Treating Motherhood as a Job

Motherhood is a Job--there are things to accomplish that are really important. But do we give it the time and energy it needs?Motherhood is a job–or at least we should treat it that way. We have things to accomplish. We have a limited amount of time to accomplish them in. And what we’re doing is important.

Yet are we always able to give it the energy it deserves?

The worst thing a husband can do to a stay at home mom when he comes home after work is to look around the house with disdain and ask, “what did you do all day?”.

Them’s fighting words!

And we all know it. We tell jokes about inept men like that. We laugh at them.

And yet, ladies, I want to talk just between you and me right now. Hopefully no men are listening. Do we always work as hard as we can during the day? Do we treat motherhood as a job? Or do we sometimes goof off?

I know I goof off a lot. Of course, that’s only natural, because being home all day with kids is exhausting. We need our rejuvenating time, we argue. We need our time to ourselves.

And that is very true.

But other than well-deserved breaks (and napping when the baby naps to catch up on sleep), do we put our 100% in?

Part of the problem, I think, is that motherhood is not technically a job–or certainly motherhood is a thankless job.

We do have tasks to do, but we’re not getting paid, and no one is looking over our shoulder (except God! :) ). No one has made a list of all you have to accomplish today. No one is grading your performance. No one is going to fire you. So the only way to get things done around the house is by self-motivation.

What if you don’t have any self-motivation?

That’s a tough one, isn’t it? Now looking after little ones is a full-time job. I remember how exhausted I was when my children were little. And I decided that my primary responsibility was to them first, and the house (or apartment, as it was at the time) second. We would take outings every day, and I would read to them, and play with them, and make homemade baby food, and cook healthy meals, and make sure their laundry was done and their room cleaned, but the rest of the house suffered. I know that bothered my husband, but I figured he didn’t have much to say about it because the kids were getting stimulated, and that was the important thing.

Looking back, I’m not sure what I would have done much differently, except perhaps get more organized at cleaning. But the kids were my primary responsibility!

What I wish I had had, at the point in my motherhood journey, was a more organized approach to housework.

If I could have kept things neat, a lot of the chaos in our lives would have disappeared. And quite frankly, I did waste a lot of time. My children were wonderfully cared for, but the house was not. And with a little organization, it doesn’t take that much time.

But as the kids grew older, my housework didn’t improve that much, either. I just didn’t like cleaning, and I found it overwhelming. It was a definite tension between my husband and me, because he wanted the living room neat, and I felt the children took precedence (or really, my right not to have to clean everyday took precedence!). When I finally realized how important it was to him, I made it a priority to have that room clean when he came home, as an act of love. And when I started doing that, I realized I did actually have quite a bit of time for cleaning, if you do it systematically.

Motherhood is a job, and when you treat it that way, you get things done. When you treat it like a big party with the kids, where you all get to goof off, you don’t.

I loved those years with my children when they were babies, and I was awfully young myself, so I’m not beating myself up about it. But today, now that the kids are older, I have to ask myself everyday: am I working today? Or am I goofing off?

My husband is working, and doing wonderful things for our family. I owe him some effort, too. That doesn’t mean that I don’t take time to myself; but it does mean that I need to start seeing some of the organizational tasks that need to get done around the house as my job. Not because I’m female, but simply out of fairness:

If my husband works, I should work.

I know many homes where she stays home with the kids, but she doesn’t necessarily “work”. She has the TV on all day, or she’s on Facebook as much as possible, or she’s reading a book. Sure she plays with the kids, but stuff around the house just doesn’t get done.

I don’t think that’s respectful of one’s husband or one’s kids. We need to set an example for the kids that we all have to do our share, and that means getting stuff under control. And we need to show our husband that we appreciate his effort by putting some effort in ourselves, too.

Now if you work outside the home as well, things are a little different. I’ll address that in another post. But if you’re at home, caring for the house, you should be caring for the house. I don’t mean to make you feel guilty; I just mean to challenge you. It is so much harder to work when there’s no one standing over your shoulder. We need to learn to be our own bosses!

