Motherhood isn’t tougher than fatherhood, but maybe we should all stop competing

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I have to admit upfront that I have developed an immunity to ‘tearjerker’ viral ads. You see, I fell into a vat of Hallmark Cards and maple syrup when I was a child, and emerged from that scarring incident completely impervious to the sugary, contrived sentimentality of clever marketing campaigns.

I’m constantly greeted by people posting videos on Facebook, promising that, if I just watch to the end, I’ll ‘be a wreck’ because it’s the ‘saddest/sweetest thing’ I’ll have ‘EVER seen, EVER.’  Usually I skim right past, but sometimes I’ll click the link like the sucker that I am, and yet again confirm that I am incapable of shedding a tear over a commercial for sponges or minivans.

All of this emoting also damages everyone’s credibility. Honestly, I don’t know how to take someone who posts a status about how they just returned from a funeral and it was the saddest experience of their life, when I saw them write the same thing about a dish detergent advertisement three days ago.

In any event, I am in the minority, so the emotional manipulation will continue. Here’s the latest example: a greeting card company posted a fake job listing online. They then ‘interviewed’ several candidates for what they billed as ‘the toughest job in the world.’ The blogs that reposted the video promised a ‘surprise’ ending, but I guessed the surprise within 3 seconds of hitting play: the ‘toughest job in the world’ is motherhood, and these unemployed applicants, while not in line for any actual paying gig, were offered a great lesson about the importance of moms.

Never mind the cruelty of tricking desperate job seekers (so desperate that they apparently applied for a job that sounds like indentured servitude) into thinking that they were in line for a position, only to pull the rug out, all in the name of ‘sending a message’ —  and without even offering a useful parting gift, like a gas card or a can of beans or something.

Also never mind how the fake interviewer and the fake listing describe this position:

-Must be willing to stand “ALL of the time.”

-Must work 135 hours or more a week.

-No breaks.

-No rest.

-No sleep.

-Can’t eat, except when your ‘associate’ (your child, get it?) says you can.

I have twins. I’m a parent. Parenting is hard, my wife would agree. But we aren’t up and going 20 HOURS A DAY EVERY WEEK, ALL YEAR. Come on, already. We sleep. We both sleep. We have time to ourselves. We watched a movie last Friday. This past weekend, we had a cookout, twice. We had fun. You know what? The kids ADDED to the fun. We actually like having them around, if you can believe it. Parenting isn’t quite the miserable slog that some parents love to paint it.

I used to work two jobs — overnights at a radio station and evenings at a fast food place — I got much less sleep in those days than I do now. Even more recently, I’d get up at 330 AM and get to work at 4 AM. I was more tired then, much more tired.

Standing “all of the time”? NO rest at all? NO sleep at all? Who are we supposed to be parenting here? A chimpanzee on speed? If parenting literally required you to be up and going all the time, every day, with no breaks, little food, and no sleep — you’d be dead. Every parent in the world would be dead. What you’re describing here are the conditions of a North Korean prison camp, not a home in the American suburbs.

Not to mention, if your children dictate your schedule to that extent, you’re doing something wrong. Oh, they can be demanding, for sure. But my mother had six kids and I’m pretty sure she still ate on occasion. She also had time alone with my dad. They were organized. They knew how to put us in our place and prevent us from completely commandeering the household.

OK, now put the ad aside, never mind the ad. It’s only relevant in so far as it reveals a troubling attitude; an attitude that makes these sorts of commercials so effective; an attitude that portrays parenting as the most torturous endeavor anyone could possibly attempt.

I’m all for being real with people, but all we accomplish is making otherwise fine young men and women utterly petrified of starting a family. They constantly hear that you’ll never sleep, your life is over, and you’ll never have fun again, unless you learn to define ‘fun’ as ‘poopy diapers and bankruptcy.’ And then we wonder why birthrates are plummeting?

But worse even than the weird ‘competitive suffering’ pastime that is both uniquely American and very prevalent in (though by no means exclusive to) parenting circles, is the increasingly noticeable habit of diminishing the role of fatherhood in all of this.

It’s no secret that pop culture and advertisers have long taken to portraying men, and especially husbands and fathers, as bumbling nincompoops, incapable of changing a diaper or microwaving a bag of popcorn without burning the house down. The real trouble is that, I think, many people endorse this kind of message unintentionally.

Remember, the greeting card ad declared MOTHERHOOD to be the ‘toughest job,’ even though it described (with great hyperbole) the duties of parents in general. Yes, it’s a Mother’s Day commercial, but we all know that not a single company would ever conceive of making a Father’s Day commercial proclaiming specifically fatherhood to be ‘the toughest job’ in the world, and if they did, many of the folks who loved this ad would hate that one.

