, 2007 @ 5:47 am

  4. Motherhood is definitely not a job. It’s all about love, serving those you love the most. You can’t get fired and you don’t get paid.

    Being a mother is a relationship. Sometimes I’m a friend to my kids, sometimes the law, sometimes the mothership, always welcoming, always comforting.

    Comment by Tracy — October 8, 2007 @ 11:03 am

  5. I’m new at the mothering thing. My response may be naive: why frame it as either/or? We have relationship with our work, don’t we? We have relationship with the people with whom we work, or whom serve, as well as with ourselves through our work. And don’t relationships involve moments where there are tasks to be done? My relationship is as a mother to my daughter. There are duties involved in this. It is my “job” to make sure I meet her needs, sate her hunger, change her diaper. It is my “job” to keep the baby bottles clean, buy supplies, do laundry. It’s what Mommies do. It is also a relationship, in that I hold her when she needs comfort, play with her, teach her, and radiate love to her. I think the question creates a dichotomy where there need not be one and that this distracts from the reality. Does a label really adequately capture the essence of the experience?

    Comment by kathryn — October 8, 2007 @ 2:02 pm

  6. Amy, thanks as always for being the thought leader on this. I love to see the wisdom that shines forth when we illuminate our own lives.

    Everyone is so eloquent. And there is no real right answer. There is never a right answer, so let’s keep going and see where this takes us.

    Comment by Karen — October 8, 2007 @ 2:05 pm

  7. The problem with the word “job” is that our society seems to think that everybody needs one. To call motherhood a job validates some people, and convinces others that we are validated. But of course it is not a job! Yes, it is work , but so are a lot of things (marriages included)! It is a similar debate about my music, often it doesn’t feel like a job because I enjoy playing, and often it doesn’t feel like a job because the pay is pittance! But compared to motherhood even playing music feels more like a job. How silly of us that we need to label things as such. Mothers who work outside the home are still mothers, and mothers who stay home are still contributing members of society, because taking care of the next generation in whatever form is necessary. I was just musing the other day about the fact that nannies taking care of children are “working” and the mothers who work need nannies, yet people who choose to stay home are not. Are the labels all about money? Or is it really about how we perceive ourselves?

    Comment by Mika — October 8, 2007 @ 4:53 pm

  8. Motherhood is both a job and a relationship.

    My daughter and I are connected in a way that I didn’t even know existed before I became a mother. I will never be an entirely separate self again. I believe that with all my heart.

    And, that’s lovely. But, I suppose we would still be equally symbiotic if I sat on my butt all day and read People. That’s where the job aspect comes into play. Mothering involves a lot of (unpaid, thankless, never ending)labor that I view as my “job.” Like every other job I’ve held in my career, I take pride in giving it my all and doing it well. It may sound a little silly but I approach the running of my household (mommy labor) much like I did my past professional responsibilities. This approach helps with my “job satisfaction.”

    Comment by Mama Zen — October 8, 2007 @ 6:09 pm

  9. I’ve never considered this question before, thank you for bringing it up!

    Out of the two choices, I pick relationship. I’m thinking of my grandmother, my aunts, my in-laws who are women. I’m thinking of myself. Motherhood is, once begun, a life long commitment. My mom doesn’t talk to hers much, but she is still her mother. My mom and I are very close and talk all the time. Our relationship is like an onion–as time passes, we find newer and deeper levels to it.

    Myself? Since becoming a mother, I have been unable to separate myself from the Momma I am. I don’t view anything I do with my son as a job, because every single thing I do is out of the love I have for him. I sometimes wonder if the people who think of motherhood as only a job are only looking at the young ages, when children are developing and blooming into themselves, and require much more of their parents. I look at the whole, think of the long run.

    On the other things of motherhood, like the laundry and the messes, etc, I’m a little old fashioned. I am a stay at home mom. Since I have been married I only worked 1 job, for 6 months. I feel, for myself, that my place is at home, taking care of our peace. I don’t feel like a slave, I don’t feel unappreciated, and I don’t do the martyr thing. Each thing I do, be it vacuuming or dusting or rearranging something or other, I do it for my family, but also for myself.

    Comment by Momma_Phoenix — October 8, 2007 @ 8:44 pm

  10. If you say “Job” or if you say “Relationship, you lose the most precious reality.

    If it is a job, it is a terribly paid and ill-respected job. If it is a relationship, it is a terribly one-sided, thankless, unegalitarian and unbalanced relationship. If some event were to threaten me with the loss of this job or relationship, and cutting off my arms would save it, I would instantly cut off my arms to maintain it.

    But seriously, I really, really miss sick leave.

    Comment by Chris Austin-Lane — October 8, 2007 @ 10:40 pm

  11. Often, the problem with modern discussions is we don’t bother to first define our terms. Motherhood is not just the act of giving birth and keeping the child alive to adulthood. Let’s, for discussion sake, ignore the household chores that go along with motherhood (you have to do laundry and dishes even without children), limit motherhood to the act of guiding a helpless infant to become a decent and relatively independent adult. And how do you define relationship? Behavior and feelings towards another person, in my dictionary. My dictionary’s best job definition, as far as motherhood is concerned, is duty. Of course motherhood is a relationship, there are the two (or more) people involved. I think it’s a good thing babies have no memory of their babyhood. How could they ever escape the burden of guilt if they remembered how much their mother had to do for them? But I have to view motherhood as a job, as a duty. Without realizing it, I made a sacred promise to God and my child, the instant he was conceived , that I would be Mother. How can women say it’s a thankless, unpaid job? Be less materialistic. Hugs and kisses and giggles are worth more than anyone could pay me. Yeah, sometimes I get discouraged, sometimes the hours are long and the conditions brutal. Those are times when the relationship is a struggle, that is when the duty part kicks in, I volunteered for this. To sum it all up, motherhood is a relationship built upon observance to duty.

    Comment by Mrs. B. Roth — October 9, 2007 @ 12:02 am

  12. Great topic, and I’ve written about it on my blog because, well, I didn’t know what else to write today. : )

    Your post has me thinking about trying to avoid using mom = job phrasing again so thanks for that. It’s a good thing.

    Here’s a snippet of what I wrote:

    “Mostly, though, I think mothering is a lifestyle. You live it. You breathe it. You are consumed by it every single day. There is no escaping it. There is no leaving it. The responsibility is utterly unbelievable. There are no breaks, no time outs, no days off and no moments of silence.

    Comment by Shawn — October 9, 2007 @ 1:56 am

  13. what a great topic, and i really enjoyed mojomom’s post on the subject.

    i think that just like a marriage, motherhood is the work of the relationship (how’s that for riding the fence!)…i think that it’s a relationship that we have to work at and cultivate and create and be. just like a good marital relationship, sometimes we need breaks and distance.

    those are my two cents for tonight. i’m too tired for more. i’ll continue to contemplate and love reading your posts.

    Comment by Phyllis Sommer — October 9, 2007 @ 2:43 am

  14. My do I love the company I keep! Great comments, good friends.

    Comment by Karen — October 9, 2007 @ 2:50 am

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