Parenting. Not the hardest job in the world.

It’s a line that gets thrown around by politicians at election time and one that seems to reinforce the ugly stereotype of motherhood as martyrdom parenting is the hardest job in the world.

When I think about the hardest job in the world I envisage someone disassembling a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.  I think about standing for 24 hours in a factory filled with toxic fumes in China.  I don’t compare these conditions with motherhood because currency is exchanged for labour and I don’t see parenthood as a job.  It’s just life.

Parenting is relentless, exhausting, isolating and if I’m describing it to my husband for leverage, you can even throw in overwhelming, hell and unbearable.  There’s not much clocking off for parents, even less for sole ones or people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

It’s one of the hardest things I’ve done but I’m a white middle-class woman from suburbia who’s never had to endure post-natal depression or poverty.  I don’t do it anywhere near as tough as others.  Despite that acknowledgment, for me personally it’s still got nothing on death, cancer or depression.  Also, there’s cuddles.

When someone spouts “motherhood is the hardest job in the world” as Sophie Mirabella, Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry and Science, did on Q&A this week you can almost hear the collective groan.  It doesn’t endear people to the plight of mothers.

When the discussion of parenthood arises I try not to use the cliches.  I don’t always succeed and it’s possible that people have mistaken my honesty with martyrdom but I think it’s important to accurately convey the stuff that doesn’t always get spoken about.  Everyone’s parenting experience is individual.  It’s just that I don’t think it’s a job and it’s certainly not the hardest one.

Do you agree that parenting is not the hardest job in the world?


  1. Norlin Mustapha says

    Hmm..hard question. Parenting isn’t a job…it’s a resposibility and like any other responsibilities it can be hard – depending on where we place ourselves with regards to this particular responsibility called parenting. I do have to admit that it is hard – a hard responsibility to carry out because, let’s face it, we’re “playing” with someone else’s lives – our children and we all want the best for them, which is why some of us find it hard when we don’t live up to our own or society’s expectations…or even our kids’ expectations. And we all know deep down inside that if anything goes “wrong”, the people that get the blame are the parents. No matter what we do, or what personality the child is. So yes, it is hard – not a hard job because it’s not a job – but a hard responsibility to carry out without sabotaging our kids lives. Rambling here because I’m at work at “multi-tasking” so I think I’d better stop. Not sure if I even made sense up there! :D

  2. Deb_BrightandPrecious says

    Agreed. Well said. I like Eden’s post about this a few months back – “it’s not the hardest, but it’s the most important”. However, I also think it’s the most undervalued job. Parenting (especially mothering) is not supported by systems. policies or community as much as it could or should be. The pressures don’t need to be as great as they are. Because as soon as you add in the variables of death, depression or cancer then it can actually feel unbearable.

    • says

      You’re so wise Deb. I think that’s one of the reasons the line bothers me, because it’s not valued by structures and policies, so when politicians start using it as political spin it feels cheap. And the reaction to it often adds to the belittling of mothers too.

    • Karen says

      I’m with Deb. Mothers are undervalued and overwhelmed, and I can’t help but think that a little from column A would go a long way to helping with the issue in column B. If I had my way again I’d tell (not ask, tell) my husband I would be taking an allowance from our family income for the duration of my stay-at-home-caring time and that would be my wage to spend on books and CDs and whatever else I feel I need to stay connected to the world and to feel like my work at home (caring and cleaning and cooking) had material value. If only as a token …
      We should form a union or something; if we don’t look after these children, who will? Are we all supposed to go back to work and pay other people (poorly) to do it?
      If prostitution is the oldest profession, I daresay motherhood is a close second. Prostitutes are sex workers: what are mothers? Lazy, whiney, (insert put down here).

      • BakerBaker says

        Absolutely! So…let’s work this out…taking a 50% pay cut
        $30 per hour x 20 hours (I get 4 hours of sleep per night)
        That will be $600 per day, thank you darling.

  3. Chantelle @ once upon a nap says

    Having worked in some rather difficult jobs before becoming a parent, I’m going to have to say that, no, parenting is not the hardest job. It is the most fulfilling, emotionally speaking. It is exhausting, messy and can be he’ll on earth at times, but it is definitely not the hardest job I’ve had.

    Debt negotiation was harder – having to try to find a way for my debtors and clients to reach an agreement about repayments that wouldn’t send either party broke, knowing that if I stuffed up the budget then someone may not be able to afford food. Being screamed at, verbal assaulted and even, a few times, physically assaulted, for just doing my job – that was harder mentally.

    Being a Motorsport racing Official is harder and more taxing – knowing that if I clear a vehicle to race that has a single safety defect, it could lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage and possibly dozens of people being injured, knowing that at any minute a sprint car fuelled by methanol could erupt into flame (which cannot be seen – the joys of methanol) and that unless I react quickly enough, the driver could be burnt alive before I can instead him, or that if I use the extinguisher incorrectly I could stop them from being burnt, only to smother them . Being responsible for the lives of every driver, pit crew member, every other official and the public spectators – that was harder mentally and physically.

