on motherhood and “mushroom work”

covid motherhood

Yes, I used a gendered term on purpose. It seems that in every article about “motherhood,” folks respond with, “what about dads?!” and, “that’s sexist!” I’ll tell you what’s sexist: women have the lowest labor participation rate since the fucking ’80s. Women have shouldered the overwhelming majority of childcare since the quarantine started. Moms are losing their effing minds at home, as dads have had the opportunity to step up, and aren’t. I’m sorry to say it, although I’m definitely not the first.

A graph showing women's participation in the labor force, dropping down to mid-50% in 2020.
Yup, its that depressing. via royalbank.com.

If you are a dad who is reading this, and are inclined to complain about sexism, I say, great. Start with your partner. Start with your employer. If you’re starting with me, you’re part of the problem.

If you can’t tell, I have been working my freaking spikes off to maintain the household, and I am exhausted. Being a writer and being a parent is a similar experience: it’s all gotta happen under your own steam, and you’re expected to do it with a smile. Plus you get all sorts of complaints about how you’re not doing it right.

When you’re writing as a mother with kids at home, you get interrupted at random intervals. I feel like maybe someone wrote about this a long time ago… about how women do best when they have a spot where they can work uninterrupted? Not sure exactly. Maybe about how women need a room of their own? And yet here we still are. And when we mention it to our partners or to society at large, there is still a “prove it” mentality.

Yes, I’m pissed. And that’s okay.

I remember reading a Dilbert comic a few years ago, and it has always stuck with me. It has freakishly gotten more relevant as I have become a mother.

I feel that a lot of our celebration of motherhood is this kind of thing. Wow, you’re doing a great job as a mother! No one can do it as well as you can! You make such nice snacks and you change their sheets and you put away all their shit. This is brain-dead work; there is no innovation and there is no frontal lobe involvement. Yes, it needs to be done. But it is heartbreaking when it is so gendered. And when I am complimented on “mushroom work,” I doubt my place in the world. What has my life become when this is what people think I’m good at?

Yes, I love my children. Yes, I would do anything for them to grow up healthy. I even enjoy cooking and home improvement. It’s not that I don’t enjoy these things; it’s that I want to do other stuff. And I want to be able to be seen as a capable human being in my areas of skill. I want to feel like I am doing meaningful work, and using my skills to make the world a better place. Not just stuck on an endless merry-go-round of making and cleaning lunches and snacks, tidying, and doing laundry.

I also recognise my privilege as a middle-class white person in Canada, who is generally able-bodied and sometimes mentally healthy. I have paid off my student loans, and my car is paid for. This Covid experience has been fully different for folks without stable housing or finances, and those with marginalised identities or disabilities.

We’ve got a lot of societal reckoning to do, with the stratified Covid experiences. We had a chance to come up with an equitable solution to these Covid challenges, and so far, we’ve fucked it up. Here’s hoping we can do better.

Featured image was created by the author using elements from canva.com.

Published by amy

Coffee-drinker, money-saver. Laughs at "that's what she said."

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