Ever wondered if moms should go on strike? If you’re of the mindset that mothers should be endless founts of support for their kids, that showing them love means doing for them, then it probably sounds like a mean thing to do.
But there are some healthy, valid reasons for moms to go on strike as I discovered years ago when I went on one myself.
Why Moms Should Go on Strike
Life Before I Went on Strike
When I first went on strike (yes, I’ve done it more than once), I had a teenage daughter and pre-teen son who acted as if I had nothing else to do besides clean and cook for them. After thirteen years of marriage, my husband seemed to think I should find such tasks personally fulfilling.
It felt like every waking moment of my life was spent doing for them, while my own needs and dreams were on the backburner. Things got so bad that there were times I’d be on my way to pick up the kids and fantasize about driving until I found somewhere else — anywhere else — that looked like a nice place to live. Solo.
I wanted to nurture my family; I also wanted to have space in my life for myself, too.
I Didn’t Sign Up for This!
One evening while I was making dinner, my daughter brought down a load of dirty dishes from her room and dumped them in the sink. She was on her phone the entire time and only paused long enough to say, “Happy now? I cleaned my room.”
My son, meanwhile, came and grabbed a handful of the cheese I’d shredded for dinner, then went back to playing his video game. He left a trail of cheese on the floor behind him.
Then my husband got home from the nine holes of golf he’d decided to play after work and collapsed in front of the TV where he napped until I called him for dinner.
Once we’d eaten, everyone disappeared. My daughter went back to her phone, my son went back to his game, and my husband went back to his recliner to watch football all night. Me? I was stuck in the kitchen putting away the meal I’d made and doing the dishes. After that, I still had a load of laundry to fold and put away.
It didn’t seem fair because it wasn’t.
So, I Went on Strike
Only partway through washing the dishes, I chucked the washrag into the sink and loudly announced: “I AM ON STRIKE!” Of course, no one heard me: they were too wrapped up in their entertainment, so I called a family meeting to explain.
I promised to get them to a doctor if they got sick, but otherwise, they had to take care of themselves. They needed to wake themselves up, pick out their clothes, make their breakfasts, pack their lunches, and work together to make dinner. They’d have to do the dishes, laundry, and other household chores. They’d have to do their homework without being reminded. They’d have to referee their arguments.
I was on strike, and I planned to spend my time doing things for me, not for them.
What Happens when Mom Goes on Strike?
Over the next week, both my family and I learned some things about when Mom goes on strike that surprised us. Things I’d tried expressing to them but couldn’t get across. Things they could only learn through experience.
Yes, the first couple of days were rough, but by the end of the week, I was proud of how well my kids were doing. Going on strike changed their attitudes toward me, toward each other, and toward their responsibilities around the house. Here’s what we learned.
1. It restores gratitude.
In this age of “helicopter parenting,” it’s easy for us and our kids to forget that we do things for them by choice.
Teaching our children good manners includes teaching them to thank others for things they do. Being a mom doesn’t mean the kids shouldn’t say thank you. After all, valets park cars, hairstylists style hair, and food servers bring food and drinks to the table, but we still say thank you when they do. It’s only right that children should express gratitude when their parents do things for them, too.
When I went on strike, my kids figured out that meals don’t just appear on the table: someone puts effort into cooking. They decided they wanted spaghetti for dinner. It took them nearly two hours; then they had to wash dishes after. When they realized bedtime was in 30 minutes, they just about lost it. “We get any time for fun?” they both argued. I nodded sympathetically and said, “Yep, it’s frustrating, isn’t it?” as I grabbed a book and went to soak in the tub.
2. It rebalances expectations.
Although what we do for our families is by choice, sometimes they forget we do have a say in the matter.
Kids who don’t learn that Mom isn’t required to do things for them grow up feeling entitled. Kids who expect Mom to do everything for them don’t learn to appreciate how much of her time and energy she’s giving to them.
Once they have to do for themselves, they start to understand, and they learn not to make more work for Mom, too.
3. It teaches kids new skills and independence.
As the saying goes, “give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” The same is true for kids, whether we’re pouring them a glass of milk or dropping what we’re doing to help them search for an overdue library book.
One day during my strike my daughter screamed, “My jeans are dirty because you aren’t doing the laundry thanks to your stupid strike!” Now, I should point out she was 15 at the time and had a learner’s permit for driving. She could operate a car, so there’s no reason why she couldn’t operate the washer and dryer.
That day, she learned how to read the instructions on the washing machine and launder clothes herself. She’s been doing her laundry ever since.
Going on strike prompts kids to discover their own independence, whether by doing age-appropriate chores that Mom’s been doing for them or by learning new skills. Isn’t childhood, when Mom’s around to help in an emergency, the best time for them to learn to do such things?
4. It Gives Mom Her Life Back
When you’re a mom, it often feels like your To Do list is written for you. From the moment you wake up, your day is about someone else’s needs: getting the kids up, dressed, fed, and off to school. Meeting deadlines at work or getting housework done at home — or both. Getting the kids home, supervising homework, making dinner, cleaning up, and getting them off to bed.
At some point, you’re supposed to find time to fulfill your own needs, too. As most moms know, that tends to happen when (if) everything else is taken care of first. Whether we need sleep, time with friends, or just a guilt-free hour of peace, we feel selfish and wrong if we meet our own needs first. Is it any wonder moms are often full of resentment and anger?
Going on strike gives Mom time for recreation. Look closely at that word and what do you see? Re and creation. Time off from the 24/7 schedule of motherhood gives moms time to re-create themselves, so they’ve got the energy to care for their family. It’s not selfish — it’s a way to ensure you’ve got more of your self to give to them!
5. It’s fair.
We hear a lot of lip service about how “motherhood is the hardest job,” and with good reason. What job would expect you to be on call round-the-clock all year long, without scheduled vacation days, without sick leave? It’s a job filled with incredible responsibility, constant worry, and incessant self-doubt. Oh, and it’s unpaid.
“But this is what you signed up for,” people sometimes say when a mom expresses how worn-out she’s feeling. Bull. No one knows, before having their first child, what motherhood is really like.
The fact is, Moms get tired and stressed. They get sick or have low-energy days. Sometimes they feel burned out. They need a break just as much as anyone else does from their daily routine, but rarely are they told to take a week off to themselves.
They’ll Survive Your Strike. I Promise.
In the years since I first went on strike, I’ve needed to do it less and less often. In part, that’s because my kids are growing up, so it’s natural for them to be more independent. But it’s also due to my kids learning how miserable life can be when every moment of it is spent cleaning or cooking for others, and having no time to one’s self.
It wasn’t always that easy. When I went on that first strike, I’d never have imagined getting to this point. I felt stuck in a rut and taken for granted — as if everyone had a claim on my life except for me.
If that sounds familiar, if you’re burned out and have been snapping at the kids for not respecting the things you do for them, the effort you make around the house, the time you take preparing their meals or doing their laundry, then maybe it’s time for you to consider going on strike, too?
Call me, and we’ll have a nice, long lunch together — no kids allowed.