February 11, 2010

The Hardest Job I've Ever Had

image By Todd Schoepflin, Ph.D

Assistant Professor

Department of Sociology

Niagara University

[email protected]


I’ve had some hard jobs over the years. When I was a college student I worked at a summer camp for developmentally disabled adults. Many were low functioning, and a few were schizophrenics with violent streaks. My first job after graduating from college was as a counselor for adolescents with serious emotional problems (a few of them had violent streaks too). That job didn’t pay very well, so I had a second job teaching factory workers who were preparing for their GED exams. They were high school dropouts working the overnight shift at a textile factory (imagine having to work all night on your feet and then come to class to learn math and writing skills).

Currently I work as a college professor--although it’s not a grueling job, it’s not as easy as it looks. It’s challenging to prepare courses, it’s no fun spending weekends grading, and it’s hard to do to research (it’s even harder to get research published). But I feel very lucky to have this job because I know there are far tougher jobs.

The hardest job I’ve ever had is being a parent. My wife and I have one child, a beautiful and energetic boy who is two-years-old. And make no mistake about it--taking care of a child is work, and I can think of no other work that is more challenging.troy_es

I love my son more than anything else in the world but the phrase “terrible twos” applies to him lately. His favorite word is “no” and his typical behavior is to resist anything that we’d like him to do. He doesn’t want his diaper changed. He doesn’t want to put on socks. Or shoes. Or a jacket. Or a hat. This isn’t particularly convenient considering we’re in the middle of a cold winter in Buffalo. Try telling a two-year-old that he needs a warm coat because it’s freezing outside. It won’t work. There’s no reasoning with a two-year-old.

Recently my wife and I took our son to a restaurant at a mall. The restaurant had an exit door that connected to the mall. He ran out into the mall, walked into a store, and started pulling things off the shelves. Saying “don’t do that” had no impact. Nor did efforts to redirect him (“C’mon Troy, let’s go back to the restaurant and see Mommy.”) And least effective was grabbing him when I ran out of options. I brought him back to the restaurant as he was kicking and screaming. You think a thirty pound two-year-old isn’t strong? Guess again. Tantrums are a way of life these days. And with each tantrum I question my competency as a parent.

I say this as someone who is generally confident at his jobs. I was good at that summer camp for disabled adults, I did a good job working with emotionally troubled adolescents, and I believe I’m a good college professor. I’m not saying I’m not a good parent, I’m just saying I don’t always feel like one.

I hope this doesn’t sound like whining and complaining. That’s not my intent. My purpose is to emphasize that childcare is work. It just happens to be unpaid work. And it’s often the case that women do the bulk of this unpaid work. Childcare is often unnoticed, undervalued, under appreciated, and, as I’m suggesting, it can be overwhelming. It’s also very tiring. Take a look at the picture of my son and me--it might suggest a relaxed state of affairs, but I am exhausted most of the time. Fatigue has been a constant feeling for my wife and me because our son usually gets up at 5:30 in the morning. It makes for long and tiresome days.

Troy_December_08_001All of the difficult work and challenges come with the territory. I didn’t think being a parent would be easy, I just didn’t know it would be so hard. That doesn’t mean I don’t love my son or love being a parent. Since the day he was born I’ve poured my heart and soul into being a good father. I did my fair share of overnight feedings when he was a newborn and I’ve always been very involved with diaper changes and baths. And due to my flexible schedule as a college professor I’ve been able to be home with him lots of days when it’s just him and me. It’s a privilege to have a job that allows me to spend significant time taking care of him in the early years of his life. And since he’s been in my life I can honestly say I’ve never been happier. But life as a parent is hard and  knowing how demanding it is to take care of one child, I marvel at how parents appear to be so skilled at taking care of several children. And I’m amazed that so many women take great care of their children without the help of a spouse.

I find it interesting that when the topic of childcare comes up in my sociology courses, some of my male students say they would never want to be stay-at-home dads. I wonder why. Is this because childcare is still viewed primarily as women’s work? Do you think it’s accurate to say that men are reluctant (or even uninterested) in having a major role in childcare? If so, why do you think that’s the case?

It’s interesting to reflect on how society’s norms created the roles of women as caretakers and men as breadwinners. These once clearly defined roles seem to be blurring in today’s world. There are lots of men who are very involved in the day-to-day care taking of their children, and there are lots of women who earn more than their husbands and whose incomes are vital to the financial well-being of their families. Looking ahead to the future, what do you think the norms will be in terms of gender and childcare?


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I really liked this article. It made me think a little bit. I'm not a parent, and I don't plan on being a parent until I'm married, but I never really thought about how much work it would take to be a parent.
In my Sociology class we had talked a little bit about American students being lazy and after reading that article and then reading your article, I kind of wonder if lazy students now will make for lazy parents later. I'm a hard worker, so I don't think being a lazy parent will be a problem for me, but I do kind of worry about the other students who don't care about their schooling.
Your article made me think. Thanks!

