179. Do You Work?

Once, a representative of the phone company was asking me some routine questions. One of them was what kind of work I did. Another was whether my wife worked. At the time, we had two children, both under four years old. I knew what the representative meant, but I could not bring myself to give the simple, expected, inaccurate answer. I said that my wife did work. When asked what kind of work my wife did, I started to list some of the work I knew was involved in parenting two young children, and in trying to maintain a household on our limited budget. For someone who had not yet done much of the work myself, I think I did a pretty good job on the spur of the moment.
Raising children is work. The decision to have children is partly a decision to work. There are all kinds of joys involved in spending time with children, and people usually don’t get paid to raise their own children. I guess those three facts – the joy, the lack of pay, and the fact that it’s so often the result of a decision (many people have children because they want to) – make some people think it’s not work.
Some people interpreted the feminist message to mean that staying home and raising children was not a good way for a woman to spend time. It wasn’t so bad for a man: that would count as a feminist gesture. There was also a Zero Population Growth movement that seemed to be gaining momentum when my daughters were toddlers. We kept getting the feeling that people felt there was something wrong with our way of living.
Being male, I’m not the ideal voice of feminism. But I’ve spent my life working with children, and there’s not a bit of doubt in my mind that teaching and parenting are work. I think teachers and parents are the most powerful people in the world – much more powerful than mere presidents, kings, and corporate executives. With that power comes awesome responsibility; the future is nothing to take lightly.
The joy that often comes with parenting is payment. Money would be useful, and when it talks, people listen. But so far, most places haven’t figured out how to earmark sufficient funds specifically for parenting. And the decision to become a parent, when it is a well-made decision, is pretty major; it’s not just a whim.
Once the decision has been made to help build the future by raising children, there’s lots of work to be done. Sure, money has to be earned, but that’s only part of the job. And so when I got that routine question from the phone company’s representative, my answer was, “Yes, my wife works.”

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