    Having my child throw up on me for the eighth time today, having my child throw a tantrum about going to bed, having my child up and down every hour for three days? Sure, it’s tiring, stressful and exhausting… But there are cuddles, love and the knowledge that there is a purpose to it. It is hard but it no where near as hard as some of the other jobs I’ve had.

    It’s relative. It’s comparable. It’s parenthood.

      • Chantelle @ once upon a nap says

        Thanks Carli. As to careers, I’ve had some bloody interesting jobs thanks to my inability to focus on one industry for longer than 5mins. I look for jobs based on interest, not money; which helps, and as such have found that starting out as a volunteer has led to some pretty amazing experiences.

        Weirdest job would have to be an “olive oil bottler” – filling bottles with olive oil, putting in the ingredients for the infusion (chilli, herbs, etc) then putting on pretty labels. Easiest, most unfulfilling job I’ve ever done but pays $40/hr!

  4. says

    Yep, I cringe when I hear that saying. I did have high anxiety in my middle class world when my first was born and I work with mums with depression and anxiety and some of them are doing it tough but a job is something you get paid for and work a certain amount of hours doing. Parenting is life: it is relentless, it can bloody suck but it’s more than a job. So much more.

  5. Kate says

    oh totally agree! I see it more as a role, its rewarding, its fun, its exciting, its hard, its exhausting but again rewarding! So many other ‘jobs’ don’t offer rewards. I am lucky enough to be a stay at home mum and I wouldn’t change it for the world. So many others out there working very hard jobs and getting no reward.

  6. says

    I wish people would focus on the positives more. Sure It sounds bloody horrible sometimes but there must be some positives if people keep having children? Isn’t happiness a state of mind? it’s all how you approach things. I really want Children one day soon but sometimes I’m too scared too by mothers Raving on like it ruined their lives! The Poor children being talked about like that too!

    • says

      I am probably guilty of complaining about it too much sometimes, I try to walk the line between celebrating the good bits and needing to connect with others over the crummy parts!

    • Karen says

      Steph, having children was the best thing I’ve ever done. The working conditions for stay-at-home carers could do with a revamp though.

  7. Renee | About a Bugg says

    As always Carli, your posts leave me thinking. We have different challenges; a different path – and I have to say, at times it’s a bloody hard slog.

    When you are operating on little sleep, feel under-supported and overwhelmed, torn in a million directions, trying to work out what is best and how to make it as easy as possible for your child, and then you have a child that doesn’t easily return those hugs that make it worthwhile? Well, there are times when I can only wish to put an out off office on, and clock off for the day.

    But, the hardest job in the world? No, probably not.
    A life long, at times overwhelmingly so, responsibility? Yes.

    • says

      Oh Renee I hope I didn’t trivialise that side of things. I really tried to find the balance between the line being used as a means of pushing the “motherhood as martyr” stereotype and people with difficult circumstances. I certainly don’t think Mums should be silenced if they’re finding it difficult and we could probably write five hundred blog posts on the lack of support for some parents!

      • Renee | About a Bugg says

        Of course not lovely! I get the context you were talking about – Sophie Mirrabella pulled out a tired old line, in an attempt to win over voters. Meh – find a new angle.

        But I just wanted to point out that sometimes it is hard, much much harder than my ‘real’ job… xx

  8. says

    Great post! I don’t think it’s hard, it just ‘is what it is’. I think running a sub 3:30 marathon is hard or a sub 40 minute 10km is hard. I think finding a decent part-time job where you can utilise your qualifications is hard, but parenting is a life choice and one which has it’s ups and downs. Parenting is character builiding, it keeps you on your toes, your hands full and makes you appreciate the moment!

  9. What_Sarah_Did_Next says

    It’s all about perspective, isn’t it? I think I groaned along with everyone else by the comment of Sophie Mirabella. A stupid thing to say, IMO. Parenting isn’t a job; it’s a choice. I feel there are a million other ‘jobs’ that would be FAR worse.

    Motherhood is so much more than a sound bite, YKWIM?

  10. says

    I’ve survived almost 25 years of parenthood. Some days are dog turds, some are bright, sweet smelling roses. But the hardest job? Nuh-uh. Its not like we’re 8 years old and putting in 12 hour days in a sweatshop. Its a challenge, sure – but also a wonderful privilege. *Disclaimer: I may have stated more than once that I wanted to resign from the “job”. But I was a) drunk; b) running between two vomiting offspring; c) hormonal; or d) all of the above.

  11. says

    I think ‘parenting’ needs to be distinguished from being a stay-at-home-parent.

