Why Isn’t Parenting Considered a Profession and Why Are We So Embarrassed by It?

If you’ve read this blog lately, you know I’ve been traveling a bit. Conversations among a wide array of human beings, each simultaneously living strikingly similar yet vastly dissimilar family lives fascinated me. A perpetual student at heart, I enjoyed every small talk chat and lengthier conversation surrounding the literal commencement of our graduating children’s passage into employable adulthood.

Weeks prior to the graduations, I sat on bleachers and walked across fields with fellow parents of college athletes. Hearing how they raised their almost-college-graduated children was riveting. Or, maybe I was just most enthralled with how they viewed their parenting. After all, these big family moments such as college graduations launch us parents into all sorts of deep reflection.

Joys, funny stories and softly spoken regrets were shared as we stood shoulder to shoulder squinting into the sunny lacrosse field. Plans for our kids’ upcoming entrance into the professional world were discussed with excitement and apprehension.

Graduation ceremonies evoke contemplation. We wonder about many things, including how our professional choices influenced and affected the life of the beloved child walking toward us in their cap and gown.

We mid-life parents huddled together, humbly sharing a few successes and challenges while also perching our lips in anticipation… waiting for approval or disapproval from our peers as we revealed our employment. While the good men in our conversations chuckled and segued into NHL playoff statistics and how the Yankees were doing that week, we Moms remained attentive listeners to each other’s decisions, silently comparing, tallying our worth against theirs, adverting direct eye contact when the words grew too personal for folks only together for a weekend. Ultimately, each indirectly revealed the hidden label we always carry: “not good enough”.

Perhaps the most riveting was watching the responses to the Mom who was a former physician, left her practice, fired the nanny and raised her children. No, her husband wasn’t wealthy. She made a choice and here we stood, years later, her smile content watching her daughter run the field, but eyes narrowing through sunglasses when questions such as, “how could you abandon all of that schooling?” “did you pay your loans off before quitting?” “do you regret it?” were asked of her.

There were a few genuinely disappointed people. “She could have been so much more” their eyes said. I sensed she was accustomed to disenchanted peers as she firmly added, “it was right for my family”.

Another Mom in our little mid-life circle shrugs, “I was always home with our kids”…like it was a bad thing. I was even a very casual conversation with a young man when we found ourselves talking about his Dad’s highly successful business and I asked what his Mom did. I don’t even know why I asked such a question but he answered, “well, she stays at home…but she really works hard for us and volunteers and helps my Dad.” Ugh. Even the child felt the need to explain.

But back to our mid-life Mom group…No matter who was talking, the outside-the-house and stay-at-home women both felt the need to explain their professional choices. Yet, the few who did odd jobs and largely remained “at home” over the years were definitely embarrassed to say so.

Why are we dissatisfied with ourselves if we become anything professionally-less than Sheryl Sandberg?

There exist countless answers to that question but one of the many is that the very real parenting accomplishments are invisible to the world. Observing others during those conversations really affected me, particularly those who shrunk back for having remained in their nests. Their words and expressions stayed with me the last couple weeks and prompted this post. I also recently started a new job outside of higher ed (although I’m still teaching online), so I’m familiar with job-hunting as a mid-lifer. When raising my kids, I had done all three: full time, part time and stayed home for a spell. I settled upon part time as a professor. Some years were crazier than others, but I had some flexibility which was a blessing.

This mindset of parenting-worthlessness even seeps into those of us whose workplace career is part time and raising children is full time. Why do we always answer the new-introductions question, “what do you do?” first with our outside titles such as Consultant, Dentist, HR Rep, Professor?

Because Motherhood is not acknowledged as a profession. It’s frowned upon to include a decade or two on your mid-life resume about being an employee (of your family) and leader in your organization (home). Even if only five years out of the workplace, experts tell you to leave the employment gap rather than, gasp!, mention being a literal lifeline to a few little humans.

Once the early infant weeks pass, there really is no such thing as a “stay at home parent”. Exhausted parents long to be home for one full day. Instead, they are integrating their children into society via trips to the library, museums, parks, play groups, preschool, and endless extracurricular activities and sports. Yet, the label of “stay at home” remains locked in heavy chains.

I volunteer for MOPS – Mothers of Preschoolers. It truly feels like I was JUST a 30-year old MOPS Mom and now, I serve in this wonderful organization. While cleaning up the room one evening, a young Mom with two children was asked what she “did” and I observed her also shrink back when answering, “I stay home with the kids”. She too meekly looked up, waiting for the other woman to approve or disapprove.

