'I never hear that being a father is the most important job in the world'. Photograph: Alamy
Being a mother is not the most important job in the world. There, I said it. Nor is it the toughest job, despite what the 92% of people polled in Parents Magazine reckon.
For any woman who uses that line, consider this: if this is meant to exalt motherhood, then why is the line always used to sell toilet cleaner? And if being a mother is that important, why aren’t all the highly paid men with stellar careers not devoting their lives to raising children? After all, I never hear "being a father is the most important job in the world".
The deification of mothers not only delegitimises the relationship fathers, neighbours, friends, grandparents, teachers and carers have with children, it also diminishes the immense worth and value of these relationships. How do gay dads feel about this line, I wonder? Or the single dads, stepdads or granddads? No matter how devoted and hard working you are, fellas, you’ll always be second best.
I’m also confused as to what makes you a mother. Is it the actual birth? Or is a "mother" simply a term to describe an expectation to care for children without payment? Is this empty slogan used to compensate women for gouging holes from potential careers by spending years out of the workplace without recognition?
Enabling this dogma devalues the unpaid labor of rearing children as much as it strategically devalues women’s worth at work. If being a mother were a job there’d be a selection process, pay, holidays, a superior to report to, performance assessments, Friday drinks, and you could resign from your job and get another one because you didn’t like the people you were working with. It’s not a vocation either – being a mother is a relationship.
Even if it were a job, there is no way being a professional mother could be the hardest when compared to working 16 hours a day in a clothing factory in Bangladesh, making bricks in an Indian kiln, or being a Chinese miner. Nor could it ever be considered the most important job in comparison with a surgeon who saves lives, anyone running a nation, or a judge deciding on people’s destiny.
There is also a curious sliding scale to the argument. "Working career mums" are at the lower end of the spectrum, and stay at home mothers are at the highest echelons, with ascending increments for each child you have. The more hours of drudgery you endure the more of a mother you are and, therefore, the more important your job is. The more you outsource domestic labour and childcare to participate in the workforce, the less of a mother you are.
It really is time to drop the slogan. It only encourages mothers to stay socially and financially hobbled, it alienates fathers, discourages other significant relationships between children and adults and allows men to continue to enjoy the privileges associated with heteronormative roles in nuclear families (despite men sucked into this having their choices limited as well).
It’s fine to use "motherhood" as a credential if you're talking about something related to actual motherhood, like vaginal tearing during birth or breastfeeding (despite not all mothers experiencing either). But if you're using "motherhood" to assert that you care more about humanity than the next person, if you're using it as a shorthand to imply that you are a more compassionate and hard-working person than the women and men standing around you, then feel free to get over yourself.