It’s not like calling motherhood THE toughest job in the world only vaguely insinuates that it’s tougher than fatherhood — it screams it. So, when I noticed all of these married women reposting the ad, and accompanying it with their own caption, reiterating that their job is THE toughest, I couldn’t help but wonder how their husbands factor into that equation.

I’m not out to say that being a dad is ‘harder’ than being a mom. I’m saying that they are different, and ingrained in those differences are challenges and hardships that the other could only faintly understand. I say faintly because much of what makes a thing hard — especially an enormous, all encompassing thing like parenting — rests on how you, the individual, processes it. Hard, when it comes to mothering and fathering, is less a matter of physical exhaustion, and more a matter of the emotional, mental, and spiritual weight that comes with such a profound and serious responsibility.

If I were to say that my ‘job as a parent’ is ‘harder’ than my wife’s, I would be claiming to carry a heavier burden on my heart and in my head. But how dare I say such a thing? How would I have the right? How could a statement like that have any chance of helping a marriage at all? What is it designed to do, other than hoist guilt and inferiority onto your spouse?

I would never say it, and I would never think it. My wife, I’m certain, wouldn’t either. She has verbalized that she knows it can’t be easy to shoulder the responsibility of providing for a family. And I have told her that I know it isn’t easy to be so constantly immersed in the daily task of caring for two young children.

And we both know that our greatest task as parents — above educating our children, above feeding them, above changing their diapers, above clothing them, even above keeping them safe — is to help them become virtuous, and to bring them closer to God.

This is the ultimate duty of a parent, and it is NOT easy. My kids are babies, but this is the single, solitary aspect of parenthood that weighs on me more than anything. This is my cross. This is my wife’s cross. We carry our own, each of us, but we carry them together as much as we can. All I want for my children is for them to be good. I know they will experience unhappiness, I know they will suffer, I know they will hurt, I know they will die — God willing they will die long after I’m buried in the ground. But I pray that Julia becomes a good woman, a virtuous woman, and Luke grows into a good man, a virtuous man.

This is my task. This is my wife’s task. This is why it’s important for a child to have both a mother and a father, and why those roles are meaningful. It’s got nothing to do with who vacuums the carpet or who makes dinner, it has everything to do with the unique ways in which a woman and a man can demonstrate virtue, and in demonstrating it, instill it. Any parent — mom or dad, but hopefully both — who takes this on, has taken on a tough job. In some ways, yes, perhaps the toughest. Certainly not more physically demanding than working in a coal mine, and definitely not nearly as dangerous as being a Marine Corps sniper in Afghanistan, and not more exhausting than being a surgeon or even a waitress working a double on a Friday night, and not more troubling than being a mortician or a forensics expert.

But, save the religious life, there’s only one job where you are directly responsible for the state of another human being’s soul — parenting. For that reason, and ONLY that reason, parenting has a claim to the ‘toughest’ title. But, really, there is no title. And anyone worried about it probably needs help being virtuous themselves.

Of course, some women are single moms, and all of this really does land at their feet. But some men are single fathers, or fathers in marriages with women who act in ways that would earn men the title of ‘deadbeat dads.’ We can’t say that about women, only men, but that doesn’t mean the behavior that earns the label is somehow gender specific.

One day maybe we’ll realize that parenting is designed, biologically, physically, and spiritually, to be work — not a job at all, really — that is best accomplished through the harmony of husband and wife. When we elevate one above the other, or dismiss the role of one for the sake of the other, we bring chaos into that natural harmony.

But, then again, this is all a message that won’t necessarily help anyone sell greeting cards or hand soap, so what’s the point?





















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312 Responses to Motherhood isn’t tougher than fatherhood, but maybe we should all stop competing

  1. grace jones says:

    you are wrong with this one. a dad does not carry a pregnancy or give birth, a dad does not breastfeed a baby, and while you work your wife is busting it taking care of those babies. A dad does not get up in the middle of the night and a dad does not sacrifice his career for the home. Just look at the GOA report on income inequality. A driving force is that women are splitting their time between the home and work, the kids and work. That is a statistical reality across the board. That is a woman’s choice to have kids and stay home with them, but women still carry the burden of household work, men have helped more, but mainly with things like the yard. I usually agree with you, but I think that when it comes to marriage and children you just lack a little bit of experience adn your inexperience shows. I still love you and your blog though!!!!! 🙂

    • mara says:

      You are only speaking of your situation. What he is saying is that a mans job is different but not necessarily harder or easier. It’s the responsibility that makes the job difficult and that lands equally on both parent (whether they take that responsibility is their choice) I wouldn’t trade my husband if I got the option and he probably wouldn’t trade me but which is why we both respect and appreciate each other. If I just assumed my job was harder and he was doing less than it wouldn’t be a very good marriage. I am pretty sure that’s his point.

