Tech + Health

04.18.14

Ad's Message to Moms: If You Don’t Think Parenting Sucks, You’re Doing it Wrong

Did you see that “world’s toughest job” video that went viral? Yeah, it’s a bunch of bull.

You’ve probably seen this viral ad posted on one of your friends’ Facebook feeds. Maybe you even shared it on yours. It announces itself as a hoax wherein the perpetrators have convinced some poor saps that they are participating in a job interview via Skype; but it doesn’t reveal exactly what else the pranksters are up to besides advertising a fake opening.

The actor playing the interviewer lays out the responsibilities of the “job,” called “Director of Operations,” to the would-be applicants, and it becomes evident that he is describing the worst working environment this side of The Jungle. You must work standing up, bending over, and exerting yourself most or all of the time. The hours are 24/7/365, and there are no breaks. You may have lunch only after “the associates” have eaten theirs. “If you had a life,” the interviewer adds, while describing the workplace as chaotic, and stipulating that employees are expected to stay up all night with associates, “we would ask you to give that up.” There is no time for sleep. And the salary? Zero dollars per year.

So what he is describing is, in fact, even worse than Upton Sinclair’s dystopian vision of the American workplace before the labor movement. What the interviewer is describing is straight-up slavery.

But then comes the punch line. As tinkly piano music drifts in, the actor reveals that there are billions of people who already hold this position: they are called…wait for it… “moms!” The rubes who fell for the joke are stunned. They laugh, they cry, they thank their mothers. The Internet weeps Pavlovian tears, clicks “share” and “like,” and tags walls with “#worldstoughestjob.”

Boom. Ten million hits on YouTube.

I have to admit that I saw where this gag was heading from a mile away. Everywhere it was shared, there was commentary accompanying the link, to the effect of “This is for all the Mom’s [sic] out there;” and I was reminded that it’s almost Mother’s Day, and that I need to gird my loins against the impending onslaught of schlock from advertisers.

It’s not just the schlockiness that bothers me, though. And it’s not the fact, as defenders of this ad have suggested to men who find it problematic, that it presumes moms are the only parents capable of actual parenting. I came to terms long ago with dads being the second sex in the eyes of advertisers who target parents, and in fact I consider it a great blessing, since I would just as soon have no truck with them either.

“So what he is describing is, in fact, even worse than Upton Sinclair’s dystopian vision of the American workplace before the labor movement.”

The real problem with this ad is that it portrays parenting as a shitty job, and celebrates those virtuous parents who accept the shittiness with a smile. (I’m going to ignore the gender component of this trope for now, except to say that women are under much more cultural pressure to embrace the role of parent-as-martyr than men are, which may explain why dads are more likely than moms to find ads like this preposterous.)

One father who found this ad absurd was a friend I first met through my stay-at-home dad group (we both have become more like work-outside-home-when-possible dads now that our kids are older). Mike (his real name) commented on a Facebook thread:

“I stand by the fact that the SAHD thing is the best job I ever had. If it’s the world’s toughest job, you’re fucking terrible at it. You can’t wear pajama pants to the world’s toughest job. You have to brush your teeth to do the world’s toughest job and there CERTAINLY isn’t an espresso maker at the world’s toughest job. You ever watch the Deadliest Catch where they go out in -20F weather in 30-foot seas and haul 800lb crab pots for 30 hours at a stretch and then go in and eat cigarettes for breakfast? That’s the world’s toughest fucking job. Taking a one-year-old to story time at the library is a leisure activity. Don’t get me wrong, parenting has its moments, but world’s toughest job?”

Let’s say we accept the premise that parenting is a job (which I don’t, really, but that’s another story). I’ve had a lot of jobs, and most of them have been in the construction industry. I’ve fallen off roofs, shot myself through the thumb with a nail gun, cut three tendons in my wrist with a Skilsaw, worked outside in snow, rain, hail, and temperatures from 0-106 degrees Fahrenheit, and had to labor alongside some of the most racist, homophobic cretins you could ever imagine. And that was a cakewalk compared to the three years I spent teaching high school! Still, relative to how most humans eke out a living, I’ve had it easy. And like Mike, I think that being a stay-at-home parent is the most pleasant “job” I’ve ever had.

Parenting can be tough, no doubt. My wife and I have been lucky that our 4.75-year-old twin girls are healthy and, for lack of a better word, “easy.” The first few months were kind of brutal, I admit. But even then, the kids were unconscious about sixteen hours per day, which left plenty of time for parental sleeping, eating, and sitting down. Our lives were different, but we still had lives. We had wanted children for a long time, and we finally had them. In that respect, our new, different lives were much better than our old ones.

And it wasn’t too long before, with the help of the occasional babysitter, we were back to doing most of the things we had enjoyed as child-free adults. In addition, we have discovered that outings and trips can be even more fun with our kids along. There’s some drudgery involved in parenting, to be sure—but when I put my kids to bed at night, it’s not long before I start looking forward to seeing them again the next day. I can’t say that about even the best-paying jobs I’ve had.

I’m all for celebrating moms—on the Hallmark-designated holiday if that’s what makes them happy—but also every other day. I have a lot of amazing moms in my life. Dads too. But it serves no one to perpetuate the idea that parenting is supposed to be an agonizing and thankless slog. If the workplace conditions from the greeting card ad are what you find yourself under as a parent, don’t accept them. Get help, advocate for yourself, dial down your self-imposed parenting standards. And don’t let idiotic memes, tropes, and commercials convince you that you have to be in a state of constant suffering to be a good parent.

Martyrdom is for chumps.