My working-mom friend (yes, we all are) relayed this story to me the other day:
Her 4-year-old daughter, while watching cartoons, announced one morning that she had changed her mind about becoming a dancer and a princess when she grows up.
“I just want to be a mom,” she said.
Touched, her mom said “awww” and reached out to give her a hug.
“I want to be a mom because I don’t want to do much,” her daughter added.
The generous interpretation is that the 4-year-old wanted to “just” be a mom because she knows how hard her mother works trying to juggle that job with her paying one.
But we know the truth. Our kids have no idea.
After my son first saw the movie “Cinderella,” he came in to tell me all about it.
“Mom,” he announced indignantly. “They made her cook and clean and do all the laundry — can you believe it?”
Yeah. Crazy stuff.
I confess I also had no clue when I was a child. My mom didn’t have a very regimented attitude about cleaning, and she didn’t harp at us about how busy she was all the time. (Not that anyone in our house does that. Nope. Never. Nada.)
While some of my friends had a long list of chores every Saturday, my mom kept things fairly voluntary. We tended to do the big cleaning before parties — except for the dishes. My sister and I had that responsibility because my brothers cunningly flooded the kitchen the first (and last) time they were asked to do it.
Looking back, my mom was probably exhausted most of the time. She was a teacher, and I remember her staying up late many a night grading papers after we went to bed, running us around to ballet lessons and softball or basketball games, preparing two dinners every night (one for us and one for our dad when he got home from work at 8 or 9 p.m.). Multitasking is not a new invention.
While the males of our generation have stepped up, sharing more household and child-rearing duties, women seem to be more stressed than ever.
A recent study of 500 middle-class, two-income families showed that moms and dads logged almost the same number of hours doing paid and unpaid work combined, but moms spend almost 10 more hours a week juggling multiple tasks than their husbands do. And multitasking women feel more stressed, pressed for time and guilty about not spending more time with their families, according to the 500 Family Study, published in the American Sociological Review.
I can relate. I’ve ramped up my work hours since my kids were little, and to ease my guilt, I tell myself it’s healthy for them to see their mom as a professional.
My husband has pitched in more and more, taking over most of the grocery shopping, picking up the kids from school, splitting the laundry and dishes duty. But I still feel stressed, mostly about logistics — keeping track of homework assignments, PTA events, music lessons, field trips, classroom parties, baseball games, band concerts, work deadlines and family birthdays, not to mention bill-paying, summer-camp planning and tax preparing.
My son noted recently that I always seem crabby on weekends — which sounds paradoxical, but that’s the time I take care of things around the house that I never have time for during the week. I somehow expect my kids to happily join in, and start ordering them around like soldiers — which, shockingly, doesn’t go over very well.
I think we need to make it clearer to our children how much goes into this business of “just” being a mom.
My husband and I have started talking to them more about why we work, what we do at our jobs and around the house, why we sometimes keep odd hours and the sacrifices we make to ensure we get them to school, games and practices on schedule.
They need to know parenting isn’t a lark.
We also ask them to share the housework load, though we haven’t found the perfect system. We’ve experimented with chore charts, point systems and allowances, but we usually lapse after a couple of weeks.
I see promising signs. Every once in a while, my daughter cleans her room — on her own. She’s dogged about making sure I sign various permission slips. My son was actually excited when we cleaned out his closet. And one day, he asked me to show him how to do laundry (holy Cinderella!).
Another colleague told this story: Her teenage daughter arrived home one night and observed her mom unloading the dishwasher, took note of the Rice Krispies squares her mom had made for her, saw the stack of clean laundry and asked if her mom had changed her sheets (she had). Then she said: “Cool.”
It’s a start.
Now go have a happy, chore-free Mother’s Day — where you can “just” be a mom.
Julie Wurth writes and blogs about families and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 351-5226 or firstname.lastname@example.org  or follow her at Twitter.com/jawurth.
Photo: We all need a workout just to keep pace with the demands of motherhood. Working supermom Darcy Sementi of Tuscola drives to Champaign a 5:45 a.m. exercise class five days a week at the Mettler Center in Champaign. Darrell Hoemann/The News-Gazette