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Why Moms Should Be Allowed to Complain

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I'm not a big fan of complaining as a rule and steer away from people who complain more than they express appreciation. However, as a mother, I engage in my fair share of private and public griping about aspects of the job—and yes, I do consider parenting a job—because the alternative is bottled up frustration that turns to snapping at the people I love most.

Recently there have been two articles suggesting that moms complain too much about motherhood, and both got my dander up.

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The first ran in the Washington Post, about how dads don't complain, even as they are taking on a greater share of the parenting responsibilities. The author, Samantha Rodman, a clinical psychologist, feels the men she sees can't speak up about their feelings regarding child rearing, and goes so far as to say, "Is it possible dads are the new supermoms?" In order to remain adult about this, I will simply say: Give these Mr. Moms another few years of so-called oppression and they'll organize a Million Dad March to protest their lack of rights.

Women complain about parenthood, and men don't, because we live in a sexist society that tells men who complain that they are weak and largely puts the burden of parenting on women. What's more, we mothers complain because much of modern parenting takes place in isolation, without the "village" of sisters/cousins/aunts to support us. Many more Gen Xers now find themselves raising kids and caring for their elderly parents at the same time. We complain because women still earn 78 cents to a man's dollar, maintaining the scenario (in heterosexual couples) where it makes more sense for men to be breadwinners and women to stay home.

The uncomplaining mother is not only unrealistic, it sends the message: If you don't see mothering as a gift, there is probably something wrong with you.

Women also complain because, as this article in The Atlantic suggests, complaining is a way of getting attention and support for one's needs. My mom-friends tend to complain to each other mostly, to let off steam, to release the frustration that might otherwise get channeled to a child, and as an appeal for support.

The second article that begs a hard look comes from Time. The author expresses that motherhood is a gift and a pleasure, but not actually a job; no, motherhood is a glorious "hobby," so women should suck it up and keep their complaints to themselves. Ah yes, the preternaturally perfect, uncomplaining mother who gives everything to her children with neither complaint nor hair out of place. I've heard of such mythological beings; I'm pretty sure they can be found hiding out in the woods with Bigfoot or swimming with Nessie in Loch Ness.

The uncomplaining mother is not only unrealistic, it sends the message: If you don't see mothering as a gift, there is probably something wrong with you. Should you dare to see it as work—not just as a woman's place—then you are probably one of those uppity feminists who think women should also make a wage equal to men and be allowed to walk down a street without receiving unwanted cat calling.

Women have been fighting for the right to be more than baby-making vessels since before the suffragettes lifted their ridiculously complex and weighty skirts and stomped their way to victory. Not calling parenthood "work" is dangerous to mothers—not just the ones who choose to stay home with their kids, often sacrificing second incomes and other things, but the ones who have no choice but to work to support their children. If motherhood is not work, why should a woman get maternity leave to be with her baby? Why should it then be illegal to fire a woman who has gone off on such leave?

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We live in a time when positive thinking is touted as a cure for all that ails, and not being able to do so reflects a failing of your character. But we've seen the negative stress of suppression on people (1950s, I'm looking at you). If the worst we can say about mothers griping about the job of mothering is that they complain too much, then consider this my formal complaint: They don't call it the hardest job you'll ever love for nothing.

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