We have good reason to respect big titles in the workforce. Obstetricians who bring our babies safely into the world are godsends. We nearly drop to our knees in gratitude for the brilliant Neurosurgeon who saves our loved one. Understandably, there is a scale for professional respect. Mere titles spoken aloud make people nod in appreciation, eyebrows raised in approval when introduced at a dinner party. Yet, full time parents will avoid stating their title as long as possible when asked – depending on the peer group they find themselves in. Myself included.

The weekend conversations veered into parenting being a profession, albeit unrecognized by the world at large. Full-time working Moms need employers to truly understand they have two careers. Stay-at-home Moms need recognition for being the extraordinary workers they are. Especially those Moms who are reentering the workforce.

Respect. Esteem. Reverence. Many professions generate these adjectives merely by their title. Other careers earn praise after a couple of years in the field. But people who choose to forego full time day care or grandparent sitters, selecting instead to independently raise their own children continue decade after decade to be ignored as smart, productive workers contributing to society – including contributions to its economic system.

This got me thinking about all they do that should be resume-worthy…

Modern parents who choose to be with their children full time are often educated. Smart. Resourceful. Highly Productive. Impressive Multi-Taskers. They are negotiators and mediators. Their communication skills must be impeccable as they create order from chaos.

They direct and lead the undisciplined youth into a disciplined life. They refuse to allow their homes to become modern-day arcades, leaving them to be the unpopular supervisor including developing policies which restrict endless screening. They were already lonely leaders at the top of their organization, working overtime without praise. Added rejection from those they are serving takes a toll.

Then, when they decide it’s time to reenter the outside work world, they are further rejected. Or worse, they receive no response to their resume at all. Silence. For years prior, they were invisible in society, unheard in conversations among employees with paychecks. Now, they pull their emotionally drained, appreciation-starved selves together and put their identities out there, already aware of being behind the 8-ball. But they do it anyway. They shove aside the negative self-talk that dominates their mind. This takes discipline and courage.

Surviving full-time nesting with children from infancy to Kindergarten and certainly beyond, takes mental, physical and emotional energy. There is almost never any gratitude or positive feedback and certainly not enough to cover the array of nonsense that is involved in this very real job.

So-called “stay at home Moms” are both the employee and the management. Their work travels into the nights, weekends and holidays. There is no added pay or new promotion for their exhausting commitment to the organizations named “home” and “family”. They too navigate the ever-present sensitivity toward “diversity and inclusion” as they arrange play dates and teach about the differences in their kids’ peers. They demonstrate exceeding wisdom and restraint when they patiently teach their children that the profane bully in the schoolyard is ravenous for attention somewhere in their psyche. (What Mom would rather do is grab that bully by the neck, lift them off the ground and spew expletives and hurt right back at ‘em.) Moms know how to deal with the office bullies.      When workers are acknowledged, there is tremendous personal satisfaction and elevated confidence. Recognition increases motivation to perform even better and well, it just lifts a person up. Kind, genuine words of praise for doing a good job stays with people. If you’ve ever received such recognition at work, you likely recall the person and exactly what they said. Moms have lasted sometimes decades without such acknowledgement or green dollars. What strength of character they possess as professional workers!

If you hire, give Moms (and Dads) a chance. If you believe in the wildly popular “Servant Leadership” trending in business and industry, read Moms’ resumes. Maybe they are applying for something other than their professional position from 10 years ago. They have learned more about their strengths and abilities and now realize where they are most suited to contribute.

Full time parents have far exceeded the primitive societal view of simply making meals and cleaning house. If you are in a position to interview people and see the “parenting” resume gap, don’t assume “stay at home” parents are less-than. If you read that Moms were only working part-time out of the house for the last twenty years, don’t assume they were vacationing in their “off” time. Their kids demanded, their aging parents needed, the schools asked for volunteers, the hockey team required hours…their minds and hands rarely stopped working.

I hope we can start recognizing parenting as the profession it is. The minutes, hours and years count. Most of them were without hour-lunch breaks and “personal” days. I’m now in a position to help hire employees and I plan to give parents a chance to change careers and/or re-enter the workforce. I doubt I’ll be disappointed. And, through MOPS and other situations, I will continue to remind parents that they don’t owe anyone any explanation for their professional choices of full-time, part-time or home-time while raising their children. At the end of each day, we only have to answer to the One and Only. Images: click on photo to see location(s).