    • Kate says:

      I appreciate your tact in your response to his point, but I think you missed the mark. And you can’t generalize what other dad’s do in other households across America. Maybe A LOT of other dad’s get up with kids in the night, and I know tons of dads who come home from work to cook dinner and help with laundry. Maybe your husband doesn’t carry a heavy load at home, and that’s okay. But I believe Matt’s point is that parenting (not house or yard work) is a heavy, yet beautiful load to carry for both mother and father. I don’t think it is fair to say that a father doesn’t feel equal responsibility just because he isn’t home with the kid(s). He may not be wiping their butts, but he might be responsible for paying for the wipes. Try to feel his concerns, hopes, fears, and responsibilities. This is just an example where both parties need to be as aware as possible of what it is to walk in the other person’s shoes. It is tough!

    • J. P. Hargrove says:

      Mrs Jones, your comment fully describes what Matt was talking about. You’re uplifting one over the other. As a father of three in a two income household, I wholeheartedly disagree with your comments (except income inequality). However, my wife with no degree, makes almost as much as I do and I have a degree in Nursing so I’d say that she’s doing pretty well.

      Men don’t breastfeed, but neither do all women. I got up with all 3 of my kids in the early morning hours to feed them on a regular basis. I’ve changed thousands of diapers, taken 1 or 2 or even all 3 in tow on multiple occasions to give my wife some peace and quiet. I’ve stayed up late with them when they were sick, held their hair back when they were hugging the toilet vomiting, & cleaned up plenty of messes when they couldn’t make it to the bathroom. So has my wife.
      I have a cross and she has a cross that we each bear and help to carry the other when one is tired. Maybe its bc we live in the south, maybe I was raised differently, but I’m sorry that your experience isn’t like ours.

    • J says:

      Your comment is insulting and ignorant. I’m a Dad of 3, and like most dad’s I know if the wife had work in the morning I did all the night-time feeding, soothing, changing. In fact my mates who are fathers tend to split household chores 50/50, but provide all the income. The reality is that many mum’s and dad’s might do more than their fair share, so trying to make bigoted judgements on whole genders or roles is pointless.

    • Nathan Flores says:

      Though I did not bear our child and feed him, I did give up my job to stay at home with our child and it is tough, we decided that my wife should continue to work in her career b/c of the monetary and life impact that would be lost on our family and also on the life of her students. It is a challenging thing to be a father and care for your child full time, it is a different work, for a man who is used to working and bringing in money for the family, it is an extra challenge. Mother or Father, it is tough for the one who’s lifestyle is drastically changed.

    • Glen says:

      Grace, don’t project your own issues onto other people. Maybe your father, or husband didn’t wake up in the middle of the night. I do, as do most of my friends who are dads. I’m a light sleeper, so 90% of the time, when my son would wake up crying, I’d be out of bed taking care of him before my wife even started to wake. As others mentioned, not every woman breastfeeds. My son wasn’t good at latching on, so we switched to pumping and then to formula after only a few weeks. That was when I became the person who dealt with feeding him at all those wee hours and yes, I was still working a full time job while getting only a handful of hours of sleep each night..

      You say that a dad does not sacrifice his career for the home. Some do, but those that don’t are sacrificing everything else so that they can earn a good income to put a roof over the family’s head and food on the table. My wife and I split a lot of things 50/50, but I grew up with a dad that worked over 60 hours a week to provide for five kids while my mom got to stay home and raise us. Neither had an easy job and both worked their butts off.

      I think you’re wrong about Matt’s experience and the real problem with your post is that you yourself lack an understanding of how important the functions of both roles of parenthood are.

    • Jason says:

      Grace such broad statements don’t help your case. I am a dad, a student, a full-time employee, a good friend, and any other number of titles I could add. When my wife was pregnant I rubbed her feet, gave back massages, worked extra hours so she could slow down. When she was breast feeding I would wake up with her and get her a snack, and hang out with her. There are countless nights that I am the one to wake up and comfort my little girl in the middle of the night, then go right to work after, and I LOVE IT. I do countless household chores (usually she has to remind me on the trash like most guys). The odd thing about it is just like Matt says I don’t compete with my wife. I love to work along side her. I like to do the heavy lifting of parenthood with her, she makes it even more enjoyable. In parenting roles are different not harder, just different.