One of the things that helped me was developing charts, that I talk about in my book To Love, Honor and Vacuum, that help me get work done more efficiently. Everything has its day, so everything gets done in its time. You don’t have to buy the book to get the charts, though: they’re available for free download  when you subscribe to my parenting newsletter (just choose the parenting option, and you’ll get an email with a link to the charts).

Another thing that helped was just that mental switch: I am here to do a job–and that job is being a good mom. Am I doing it?

Besides, believe me, your house is so much nicer to live in when it’s organized. So let’s all get to work!


  1. >I am a SAHM with two kids. I do most of the housework. My husband does my share of earning a paycheque, so I do his share of the laundry and vacuuming.

    I take as many breaks and "goof off" here and there through the day whenever I can. Caring for a toddler is intense and her afternoon nap is my quiet drive to work, my lunch break, my afternoon coffee break, my dinner break, my quiet evening and my weekend. The 10 minutes she read her books alone (like now!) are precious and I don't want to spend them thinking about what chores I can get done.

    Fortunately, having a toddler in the house means I do need to keep things tidy – an unattended newspaper is a shredded newspaper – and keep the floor clean enough to lie down on. Throw in dishes and laundry and the worst of the housework is done. But the kids, and my spirit, are the priority.

  2. >Thank you! This one resonated with me SO much. It is HARD to stay motivated with no one breathing down your neck, and with so many distractions around. Gonna go download those free forms…..

  3. Llama Momma says:

    >I think this is so unique to each family.

    My husband didn't care as much about a clean house or fancy dinner on the table. When the twins were babies, and I was stressing myself out to "get it all done," he sat me down and said, "Honey. I would rather come home to a messy house and frozen waffles for dinner, but have happy kids and a wife who is as rested as she can be…a wife who can smile and laugh and have a conversation with me."

    This was a turning point for me. I still tried to get the basics done as best as I could, but I made my boys and my own sanity a priority. I'm so glad I did!

  4. >Thanks for the comments, ladies!

    Llama Mama, you raise a good point. The first priority, naturally, should be our own health and sanity. Like I said, I don't think I would have done much differently, except getting more organized, and taking care of the entrance way/living room so that when my husband came home he didn't feel like it was a cyclone!

    I just fear that there are many women who aren't putting in much of an effort, and I'm not sure that's fair to our husbands.

  5. >Having worked since 15yo & being the Type A that I am, I struggled at first being a SAHM. It helped me so much to view this as my "job" now. I might not get paid, but I still had responsibilities to my husband, our kids & our home. I created a document that I print each Sunday (my prep day) with categories for daily tasks, weekly tasks and special projects/appts to remember/etc. I love seeing things checked off, and tangible evidence that I've accomplished something.

    Thank you for another great post & awesome comments! I enjoy sharing these with my friends.

  6. Llama Momma says:

    >"I just fear that there are many women who aren't putting in much of an effort, and I'm not sure that's fair to our husbands."

    And this is also very true, Sheila! It's funny. After I commented I realized that, technically, I still have a young child at home (preschool age), and yet I feel in a very different stage of life!

    The twins are in grade school, and the preschooler helps me with chores and errands. We all get enough sleep, and life just feels easier. I suppose now, I could actually lay around on the couch reading magazines and eating bon bons. 😉

    You're right, though. This motherhood gig IS a job. The hardest one I've ever had, for sure.

  7. >Love this post. It took me a while to come to that reaization too but I'm glad I did. I now have a graet system so that I have all my chores/tasks written down (not much space in my brain to remember it all) and how often I need to do it. I feel way more organized after this baby (and he's only two months) than I did for the first couple years after having my first son.

    Today for example is my "heavy housekeeping day" because I know that I don't have time to do it on my errand day or the day I go to Bible study. Then I have another medium cleaning day and then I even schedule myself a "free day" where I just do my dailies (ie kitchen and diapers) so that I can have a break. But it's so amazing how much you can get done in a short amount of time if you know what you should be doing.

    And now I'm done on my computer for now because my husband is headed out to do his chores so it's time for me to do mine. another great thing is that my son asks me why I can't play right now and I tell him "mommy needs to take care of the house like Daddy takes care of the cows and you take care of your toys and books." Setting an example for your kids is so important!

