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What do you think of when I say “mothering”?

Often our mind’s eye imagines children in action. Older kids climbing a tree or running through a sprinkler. Toddlers chalking the sidewalk. Babies crawling toward a brightly colored ball. We assume that if we can see something, we can believe it to be true. But if “mothering” conjures up images of children in action, then perhaps what we “know” to be true actually isn’t true at all.

I think mothering is much more mundane than the image our mind’s eye offers. I’ve come to believe that mothering is mostly an invisible existence composed of simple, unremarkable actions that usually occur behind closed doors. Some of those actions are intentionally unobtrusive but most, I think, are not.

{Planning birthdays. Putting away groceries, toys, books, stuffed animals, games, bikes, balls, laundry. Preparing bottles. Buying new crayons and paper. Telling a dramatic story during a diaper change.}

Sometimes the work of mothering isn’t invisible…those times when we are actively engaged with our child: mom/baby yoga, pushing our daughter on the swing. But inevitably these opportunities shrink as our babies grow up. So, it would seem that we mothers are destined to categorize the bulk of what we do as invisible. Does this matter?

{Wiping…counters, the snot of our child’s nose, sticky poop, vomit. Singing a song that will (hopefully) distract. Filling a bath. Going back to the pizza place where the monkey was last seen. Unpacking backpacks.}

Darn right, it matters! And let me go a step further: the invisible work of mothering matters as a feminist issue because mothering is done primarily by women and because invisible work is often ignored, marginalized or minimized.

{Arranging doctor’s appointments. Making breakfast, lunch, dinner, popsicles. Laundering clothes, diapers, towels, blankeys, loveys, sheets. Filling a child-size Nalgene with fresh, cool water. Reading labels.}

Imagine if parenting roles were reversed. Can you imagine men doing the majority of the childcare? Take it a step further and consider if “fathering” would be mainly invisible? Not only do men take more credit than their female counterparts for the work that they do but (white) men rule the world for the most part. I imagine a world with dads engaged in “fathering” as one where they would receive a salary, benefits, tax cuts and significant social status. Obamacare would become a non-issue. Universal preschool would be standard. So, no, I don’t think “fathering” would be invisible work.

{Managing schedules. Washing grubby hands. Breastfeeding. Packing to-go containers full of healthy snacks. Visiting daycares, preschools, grammar schools, camps. Researching homeschooling.}

bell hooks tells us that feminism “is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression”. The invisible work of mothering is easy to ignore, exploit and oppress. But we can’t. If we do, we ignore the voices of women for whom this work is a daily way of life. And it needs to be stated again and again that the voices of mothers are as important as who benefits from their invisible work: children and families. These women’s needs – mine, yours, ours – are as much of a feminist issue as any other. Mothering must not go unnoticed even if the work is often invisible.

IMG_3990{Remembering where Crunchy was last. “Managing” toys, games, books for smoother play. Previewing TV shows. Planning snacks so boredom isn’t a factor for refusal. Reading aloud. Pumping.}

I am reminded of the poets in _The Grand Permission: New Writings on Poetics and Motherhood_ who worried whether their work would be considered “inferior” if they chose to write about mothering. They plunged ahead anyway. Can more of us can do the same? Yes. Mothers can write, talk, Tweet about our invisible work. Of course, still Facebook the smile finally caught on camera but also share the imperfect, everyday moments that make up our many hours. And let me add one more thing: could we dare to ask for help sometimes? So many societal factors conspire against our success but speaking out that we occasionally need help allows others in, while giving us the support and attention we deserve.

Mothering is exhausting and all-consuming. We mothers truly need the support of women who aren’t mothers or those whose children are grown. These women can play a powerful role in helping acknowledge a mother’s invisible work. They can support organizations like Moms Rising. Urge moms to take more credit. Offer to watch a child(ren) for an afternoon. Lead support groups. Encourage more feminists to claim this issue as one deserving attention.

{Visiting libraries and museums. Teaching right from left. Thinking before you speak. Washing fruits and veggies. Maintaining comforting routines, remembering important rituals.}

Invisibility doesn’t diminish the importance of our work as mothers. But it is up to all of us to claim it as such.