    To me being a stay-at-home-parent is a really hard job. It’s definitely not hard in the way that being a bomb dismantler or Chinese sweatshop worker is, but it’s hard in its own way and that way is primarily mental. I think every stay-at-home-parent knows what I am talking about and as Deb says, it’s not well supported.

    But ‘parenting’ and ‘motherhood’ – those things are not jobs and I do wish politicians would stop making soundbites out of them.

  12. says

    Another mum threw that cliché at me just a few days ago, in front of one of my girls. Her offhand comment suggested the choice to become a parent was somehow a burden, one that wasn’t enjoyable. I didn’t have time to get into the semantics with her, but if I had, my argument might have sounded something like yours.

    Some days it feels as though you’re going hand to hand with the enemy, but all is quickly made right with a cuddle, a discussion or an ‘I love you’. How many jobs can claim such swift resolution?

  13. says

    Nice post, and I agree with all that’s been said. Undervalued and overwhelming, for sure, but “hardest job in the world” is just a throw-away political comment.

    I would also point out that in our society, with education and contraception, parenting is largely voluntary! It’s a huge commitment that women and men don’t enter into lightly (I hope).

  14. Penny_Working Mums MASTERCLASS says

    I was listening to 2Day FM (sorry!! but I like the music!) in Sydney yesterday and they must have tired of pitting working mums against SAHMs because a phone-in discussion pitted SAHMs against SAHMs while they argued whether it was an easy or hard job.

    I don’t see it as a job. Jobs I’ve had have incorporated 4 weeks of holiday pay, sick pay AND leave, bonuses, commissions, on site cafe with in house chef, frequent flyer points, and a kickarse Christmas Party. I haven’t seen any of that in my ‘job’ as a mother ;-)

    I have a job and I have a responsibility. I have a paid job that I go to so i can keep a piece of me just for me (and go to the toilet by myself). I have a responsibility when I come home to raise and nurture brave little men who will become big brave men who will change the world (or at least the world of those around them). xx

  15. Martine Oglethorpe says

    i think you did a great job in your post of finding the balance between the line being trivialised and not offending those with certain hardships within parenthood. Yes it is a challenging and difficult role, and yes heartbreaking too, but it has way more reward than any sweatshop job ever could!

  16. BakerBaker says

    I do like the sentiment of avoiding cliches but I don’t agree that parenting is not a job. It certainly is, childcare is a job…and it is a hard one- not the hardest, I absolutely agree with you there, but it is non-stop and it’s extremely difficult to do well. I applaud any parent who can uphold there own standards as well as society’s when it comes to raising a child. There are certainly some great aspects to parenting but if I’m honest with you, I wouldn’t do it for fun. It’s work work work and I had no idea how much work it was before I had children and that is why I think that cliche exists. How do you tell childless people how hard this actually is?? How do you get them to understand that parents should not be disrespected, that it doesn’t come naturally to everyone and that it’s not everyone’s idea of a good time. It’s hard blinkin work.

    • says

      I guess if you define it as a task or piece of work then it is. And a bloody long one! It is so hard to explain it to someone without children but I don’t know that the cliche actually helps relations there.

      • BakerBaker says

        Yes, obviously people are tired of hearing it. It’s just such a difficult concept to express without using the most extreme exaggeration. What do you say? Parenting the job that’s not as bad as working in a sweatshop but I’d rather go back to working 18 hour days at festivals….?? It doesn’t have the same oomph.

  17. says

    I think the best description of parenthood that I’ve heard is that it is not a job, but a relationship with a lot of jobs attached to it. Unfortunately the jobs are mostly of the invisible kind; cleaning, wiping bums, making lunches, packing up toys, which all sound fairly insignificant on their own. Add them up, and throw in sleep deprivation, being on call 24/7, scant time alone, having to fight tooth and nail for a moment to spend on other passions (or even work) and it feels relentless, and some days *it is* really, really hard. Especially when, as others have said, instead of finding your ‘work’ valued, you are constantly having to defend why you haven’t returned to ‘proper’ work yet. I don’t think acknowledging the difficulty undermines the value of parenting either. I don’t love my child any less, revel in cuddles any less, or fail to appreciate all the moments of pure awesome, just because I admit that I sometimes (often?) feel like I’ve really been through the wringer.

    All of that said, I fully agree that that particular soundbite is getting old, and does not ring true. It is not ‘the hardest’, just as it is not ‘the best’, but it can feel like both at different times.

  18. Carly says

    Wise, well written words, totally agree. The throwaway line we cringe at I believe is a poorly worded reaction to the lack of empathy, support and aknowledgement by a large portion of society including traditional media and government.

  19. Anna Spargo-Ryan says

    I don’t know any different – my first daughter was born when I was 20, so I have no adult life without children to compare it to.