  8. Stephanie's Mommy Brain says:

    >You are so write! And right now there is a counter and sink full of dirty dishes just screaming my name. Thank you for reminding me that housework IS part of my job description and doing it well doesn't take that much effort. Now I'm off to wash those dishes!

  9. >Hi :)

    I tend to distract myself horribly when I'm busy with the house – I wind up trying to clean the whole house at the same time. It doesn't work! Then I feel discouraged and let things slide for a while. Your book helped a lot!

    I do need to treat housework more like a job. I would much rather read with the kids, watch a good movie, bake something…

    I can't tell you how much I enjoy your articles/posts – they're usually exactly what I need to hear.

  10. >Thanks for re-posting this. It was helpful the first time around, but it's always good to get some extra motivation. I found, today, that tweaking my routine–just a small switch-eroo of what happens when–meant that I got a LOT more done.
    Whether my husband "cares" about whether the floor is clean, I think he actually cares more than he thinks he does. I want to make my home pleasant for all of us to live in.

  11. lettersfromnebby says:

    >Well, on one hand I do agree with what you are saying. But on the other, my job is 24 hours a day. So I do take more breaks during the day and I think that is okay. If my job could end at 5 or 6 pm or even when I go to bed at night (mine doesn't for medical reasons I am up with my dd every night), then maybe I would feel I should be working all day. But since my job never ends (and that includes always at least having somehting to do on Sabbaths even with the best planning ahead) then I don't feel bad about taking breaks periodically throughout the day.

  12. I appreciate this post. I agree with you. I look at my role as a SAHM as a job. My husband has to go to work everyday although he may not want to and he has to do things there that he may not feel like doing. I may not want to do the laundry but it has to be done, and so I do it. I give myself deadlines to get things done around the home. I love being the “boss” and being in charge of my day. Some days my kids and I work hard and then we get to play all afternoon and some days we just play all day. I find if you use your time wisely there is time for work and play.

  13. Good concept! You sound like the FLYLady, lol!

  14. I am blessed to work from home doing transcription, and I also have eight kids. (And no, I don’t homeschool. Did that one year. I really love my sanity and time to work in peace.) Without being organized, I cannot even begin to imagine the state that my house would be in. We have one room in the house — the playroom — that the kids can keep messy all day so long as it’s picked up at night. We do laundry on Saturdays only, and Monday nights, we have a laundry folding party so the mountain can get off the couch and put away. The rest of the time, morning and night, we all have set chores that get done daily so it’s not such a huge task and it basically stays clean. I leave our bedroom to my husband to keep clean, so… well, I’m not gonna go there. I’m the clean freak and he’s the bachelor. lol Now that might be a post… how to encourage your husband to help out more without sounding like a nag. I’ve pretty much given up on him helping at this point.
    Rachael recently posted…You Died TodayMy Profile

  15. I completely agree. I also think some women do better at staying at home then others. I love being home and tidying up. I love being domestic. My sister does not so she works as a teacher. Staying at home is not for everyone. It’s really hard work and as you said can be very thankless.

  16. You are right that how we SAHMs work at home is an example to our children. I think each mom has to find a balance and that includes considering her husband’s sacrifices too. Sometimes a goof off day is in order and some days you just have to clean! I agree.
    Jaimi@TheStayatHomeMomSurvivalGuide recently posted…Homemade Thank You Notes Using Gift Wrap ScrapsMy Profile

  17. Stephanie says:

    Although I see and understand the point you are making, we would get fired at any job for not working hard, I struggle with calling motherhood a job. I feel it downplays the necessary roll of Dads and their place in the family. Motherhood is a relationship not a career. There is no pay, no superiors (unless you firmly believe the truth that the Husband is th head of the home under God) no vacation days, no sick days, no clock in and out. You cannot compare it to a job it is too different. And guess what Dads don’t get that either. Yes they get sick days and vacation days from work but they don’t get those things from their family. My husband comes home and takes his place immediately as husband and father. Vacations are not vacations from being a husband and father but are just as much building that relationship as it is for Mom. Let’s stop comparing ourselves to a type of employment and realize that motherhood has been around since the beginning. It is a calling and cannot be compared to a job at all. Whether you want to call the toughest job in the world or most meaningful you can’t. You don’t apply for it, you don’t do anything job related at all. It is your calling and your relationship an you either are good at that or bad.