  2. rlcarterrn says:

    I love this. I’m so tired of these kinds of “Parenting is so horrible” ads & blogs. I’m 25 & married & stuff like that just makes me terrified of having kids. For most of my life I thought I’d never want kids but in the past year or so I’ve started thinking about it a lot more. However, when I hear parents (online & in real life) CONSTANTLY COMPLAINING about how hard it is, it makes me seriously doubt if I ever want to take the plunge into parenting b/c so many people make it out to be so damn miserable. Thanks for your voice of common sense & helping to reassure me that having kids doesn’t HAVE to be miserable or “life-ending.” It certainly wasn’t for my parents so I guess I should try to remember that.

    • Ann says:

      Having kids is great. I should know–I’ve got 4. Just go for it. Also, just because someone is whining about something doesn’t make the thing bad. If you heard a rich person complaining about how hard it is to invest all this money and figure out what to spend it on, would you not want to have a lot of money? Sometimes parents can be like that. They’d rather have your pity (or they’re momentarily jealous of your freedom) than focus on the great joy that parenthood brings. Have kids, be a joyful parent, and change the world. You’ll be glad you did.

  3. Kari W. says:

    This. Right here:

    “One day maybe we’ll realize that parenting is designed, biologically, physically, and spiritually, to be work — not a job at all, really — that is best accomplished through the harmony of husband and wife. When we elevate one above the other, or dismiss the role of one for the sake of the other, we bring chaos into that natural harmony.”

    My husband has been a police officer for all of our married life – almost 23 years – and after having our first child 18 years ago, I stepped out of the income-earning world to be at home with our family. May I say I’m very proud to be married to a man committed to providing physically, spiritually, and financially for our large (7 children in under 10 years) family?!

    To say our sacrifices are unequal is true. I’ve given up a paycheck (which required a TON of sacrifices for everyone! ) and quite a lot of sleep over the years, but he’s given up family holidays, birthdays, children’s events, milestones, and much of the day-to-day life because bad guys don’t operate 9 to 5 Monday through Friday. He’s given up plenty of sleep to make sure he set an example and took our family to church every time the doors are open. He’s lived honorably in a profession that can be quite lucrative if one is willing to compromise “just a little.” I, on the other hand, got to see it all: first smiles, first words, first steps, every single birthday, every single holiday. All of it. All. Every one.

    I’ll admit I was initially sucked in to the video. Having lost my own mother just a few years ago, I get pretty sappy about that sort of thing. However, the list of demands on the “employee” are insane! Even as the mother of 7 – when they were at their YOUNGEST @ 9, 8, 6, 4, 3, 1½, and newborn – I sat down, ate regularly, showered, laughed, left the house, slept (most nights), and generally enjoyed my life.

    If we believe (and I do…strongly!) that God uses both men and women to reveal His character to the world in different ways, then this comparison game aims to negate what is valuable in our God. For those of us with a deep and abiding faith, we’d never think to say God’s life-giving nature is more important than His strength and protection. Children need both. We all do.

    Thanks for standing up for fathers. I realize not everyone has a man like mine, but I do think many men yearn to be more than they are. We as a society, however, are constantly telling them they don’t (and can’t) measure up. Women win every time at a stacked game. Where’s the motivation to try if that’s the case?

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  5. Marie says:

    Matt Walsh? Please tell me your blog got hacked and someone made a blog post impersonating you?

    If this was written by you, take a step back and reevaluate your stance on this Mother’s Day ad. It’s an ad meant to strike the emotions (that’s typically what makes different products appeal to people and why companies pay a hefty amount to their marketing teams), if that’s not your kryptonite then great but it’s not an attack on dads. It’s not a competition. You posted not too long ago about women and mothers and holding motherhood in high esteem. This doesn’t seem to be consistent with that previous message and so much of your writing is very consistent… So this just doesn’t add up.

    This article of yours seems quite whiny. And I’m disappointed. The title of this blog post appeared in my Zite app mislabeled as authored by mommy-ish…. It seemed to fit, and so I skipped it (mommyish has VERY few articles I care to even give a second glance, especially when in regards to bending and breaking specified gender roles). I ran across your post again minutes later realizing that it was yours and hoped that maybe it was spoof you might have been doing.

    Matt, this just doesn’t seem to fit you and other things you’ve written. I agree that men are portrayed as baffoons in much of the media. But this was a Mother’s Day ad. Cut it some slack.

    • Rose says:

      Perhaps then they could have made it more accurate: Must be willing to be on your feet at any point in a 24 hour period. Must be willing to wake up and tend to your associate at any point during the night, expect broken sleep and many times just a few hours of sleep.