    I find some elements of parenting extremely challenging, especially in relation to my kids’ happiness. But that doesn’t mean I think of it as a job or that I think it’s “hard”. Sometimes I want to slit my wrists on the morning school run, but on the whole it’s a rewarding element of my life that brings me a lot of joy and has occasional inconveniences.

    I wonder if I’d feel differently about it if I’d been an older parent or if I didn’t have shared custody. As it is I get two nights a week to myself and I’m sure that goes a long way to making the whole parenting gig a little less taxing.

  20. Alison says

    Parenting can be fun and once kids are big enough to help out it gets easier. I am celebrating (?) 10 years of parenting my youngest child who is profoundly disabled and that is exhausting – it puts all the other stuff in perspective and raising our older healthy child has been a walk in the park in comparison. So all the sound bites have me rolling my eyes sometimes but it’s all relative and I know I will be caring for my son including feeding changing bathing and toile ting him for the rest of my life as he will never live independently but it is what it is and when you have children you roll the dice. We still laugh and love and enjoy the huge and milestones which is all any parent can expect

  21. Cherie says

    Love this post! Food for thought …

    For me, mothering is … a challenge, & I have most definitely made sacrifices that niggle at me from time to time. I battle with the isolation & loneliness, I really do.

    BUT … & I am a white, middle class woman from suburbia, I have had ONE more difficult job. When I worked in mental health, I used to assess the mental health of prisoners in the prison system.

    Having to interview paedophiles, & assess their mental health, & listen to their ‘sick bastard’ thoughts? … that would have to be the most difficult job I’ve ever had.

    Ever x

  22. Manners Maketh says

    I agree also! Funny I’ve always said parenting is not “hard”! But I do use the word relentless to describe it, as you said, but also rewarding…in fact it’s all emotions and many jobs rolled into one, that’s why it’s so challenging. With the materialistic pressures we face in our society today parenting has become a grind which is sad. I don’t think we make the time to “enjoy” parenting as they did in the past, when “having” things, properties, nice cars and holidays wasn’t so important! I also believe phones and computers ( as I sit here typing while my child sits watching tv beside me ) have become the root of all evil! In my Mothers time they never use to complain about parenting, they just did it, because it was just considered part of “life”!

  23. bachelormum says

    I disagree with you on this. I find at least in my experience it is the hardest job in the world. Maybe being a single parent, dealing with issues of my daughter missing her father and trying to do everything I can to ensure she grows up emotionally sound has something to do with it. I get thrown issues where there is no handbook, no answer, no instruction, not even from professionals. All I can do is muddle through and hope for the best. I have never been in a situation before where I really dont have a clue what to do, even when I call my mother she’s stumped – it’s hard, but fulfilling – i think that’s the difference.

    • says

      I appreciate where you’re coming from – I certainly think it’s one of the hardest things I’ve done and I don’t have to face the challenges of single parenting.

  24. PhemiEology says

    Agreed that “its one of the most important ones”!!.

    At the same time, I dont think a lot of what “ALL women” (mothers or
    not) do for this society is valued in
    any sense. Because it is MUCH harder to produce evidence that “good
    mothering/nurturing= psychologically healthy community”. It’s so difficult
    to ‘measure’ the impact that ‘the nature of women’ has on the successes of our
    communities. Though you only have to logically look at the developed world and
    the impact that women having more equal rights does to creating a healthy
    society, when you compare it to (social AND economic) health of some developing
    nations and their treatment of women.

    But then…logic (or intrinsic understanding, something women do very well) is
    not something our culture values either. If we cant tangibly measure it and see
    the ‘outcome’ of it, then it’s not worth investigating.

    Because socially our culture is still very masculine (I dont use this term in
    the ‘feminist man bashing way’ that’s not who I am, I love men and then there
    are lots of awesome men out there, I say masculine as in “masculine way of
    looking at or ‘running’ things”).

    A masculine way of doing things is that things have value- if they have clear measurable outcomes….

    And when I say outcome, that usually means MONEY. Because as a culture (hell as
    a species) regardless of how much we say we value things that are outside of
    money. But our society still runs largely on the, “show me the
    money”…. “where is the economic benefit to this ‘nurture’ thing
    that women do”….

    It would take a big, thoughtful, and time consuming study that could find a
    ways the ‘join those dots’. And isn’t it ridiculous that we need a study at ALL
    to ‘prove’ something we can all intrinsically and logically make sense of…

    Just another example of a very masculine way of going about running things.

    • says

      Oh I’m hearing you. Case in point is the amount of people that objected to a paid parental leave scheme and flexible hours for returning parents. Many just see money (or worse, our tax-paying dollars!) contributing to mothers staying at home on their butts when it’s about valuing a parent to stay home and nurture a child without having to lose touch with the workforce – a workforce that has one of the lowest proportion of women at executive level than any other OECD country.

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