I really enjoyed reading this article. It shows that there are changes going on in the world, and that men are capable of being such huge helpers. Its nice to see the appreciation you have for woman and their capability to deal with small, rowdy children without being paid. I hope that more men could be the occasional stay at home dad, it doesn't make them any less "manlier" I feel more respect could come from the wife if the husband decided to stay home more often

Looking ahead? Norms could be that children will grow up with only one parent, thats how it looks from my point of view. My parents are married and I grew up with both of them teaching me, so Im thanking God that that didn't effect me but today so many kids are lacking a parent. And you also said that its a non paying job... well I don't quite agree. Im not a parent but from what I understand, seeing your kid grow up as a good person, bringing good to other people is probably the most rewording thing for a parent...

Wow, it seems like a lot of work and responsibility being a parent.

I honestly didnt know that being a parent would be that difficult. It makes you think twice about wanting to have children. A young child can be quite a handful.

we cant deny the nature of big responsibility that was given to women to keep the baby for 9 months. Men should be responsible too for thir deeds by helping women takig care of babies when we are off from work. some men when they are off they think its their time to do other things as a result kids grow up without real care from father.Taking care of someone's life is not easy. Be ready.

My sister is a stay at home mom. However, her husband loves to spend every moment he can with the kids. I do not think that raising children should be a 'woman's job', I think that either parent could be the stay at home parent if they wish. I think it's great when a dad wants to stay home with his children. Both parents are responsible for the child and thus they should both take part in raising the child.
My neice is turning two next month, her favorite word also happens to be 'no'. I never really thought the terrible twos would be so, well terrible. My neice has always been a happy, sweet kid but now she's starting to be a little beast. But we still love her for it. :)

I thought your article brought up a lot of good points. I think that men should be taking more responsibility in childcare because it is a lot of work. Women and men are becoming increasingly equal in jobs and it should be the same with caring for kids. We shouldn't stick to the archaic roles of "breadwinner" and "caretaker" but take shared responsibility. Our culture is changing so the roles of men and women should change too.

Sex is between the legs and gender is somewhere between the ears. We all share masculine and feminine traits. Hopefully the norm in the future will be a shared parenting job between the mother and the father.

I think some people still view childcare a women's job. Nowadays, the person that makes the most goes to work, while the other stays home not only to take care of the kids, but the house as well.

I really liked this article. It made me think a little bit. I'm a parent, and I liked how you talked about how hard it was to be a parent. Although, for me, I am 15, and it's not bad at all. I'm still in school too.
In my Sociology class we had talked a little bit about American students being lazy and after reading that article and then reading your article, I thought that lazy students now will make for lazy parents later. That is not true at all, though. I am a lazy student, and I am not a lazy parent, at all.
Your article made me think. Thanks!

I think that childcare is still primarily viewed as being "women's work", but that is changing. Just as it takes two people to create the child, both of those two people should take care of the child.

I really appreciated your last paragraph in this article. It is true that society has always seen women as the caretakers and men as the moneymakers, but I also truly believe times are changing. Many men I know are very involved in their children’s lives and many women now work right along side their husbands. I think that in the future, the lines will only be blurred more; and about what you said about your male students who would never want to be stay at home dads, shame on them. I think it’s wonderful that men are stepping up and actually being such important parts of their children’s lives.

Looking ahead, I think that eventually the stereotype of women as the child caretakers will have less impact on people's lives, especially since now men and women have to be paid equally. This has opened up women's eyes and more are seeking jobs in the workforce. As for me, I plan on both me and my husband having jobs while raising children. It will be hard to not see them during the day, and having to rely on their babysitter to practically raise them, but that is why we will choose someone we trust.

I thought this artical was very good. It makes people see that men can be a big help and theres nothing wrong with a stay at home dad once in a while. It would make things alot more easy one the mother if every once in a while she got a break from the screming playful crazy kids shes at home with day after day. I think its great for a man to stay home with the kids every now and again.

Society does still see childcare as "womans work" and I still can't figure out why. I am coming to the conclusion that is just because that is what we are used to. It's what we see in TV, what our parents and grandparents did and nothing more than that. I can understand during the first few months or year of life when a child is being breastfed that the mother primarily be there. But why does it carry on into grade school and even high school when helping with homework and discipline?
Before I was a mother I thought that stay at home moms were taking the easy way out. Now I see that it IS one of the hardest jobs you can possibly have. You don't get off work at 5, you don't get a lunch break, and you can never escape with a bathroom break. My co-workers never took showers with me, but when you're alone with your child, there's no other options.
I think that in order to get men more involved in childcare (especially if the wife works a full time job as well) we need to provide positive images (Danny Tanner anyone?) of competant fathers raising their children instead of what we are seeing now in the movies, which is aloof, confused and "bare minimum" dads. Not to say that all dads sit on the couch and watch football while their children are playing by themselves, but unfortunately it is one of the stereotypes shown in the images that we are surrounded with.

