The following is a guest post by freelance illustrator, designer, and writer Colleen Kong-Savage. There’s nobody more adept at getting things done like a single mother and I’m very pleased to read her point of view.
American society doesn’t think very highly of mothers. Only five nations in the whole big fat world do not have a national law mandating paid maternity: Liberia, Lesotho, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and the United States.
After seven months of tossing my cover letters and résumé into a black void, my boyfriend took a look at my cover letters. “Why do you mention that you’re a mother?!” he commented, wondering at my naiveté. I have been freelancing here and there as a graphic artist, and my sentence had been, “Now that my eight-year-old is in school, I am ready to take on more work.” I wanted to let prospective employers know what I’ve been up to the past eight years since I can’t list “parenting” under work experience. Another friend said, “You don’t want to say you’re a mother because employers wonder how often they will have to accommodate your child care situation.”
Are you kidding me?? What is up with this bias against mothers? Don’t American employers realize that all those required skills that they list in their help-wanted postings on Craigslist and LinkedIn have been honed to a lethally fine point as the primary caregiver of a new human being? It’s the TOPMOM program: Training Of Professionals, Multidisciplined Officials, & Managers.
TOPMOM PROGRAM INITIATIVE
1) “Must have strong organizational skills.”
Look at our time management abilities! New mothers: even if we aren’t “sleep-training” our baby into a structured schedule, we know that our child will pass out for naps and need feedings at regulars points of the day, and we strategize the day’s events around those times—where we will be and what are we doing—so we do not face the penalty of a cranky terror. Veteran mothers, especially those with more than one child: we juggle extracurricular activities, school events, family meals, holiday visits out of town, playdates, birthday parties, doctor appointments, those damn household chores, and we still find time to volunteer for the schools. That entire morass of Stuff flows seamlessly through the calendar because we organized it to be so.
We keep an eye on our kids’ video game and TV intake, their homework, piano practice, time on the phones and computers, how they interact with others. Those of us with toddlers, constantly scan the environment for potential threats to keep little ones from electrocuting themselves, choking on small objects, poisoning themselves, running into traffic, falling to their deaths, or being kidnapped by a roaming pack of wolves.
3) “Excellent communication skills”
Your child has a limited vocabulary and your job is to make him understand why it is important to pee in the toilet and not the floor, or that she needs to eat that disgusting spinach and not another tasty cookie, or that even when you scold your son for smacking his sister, you still love him. The playground is boot camp for diplomacy. During every visit there is a fight to be diffused between children battling over equipment. You find ways to appease the warring factions, speak simple clear ideas, direct their attentions elsewhere, negotiate solutions, and divert their anger. If someone’s kid has been throwing sand at other kids, you must tell the other parent to watch their kid without making them feel like you are accusing them of not watching their kid. And can you imagine the amount of diplomacy that goes into preventing a knockdown brawl when a caregiver passively watches their brat to kick and shove her way to the front of the line?
4) “Ability to problem-solve”
Problem-solving is the way of the mother. It’s always something. Why is the baby crying? Hungry? Cranky? Hot? Tired? Missing daddy? Or the siblings are rivaling over which TV show to watch (Work it out, guys, or nobody watches anything). Or your child tells you the night before that he needs a Mozart costume for his biography report tomorrow (Raid the closet). Or your babysitter is sick and can’t pick your child up from school while you are stuck at work (make a playdate). Or how do we transform the Transformer from five constructions vehicles into one mega badass robot (YouTube).
5) “Thrives in a creative environment”
Oh this is the best part of parenthood! Creativity is how we engage our children in the world and teach them how to play. The Fresh Direct boxes used to deliver my groceries have been reincarnated into the Batmobile, Percy the train engine, wings, swords, snowplows, houses, cars, skis. We are reintroduced to storytelling as we look at picture books at bedtime. Getting kids to entertain themselves during long boring restaurant meals with adults and WITHOUT an electronic device calls upon great reserves of imagination: tic-tac-toe to battleship games on paper, napkin origami, variations of I Spy, I have shamelessly nibbled sculptures out of the bread on the table, and god love those restaurants with the crayons and paper table coverings. And making HALLOWEEN COSTUMES!
6) “Must be able to multitask”
I’m not even going to bother with this one.
7) “Must have strong work ethic.”
We are on call 24/7. In the first half-year of motherhood we sleep less than a medical resident and marvel if we get to pass out longer than four hours in a row. We take care of not only our children, we take care of our home. We do it out of love for our families. And if not out of love, then because we are driven by a sense of responsibility, a sense that the buck stops with us–albeit in the US most of us don’t get paid.
WE ARE INDIVIDUALS
Two weeks ago I omitted any mention of motherhood in my cover letters and finally got invited to my first interview after seven months of trying. Pathetic. However even with my argument that mothers have exceptional work skills, I wish that the workplace, and even mothers themselves, would remember that we are individuals first, parents second. Our parenting experiences feed who we are, they highlight and teach us about our unique strengths and weaknesses, but they do not define us. They only add to what is already there.
Photo: Mother with child at 911 memorial reflecting pool, 2013, FS.
Illustration & Design
Kong Savage Art House
Note: If you’re looking for a terrific illustrator or graphic designer, please consider Colleen’s work. I’ve known her for decades and completely vouch for her work and professionalism.