Don't get psychiatrist Jay B. Rohrolich wrong. He thinks mothers work hard at home. He just doesn't think mothering is work -- the kind of work in which you make or sell or write something and get paid for it.
In "our work-glorifying culture," he says, people often attempt "to identify the mothering role as a noble form of work." But, he contends, "The mothering and homemaking occupation, althought it contains many difficult and complex work operations, is not, in its essence, work."
To call mothering work, he says, "does a disservice to its unique properties."
If mothering became a paid job, he argues, "It would destroy it." Then questions would be raised about time-on-the-job, "advancement, efficiency. Productivity would become an issue."
Rohrlich is fascinated by the problems of work and how people's occupations influence their lives. When he set up his practice in a New York neighborhood, his curiosity was sparked by the numbers of his patients who "seemed obsessed with their work and their careers.
"Many of my patients were troubled more by problems in their work environments than by those in their personal lives."
Eventually, he moved his office to Wall Street to be closer to his patients' places of employment. In this job-oriented practice, he has learned he says, "a great deal about the dynamics of work in the human personality." He has just written a book on the pyschology of work, "Work and Love: The Crucial Balance" (Summit, 255 pages, $10.95).
Much of the book is devoted to why people become workaholics (a state of "imbalance," he believes, between work and love), but in one chapter he explains his provocative thesis on mothering.
Lest he be accused of being sexist, Rohrlich -- who is 39 and married to a homemaking wife -- hastens to explain that he is referring to the particular nurturing role in the family that has traditionally been the woman's. But mothering, he says, "is not the exclusive province of women. Lots of fathers are good mothers." The couple has two children, 10 and 6.
In work as we normally understand it, he explains, the worker creates something about which he or she can say: "I built this" or "I typed this" or "I painted this." It is "goal-directed" and "future-oriented." Involved is the "aggressive instinct" and elements of mastery and control.
Mothering and homemaking, on the other hand, "are roles derived primarily from the sexual instinct, the instinct of 'being with,' of empathy, selflessness." There is "feeling" and "intimacy" and a "sense of the present." Mothering is "a labor of love."
A mother, he says, can never say "I did it" about her child "the way I can about a cure I created, or the book I wrote."
The product of a mother's work "has a life of its own -- and must. Mothers must take their hands off." In a job "you've got to keep your hands on" whatever it is you are doing.
Some people, he acknowledges, can't let go of their children. "They create sick kids. The mother sees her offspring as an extension of herself -- as a product she is molding and shaping."
Workers get a sense of self-esteem, he says, "from our work product" since "they lend themselves to measurement and evaluation. But you don't evaluate yourself in personal life. How can you score 100,000 points for love?"
For the mother, the "assessment of one's self-worth is difficult." Mothering is not the "ego trip that work is."
For some women, this can lead to frustration. Without a work-environment outlet for their aggressive instincts, says Rohrlich, "They may become aggressive housekeepers or aggressive shoppers. If you can't say, I did it,' you can say, 'I bought it.'"
The women may try to control the husband, "feeling she must know where he is going, interrupting his business meetings, making sure any free time is designed and choreographed by his wife."
If a woman "is not comfortable with an empathetic involvement with her children," if she lacks " an ability to be spontaneous," then maybe, he says, "she's somebody who would prefer to be working."
The woman who enjoys mothering full time, however, "should acknowledge and appreciate the unique properties of their loving occupation as being fundamentally different from aggressive, goal-oriented work."