It’s 3 a.m. After a full day spent driving the family 300 miles round trip to spend time walking outside with the cousins in Pennsylvania, I have fallen asleep on the living room couch, having forced myself to stay up to try to finish my latest blog post, so that I can focus the next day on catching up on actual employment-related matters. Suddenly I am roused by the unmistakable splashy-groany sound of a 12-year-old with an unexpected case of stomach flu. I rush upstairs to attend to my suffering daughter, and to clean up the prodigious mess.
It’s Father’s Day!
Parenthood is a lot of work. But is it a job? Wikipedia defines “job” as “a regular activity performed in exchange for payment,” but no parent would describe their work that way. First of all, parenthood is not a regular activity in any sense. “Regular” implies either “ordinary” or “periodic”, neither of which pertains to a role in which you are expected to be ready to do almost anything, and in which you are on duty all the time. Parenthood is too much of an adventure — sort of a safari through life — to be considered “regular”.
Second of all, parenthood is rarely undertaken “in exchange for payment”. At least not payment to the parent. Plenty of payments by the parent.
Besides, is there room for advancement? No. No one gets promoted to “Senior Dad” or “Chief Parental Officer”. Once you are a parent, the only status change you can expect is promotion to “Grandparent”, and that depends not on your own performance, but your children’s.
Sometimes it seems like parenthood is really more like a hobby, or maybe an unpaid volunteer position with a charity – an activity that can be truly enjoyable and meaningful, but one that doesn’t provide the kind of value to other people that can generate income and profit. People can respect the kind of dedication that hobbyists and volunteers demonstrate, but often in our capitalistic culture, there’s an implication that such people aren’t really “working” and that therefore whatever it is they are doing isn’t as valuable as a real job would be.
No wonder people have difficulty with “work-life balance”! How easy can it be to balance a “real job” with something as trite and trivial as providing life, health, and guidance to another human being?
Thank goodness, then, for Father’s Day, and Mother’s Day, for reminding us that parenthood actually is a real job – at least in the sense that it deserves respect and accommodation. Recognizing the real significance and value of the work we do as parents may not make it any easier to solve the work-life balance problem – in fact, it probably makes it more difficult, since with such awareness we cannot simply dismiss one side of the scale – but at least it gives us a better chance of reaching a more truly fulfilling solution.