    That being said if we did remember our calling is to strive hard to do our calling to the best of our ability just like an employee’s calling is to do that, we may have more motivation to work. I don’t want to sound like I don’t agree with that point.

  18. Tatiana says:

    I have 5 kids 5 and under and after reading your post I want to hysterically scream into a pillow, bawl my eyes out, and then punch you in the face (no offense). Because for the past several weeks I have tried SO HARD to do just what you’re saying I should be doing and the only conclusion that I can come to is that either it’s just flat out impossible, or I suck beyond reason! The only time I Facebook is while breastfeeding. I haven’t watched a movie in months (TV show in years). I can’t even think of any other forms of entertainment because it’s been so long I forgot what options there are! And a nap while the baby naps? Ha. Haha. Maybe when I only had one.

    I’m sure you meant well, but I desperately wish you would have excluded moms like me from your guilt trip (just saying you don’t mean to guilt trip isn’t worth much). I had an incredibly depressing day with how much I intended to do and how little I had to show for it, when I tried SO hard. I saw the title and hoped I could glean something from it. Instead, I’m sitting here trying to fight the tears because it just doesn’t make sense that so much effort should have so little affect. Time just slips through my fingers every day no matter how hard I try.

    I’m sorry to be the negative commenter. I hate that about people and here I am doing it. I guess you just get to be the recipient of my stress bomb. I do hope this doesn’t come of as mean, because I don’t mean it that way. It just felt harsh to look at my day, realize how bad I sucked even though I truly did try, and then have someone else basically tell me to stop dinking around and get off my butt already. And to compare my efforts to my husband–who does work hard. But he gets designated breaks multiple times a day. And then he gets to come home and have dinner made for him and another hour to himself at least, not to mention time in the evening. I don’t get any of that. Oh sure, I get a few breaks, but they’re always on call and where’s the relaxation when you know that any second a time bomb is going to go off in the bedroom? Every day, after the oldest four are in bed, baby goes off like a clock and won’t usually go down until midnight. Then the kids get up at dawn and we start all over again.

    Ohp, baby is awake. That’s my cue. Long story short, either you never actually tried while your kids were little, you only had one or two kids, or you have a really bad memory. Give us a break. Because I’m doing everything I can just to make it through the day, messy house and all.

  19. Great post, as always. I guess I would word it somewhat differently. I’d say that “homemaking” is a job – and should be treated as such – have a plan and work the plan because you are the manager of the home and your husband is the CFO, etc.and as manager you should do the best job possible. Sometimes that means asking for help (paid or not paid) especially when you have lots of little ones and it seems impossible to even see the floor, let alone clean it.

    But motherhood… that is a calling, blessing and commitment far and away above any job, including homemaking. And thankfully, most of us have CFOs that understand that some (not all) days, because our motherhood commitment takes priority over our job, the job might not get done quite right no matter how hard we try. But, when the little ones grow older and the pressures of mommyhood change, you also have a great army of interns (one or more) to help keep the job go smoothly while you are a mom too.

    I’m not excusing those days when I had young kids and the internet had more draw to me than my job or my calling as mom … dinner wasn’t ready (or even thought through) and the house was full of toys and laundry, etc., when he came home. I was wrong and all stay at home moms should take an honest look at how their time is spent to make sure priorities are in order. (I fail still with grown kids!)

    It’s so nice of you to give away your charts. Tips and charts and lists were my best friends during those hard days with little ones in diapers.

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  1. […] house is a mess. There is no dinner on. And that’s not fair, either. I’ve found that thinking of motherhood as a job description helps me tremendously. If he’s working, I should be, too, and vice versa. A husband […]

  2. […] Treating Motherhood as a Job […]

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