I think I am the parent of the future. I am a single mom of three girls. I go to school, I go to work, I cook, I clean, I check homework and try to have fun when I can. My ex husband left when I was pregnant with the third child . He lives on the other side of the country. He comes in town every other month for a few days. Dad is in town this week. He wanted to take the children but asked for the schedule before jumping into the task. A few emails later he said "well it will be a working day for me so I am afraid my schedule will not match the children's schedule, can I only take one of the eldest and leave you the 2 others or at least can you keep the youngest?" Well, this is the dad of the past. The dad of the future, I am dating him for 3 years. He cooks, he cleans, he does his garden. He takes care of the children when I have early classes or evening classes. He gets my youngest at the day care on the days I am doing my internship. Yes, he works too but from home. I forgot to say he has 3 kids too. He has them every other week for 7 days. He wishes he had them full time. I am not used to that type of dad. My life is much more balanced. There is a draw back to the situation. We need to be extra careful to money because to be able to be as involved as we are in our children's life we can't have a job with high responsibilities...keeping us away from home and bringing big $$ in our bank accounts.

This is a great piece of writing about how truely hard it is to be a parent. I wish more teens would read things like this, before they make stupid mistakes. It takes a lot to hold a family together. And it certainly dows take a certain type of person to make a good parent. It's not for everyone. The choice to become a parent should be the biggest that someone ever makes.

In response to the author, I do feel that the roles of childcare are changing in many families. Because these roles are becoming increasingly more influenced by financial and economic factors, more men are having to step in to fill these childcare roles. As for Todd’s question regarding what the future may look like, I think that we may see times in which childcare is mainly dependent upon income of each parent and the responsibilities will tend to be shared more amongst mother and father.

One of the key aspects of the gendering of childrearing is that being a stay-at-home dad is not necessarily presented as a desirable, or even viable option to young men. So deeply ingrained in our culture is the notion that since a woman has a more involved biological connection to childbearing, she is most qualified for, or would most desire to continue childrearing. Although childrearing may take as much, or more effort than a “job”-job, it is unlikely that it will ever be regarded as such. Having children is not a unique experience- most people have the biological capacity to do so- but raising a child well is a laudable and admirable task.

I agree with Todd in the fact that the lines between parenting roles are becoming blurred. I think that a child’s parents have the most influencing factors on them, which can last a lifetime. I personally liked that fact that my dad was a “stay-at-home- dad”. He did tasks that society would normally label as a woman’s job. One thing I find very interesting is that I feel as though parents have a hard time talking about or admitting that being a parent is extremely difficult. Maybe they don’t talk about it because they don’t want to seem like they are complaining or unhappy with their kids. I think that it should be talked about more. Today, more and more young people are having children without understanding what comes with it. I think that it is hard to describe in words what it is truly like to be a parent, but I think that it should be discussed more freely in society.

I agree, the hardest job is being a parent. Though it's "hard", it pays all the things that you did, seeing your child growing with good health and attitude is enough.

Wow, you really went through lots of challenges, in looking for jobs. Eventhough being a parent is the hardest job, it pays off, when you see the face of your kids.

It has been years now since my kids were that age, but I remember it like yesterday. Enjoy it while they are little they grow fast! Mine are 20, 18 and 17. Our middle one just enter his freshman year at college and our youngest is a senior in high school this year.

Its the best feeling one got when the child rests in your arm and fall asleep at deep.. you being to be the deepest observer and pleasurable moment that is..

I'm 22 years old and I am a mother my self of my eight old baby girl. After reading your article you make me feel that is very hard for you to be a parent. It seems like you need help with your son. How you ever taken any parenting classes? where they can teach you skills to be able to understand your child better.It seems like you need to make a strong realationship with your son ;have a closer relationship and learn strong communication skills. I am taking a class called Parent-Child Interaction Therapy from a progarm called Calm in my community and it has help me out in many positive ways.It seems like your only demanding orders to your son when you write in your article how your telling your son "don't do that" when hes pulling things off the shelves in store from the mall.Your son is only two years old and he dosent know what he is doing!. If you talk to him more positive and explaing to him what he is doing wrong and why you want him to stop I bet he will understand.Maybe later give him a hug or buying him something to show him he did great by listening to you.It seems like your a great dad just need to be patient and enjoy your son age stage. The more young our children are that more they need us. I am a very busy person my self but I do take my time to make a difference in my baby's life. I admire you for helping your wife with the chilcare you been doing for your son. Please be patient to your self and your son. I know there is a lot of work that must be done but enjoy being parent.Every situation is agreat time with your children.We love our children because they are part of us not because they do good or bad things. I love my daughter the most watching her grow is a great experience and I want to create a wonderful world for her

Add to this the sudden need to take care of all obligations for an entire living space.

very nice article and usful

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