Take a Seat at the Table, Motherhood Edition

As we inch closer to Mother’s Day, the whispers in the mom groups grow louder. It may seem like we’re joking, but what moms really want for Mother’s Day is time away from the kids. Why are so many women asking for a moment alone?

I believe part of our exhaustion is due to what I call Invisible Parenting. IP is all those moments when the whole family is together, but for some reason mom is the one responsible for the kids. Case in point: a recent Instagram post from parenting blog and podcaster
@adultconversation. A large family is gathered around a table enjoying food and drink at a restaurant. At the edge of the photo, seated at a table in the corner away from all the fun is a mother and baby, also part of that family but sequestered away for the meal. We count many eligible caregivers in the photo, but just one person — mom — was saddled with the task of caring for baby and foregoing her enjoyment of dinner. Does this sound like any of your social gatherings?

A mother in a Facebook group recently asked: “How much of the parenting work does your husband do?” The answers leaned toward moms doing most tasks. Then one mother replied with a simple but mind-blowing “My husband is half of the parent team and does half of the parenting.” That sounds like a fair agreement. But ask around and the number of parents who report that they share childcare tasks equally is miniscule compared to the reports that mom does it all.

That the burden of parenting often falls to the mother might be one of the last holdouts of the women’s rights movement. Sure, we won the ability to vote, work, and own property, but many of us feel we don’t have the right to eat dinner in peace or stay in bed when the baby cries.

And even when their husbands are home, many moms still take it upon themselves to feed the kids dinner, put them to bed, and wake up with them in the middle of the night. This “mom will take care of it” attitude is where the inequality starts. If junior falls asleep easily with mom, why sub in dad and risk a sleepless night for everyone? But it’s an essential long-term goal for the wellness of mothers everywhere that we get fathers involved frequently and early on so they have the tools they need to be an equal member of the parenting team.

In our career-strong years, we women heard how important it is to denote ourselves as equals, fighting for the work and pay we deserve. Sheryl Sandberg famously urged us to “take a seat at the table,” meaning when we walk into the conference room for a meeting, we shouldn’t shrink away, but affirm our value by sitting in the center with the other power players.

This same principle can be applied to parenting. When you sit down with your partner for a family meal, make sure the kids are between you. If there’s one child to tend to, share the time. If there are more, split them up so each parent has a charge. Or better yet, use the village! At family events, my husband and I have started arriving 15 minutes early so we can position the kids between our other relatives. We spend one glorious hour across the table eating like carefree adults, and the kids are thrilled to get quality time with their extended family.

Of course, this requires everyone’s attitudes to change. The outdated idea that babies shouldn’t disrupt the table denies human nature and devalues a child’s role within the family. New babies are just as much a part of any family as anyone. Is it so hard for families to accept that it’s OK when dinners are interrupted with cooing or crying?

So at your next gathering, remember Sheryl Sandberg. Take a seat at the table. Let the baby be heard. Let you be heard. When you need a break, hand off the baby. Your partner should spend 50 percent of his time holding his baby, or spread the task among others. Don’t worry about someone doing “it” wrong. It’s one meal, and it’s good for baby to adapt to different people.

Remember, mothers, you’re not in this alone. You’re an equal half of the parent team, and you deserve a seat.

Andrea Worthington owns BabyGotChat.com, a website for Westchester parents featuring resources, advice, and events for young children. She’s also practicing taking a seat at the table.