You feel invisible, because you are.
The world exists beyond your closed front door.
Your husband dresses sharp and goes to work, where he exercises his intellect, interacts with colleagues, invests time and effort into his career. He is seen, noticed, worthwhile. What he does is important.
YOU play with the kids, wash dishes, and have play-dates with friends.
Society paints you in pastel colours: pretty, and trivial, and most of all, mindless. You’re the laughing mum pushing her kid on the swing in the playground. Blowing raspberries on your baby’s tummy. Clipping cleaning hints from magazines instead of reading literature or world news. Society has you summed up, alright, in all your two-dimensional glory.
A half-shrug, embarrassed almost, when a new acquaintance asks what you do. “I stay at home with the kids.” A pen poised over paperwork, reading and re-reading the demeaning question. Do you have a job? Well, yes. The hardest job you’ve ever had. But… no. Not in the way they mean.
Your days move at two speeds. Excruciating slowness, and breakneck exhaustion. You learn that it’s possible to work your tail off all day and still feel you’ve achieved nothing. To tidy the house repeatedly and still be surrounded by mess and chaos. To pour yourself into parenting and see no apparent fruit.
Your husband brings home a pay-check.
You contribute nothing to the family finances. In your hollow moments, you assume this work you are pouring yourself out for, this work that requires more of your body, mind and spirit than any job you’ve ever held: this work is worthless. Because it cannot be marked with a monetary value.
You earn nothing, therefore, your work is worth nothing.
Society assures you that this is the case.
It wasn’t always this way. Once, you had a career. If you worked hard and with excellence, you were rewarded. You received accolades. The possibility of promotion. Positive feedback from professional colleagues, from your boss, from your clients or students. You received cold hard cash in your bank account. Your spouse respected you because of your contribution.
You were worth something.
Now your work is done behind closed doors. The hands that once typed memos or theses are dishwater-chapped. Your back aches from lifting a heavy toddler. Your tasks are mundane and repetitive and usually go unnoticed. Your nerves are stretched taut as fishing line from constant demands, sibling quarrels, tantrums. Some days you feel like you’re being slowly pecked to pieces by birds. Already you’re disappearing. Soon there will be nothing left of you.
Meanwhile, your friends wonder out loud when you’ll be returning to work, as if what you’re doing is some sort of extended vacation.
Mama, you feel invisible, because you are.
Society underestimates you.
Your spouse doesn’t always appreciate you.
Your friends misunderstand you.
Your kids take you for granted.
Perhaps most of all, you even devalue yourself.
But what the world doesn’t see, what is so easy to forget, is the power that lies in the invisible things.
The electricity humming through a wire in the dark and hidden places inside a wall.
The engine concealed within the belly of a jumbo jet.
The very blood that courses through our veins, unseen, unnoticed, sustaining all life that strides this planet.
This world could not exist without the things that cannot be seen.
Mama, YOU are the electricity of family life. The engine-room of the human race. The life-force propelling each generation forward toward their destiny.
Without a mother to bring them life, leaders could not lead, rulers could not rule, and presidents could not preside.
Without a mother’s early nurture, grown men would not be as compassionate, and grown women would not be as kind.
Without a mother’s careful discipline, children would careen into adulthood without having learned responsibility or self-control.
Without a mother’s continuous sacrifice, the most essential building block of society – the family – would crumble into ruin.
Mama, you’re as essential as the breath in our lungs.
What you do may be invisible, but it’s invisible in the way oxygen is invisible: unnoticeable until it’s no longer there.
You may feel worthless, but your worth is seen best in the negative space you would leave behind.
How much would it cost your family to replace you? To employ a full-time nanny? A housekeeper? A private chef? A laundry-maid? A tutor? A counsellor? A chauffer?
It would cost a lot, financially speaking. And yet your value is much more than the sum total of all of these things, because if you disappeared tomorrow, none of those roles would replace you. Not really.
Your kids may take you for granted, but yours are the ears they whisper their hurts into, and yours is the neck they encircle with their childish hugs. Consciously or not, they are taking their cues from how you live and modelling their own life on yours.
Your husband may not communicate that what you do matters to him, but if you were gone, he would feel the ache of it deep in his soul, and struggle to bear the burden you leave behind.
The snide businessman may condescend you for your job title, but without a mother of his own, he would not be standing in front of you smiling his arrogant smile.
Your friends may ask when you’re returning to work, but they don’t understand that you are at work, and that your work is transcendent, because motherhood is the cornerstone of everything that can be built in this world. You’re not working for a boss or a company, like they are: you’re working for the betterment of humankind.
Mama, I wish society could see what I see when I look at you. I wish your role was valued and honoured and respected. I wish you weren’t invisible.
But for now, for those days when you feel unseen and unappreciated, remember the essential beauty and purpose in the hidden things.
You’re invisible the way warmth rests upon the skin; the way laughter need not be seen to find its way into the chinks and crannies of your soul.
You’re invisible like a song in the dark. Like a kiss on a sleeping cheek.
Like faith, and hope, and love.
Like the quiet beat of a heart, its repetitive work largely unnoticed, but without which none of us could exist.
Images courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net, by YaiSirichai and adamr.