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The work of parenting matters

The most influential careers are those that change lives. Raising little people means doing that at the grass roots level

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Breakfast. Clean up. Lunch. Clean up. Play. Dinner. Clean up. Laundry. Laundry. Laundry.

If you stay at home with your kids like I do, you know it can often feel like you spend all day on your feet getting nothing done. I know I’m not the first to ask: What is my job anyway? Is this even important?

You are a chauffeur, night nurse, educator, cook, cleaner and all the other things under the umbrella of “parenthood”. Whether you work another job inside or outside the home, if you are a parent, that is your primary focus.

As to the matter of importance, think about this: The most influential careers are those that change lives. Raising little people means doing that at the grass roots level. A year ago, a friend and I felt challenged to put this idea into practice, so we decided to treat this parenting thing like a profession. Here are the five things that helped us most along the way.

- Develop a job description. We wrote everything that we felt responsible for in one big list. Then we turned it into a formal job description, laying out everything according to instructions we found in Tim Challies’s “Do More Better”. We started with our mission and overarching goals, then listed our responsibilities by category. For me, the categories were: personal (gym time, haircuts); family (birthdays and quality time); family management (chores, groceries, budgeting); social (time for friends); serving (helping and loving my neighbors and community); and my writing business. Under each category, we listed all the things pertaining to it, and then designated whether those things were a role, a responsibility, a goal, or a one-time task. For example, one role in my personal category is self-care, and a related responsibility is to work out three times a week. It’s a task to join a gym, and a goal to lose some baby weight.

Listing it all was overwhelming, which was kind of the point. I could see that there were things I could cut, and other things that were priorities that I was ignoring (sleep, anyone?). The best part about having this job description, though, is that when I get overwhelmed, I can scan it and be reminded of the basics. If, in a day, I’ve achieved some progress in taking care of myself, my family and my house, that’s good enough.

- Dress the part. I’m afraid of getting blasted for this one, but I’m only here to say that when I get dressed to my own personal standards, I am in a better place. Sure, I don’t need my office wardrobe any more — in fact, I just boxed up the last of my pencil skirts and sent them to ThredUp. But I do notice a difference in my attitude when I wear sweatpants for days on end, vs. a jersey dress and leggings, or a sweater and nicer jeans. Adding a little makeup and jewellery and having my hair reasonably done also helps. These things make me feel more confident when I interact with my children’s teachers and instructors, or when I’m on the phone for interviews, even though no one can see me. A shower and some real clothes do wonders for me. (That being said, like everyone else, I live in sweatpants when there’s back-to-back sicknesses in the house.)

- Become an expert. Read books about productivity to learn how to get more out of each day. I do this to help me carve out more free time, such as a moment with my husband each night, or opportunities to watch shows on TV that aren’t cartoons. Read books about motherhood, which will inspire you to keep at it. Read funny books about motherhood, which will make you laugh so hard you cry — this is much-needed levity when you are in tough parenting valleys. Join a book club and read the classics so you can educate yourself while you are educating your children.

- Bolster your skill set. In office jobs, it’s wise to keep adding to your abilities if you want to improve. Same here. To get better at cooking, buy a few cookbooks and work your way through them. If you want your kids to become acquainted with classical music, ask a friend what you should be listening to. Or take a class in knitting if that’s something you’ve always wanted to try, and knit hats as birthday gifts. It could be something as serious as going to a counsellor to learn how to keep your cool better during tantrums, or something as light as watching YouTube videos on the best way to fold fitted sheets. Whatever area it is that you would like to grow in, just go for it. Think about the example you will set as you show your kids that personal growth never stops.

- Evaluate yourself. At the end of each year, look at that job description and determine how you and your family are doing. I often don’t give my family enough of my down time, so I decided to cut down on personal-growth goals. I also found that I was doing things that other family members could take care of, so my husband is doing his own laundry now and my kids are learning to pick up their toys. Take credit for how much you did do, and maybe give yourself a bonus (something new? a day off?). Your kids are alive, generally happy, in clean-enough clothes and making memories. Good job, mama.

Motherhood, in the end, is not at all like an office job. It’s 24/7, not 9-to-5, for one. It doesn’t pay off in tangible rewards, such as salaries, bonuses, promotions or an expanding 401(k). If you’re burned out, you can’t quit and get a new job; you must stay the course.

There is one great perk, though. You are your own boss. If you don’t care about making Pinterest-inspired birthdays for your kids, you don’t have to do it. But if you love elaborate birthdays and handmade gifts, then you can include that in the job description. You get to focus on your strengths, and build on your weaknesses at your own pace.

Here’s a thought to encourage you from the British author G.K. Chesterton. It’s something I recall whenever I’m making my kids a birthday cake:

“To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labours and holidays; to be Whitely within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheet cakes and books; to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it... No, a woman’s function is labourious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute.”

And as my partner-in-mothering, Asriel Greendyk, says, “As a mother, I have become a better person. I’ve had to become a better person to meet my children’s needs; I am a better, wiser, more thoughtful person as a result. If that’s not the ideal job, I don’t know what is.”

–Washington Post