      No mother I know has lived up to the standard that this ad suggests. It’s been over-exaggerated.

  6. Keismi Rosa says:

    Well aren’t we Mr. Literal. My money is on your kids someday favoring Mom over you.

  7. Lol… why is everyone so upset by people saying motherhood is hardest job. I mean it obviously isn’t true (I mean… if you assume taking care of a child is the TOUGHEST task a human being can possibly take on, there are jobs like Orphanage Caretaker where you have to take care of MORE children than a mother or father) but it doesn’t really matter at all. All this angry blogging is so silly.

  8. Sarah Toste says:

    As a wife and stay-at-home mother of two young children I say BRAVO! Excellent article!!! I couldn’t agree more. I watched the video before you posted the blog and thought about how (in spite of teaching 17 piano students weekly from my home, keeping my house clean, making a home-cooked meal daily, and spending quality time with my husband, children, and girlfriends ) I STILL have time to spend a good part of the day relaxing or ”sitting” on the couch. (Could this be known as taking breaks?) I eat when I want, and sleep nearly nine hours every night. I personally don’t have a problem with companies attempting to pull at people’s heart strings, as long as they keep it REAL! The problem with this video was that they didn’t keep it real. Don’t lie to me just to make a point (or to sell a greeting card). Just give it to me straight. Thanks Matt for giving it to us straight!

  9. Heje says:

    Straight up.
    The media has long been attacking manhood for sport & in the last year’s I’ve noticed the heavy push to over sell the ‘plight of the female’.

    Pure confusion for girls growing up:
    We’re feminists & so strong we don’t need a man but everyone please feel so very sorry for our condition because motherhood is just a steaming pile of endless exhaustion.

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  11. Lois says:

    Matt, I like your blog posts, but today was a bit different from me. This comment is in no way to degrade your post, just read through. Maybe it’s just my pregnancy hormones feeling like I was negatively attacked as a mom. But although I found your post quite a bit whiny and even when I felt that your reaction to the ad was a bit over the top like an overly jealous girlfriend, I do agree with your point that neither parents have the toughest job in the world. They do share with the workload of parenthood and raising a family, each with their own roles to fulfill.

    I have seen the video before this post and have reposted it on my Facebook status saying that the description doesn’t fit me even though I’m a mom because I still get about 8-9 hours of sleep at night and I can still take breaks and eat with my boys. The ad did put things over the top, too. Maybe if they said “no sick leave”… maybe that would’ve been enough than “NO sleep and have to keep standing all the time.” At least the no sick leave was real for me. I hate those days. Probably one of the few things I dislike about being a stay-at-home mom.

    I did think about my husband when I saw this ad. My husband is a very hardworking man but still very dedicated to me and our children. And if people asked me who works harder between us (not that I’d want them to compare us), it’s an easy, no brainer “HIM” answer. I’m pretty sure he’d say it was me. That’s just how our relationship works. We have high regards for each other and know that we are both in this together, neither has a tougher job. Sure I carried the boys inside me and this new baby again, and gave birth to them, and had baby blues having them, but I really do believe we are both doing our jobs equally according to the roles we know we need to fulfill as a father and as a mother.

    I do remember some Father’s day ads that pay high respects to Dads, too. And yes some ads do go over the top but as long as we know what is true, it doesn’t matter what these ads say. They’ll say anything and use the deepest emotions of our hearts just so they can suck money out of our pockets. How we live our life will reflect it to other people. Let’s use that to inspire others, instead of letting the money-sucking-tug-at-the-heartstrings ads do it. As for me, I always just say, “Well, that was a nice ad. My life is different from it though but it’s still a beautiful life.”

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  14. Mary W says:

    Honestly my husband’s role as father IS harder than mine as mother. He does everything I do and works 40 hours a week as a retail manager on top of that. His day starts at 6 am and ends at 10 pm and his total breaks amount to 40 minutes. I get all kinds of breaks, naps, and the 10 month old, 3 yr old, and 4 year old go to bed at 6pm, after which I do absolutely nothing.

  15. Me says:

    My husband thinks his only job is to provide the house with food and lights. Sadly I am to some extent a single mother.

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  17. Kailee says:

    Thank you for this post! I have never though about it this way. Though I feel I had it pretty rough with the things my husband doesn’t have an active role in such as pregnancy, breastfeeding and waking all night with a 15 month old who has yet to sleep longer than 4 hours at a time, who am I to say my day is any harder than my husband’s day? I can’t ever really know how the days struggles affect him. You also shamed me about the way I talk about being a mother. It’s true the things I say don’t always tell how wonderful, privileged and so very rewarding it really is. Thank you for opening my eyes to this!

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