Work

What if We Could See All the Unpaid Work Women Do?

A photo essay on the unpaid work of being a mom.

Rocco being held by his father while in a public bathroom.
Daddy took Rocco to the bathroom to change his diaper. He called me on my cellphone to say that he needed wipes. Afterward, as I was packing up the diaper bag, Rocco screamed to be carried, so my husband just used the toilet while carrying him. Some things just become second nature once you have children.
Cattleya Jaruthavee

On Wednesday, Better Life Lab highlighted a new video from New America’s Global Gender Parity Initiative that used humor to bring attention to all the unpaid labor people, especially women, perform without pay or even recognition. Today, we share a photo essay highlighting the unpaid labor of one mother living in Bangkok.

I became a parent two and a half years ago. While photographing what that meant, I realized that it had become second nature to mentally micromanage every minute of our day as a family. When will we feed our son, Rocco? Will the nap times work out today? When can kids try chilies? Who’s that man who sits at the park playground feeding pigeons every day but who doesn’t have a kid? Will our son grow up and have confidence issues because I snapped this morning? The list goes on.

And here I was, documenting a life that I have been living, but except for the odd reflection, hand, or leg here and there, I am not in any of the photos.

This is quite fitting for what I do. At the end of the day, people don’t see the skeletal structure of your day as a mother, just the exterior finished product, a person who sits and socializes with them, one hand trying to eat and the other trying to keep her child’s lunch from flying to the other table.

A few weeks ago, I was trying to capture a photograph of my son napping in the stroller in a café, a cup of coffee in front of me, a book, and my leg. I tried to capture how I really felt at that moment, but I couldn’t do it. It didn’t do justice to what was actually involved in the napping process. It would have made it look like my work as a mother is somewhere between mundane and blissful. In fact it’s a lot of white noise and stroller movement. That’s usually key to my son’s sleep. And the book? I received the book as a Christmas present and have been halfway through it for the past two weeks. That’s because every time Rocco moves, I have to move the stroller too.

On a couch, Rocco sits in the foreground with his snack while his father dozes in the background.
Here, my husband takes a nap, and Rocco has his snack.
Rocco dragging around a bag of toys.
Dragging bits and pieces around the house seems to be fun for children. Rocco decided to mix his outdoor toys, which are full of sand, with his indoor toys and drag them around leaving a trail behind. We live in Bangkok, which has high air pollution and dust levels, so the dirt that gets dragged into the house is not the cleanest. We spend a lot of time vacuuming and checking indoor air pollution levels on our air purifiers.
Cattleya Jaruthavee
Rocco rests his head on his mother’s hand.
When my husband was away on a one-week work trip, Rocco became very sick with a stomach virus. Of course photographing his most vulnerable moments was out of the question, but here, I was able to capture him resting in my hand.
Cattleya Jaruthavee
Rocco eating dry crackers with nut butter. The dog looks on.
Dry crackers with nut butter were the only thing he could keep down. The other parenting challenge in our home is stopping Rocco from feeding our dog, who ended up with 16 bladder stones because of food scraps thrown on the floor. There may have been some crayon and elastic band bits in her digestive tract too.
Cattleya Jaruthavee
Rocco playing with blue paint all over his play mat and bed.
I left closed bottles of paint in Rocco’s room when I went to fetch the paint palette. I came back two minutes later, and he had opened one of them and emptied it all over his play mat and bed.
Cattleya Jaruthavee
Rocco sits on his moms lap getting a haircut, as photographed through the mirror.
Rocco getting his hair cut on my lap. His arms and legs need to be held in place. Although he has grown to enjoy visits to the salon, he likes to move his head in the direction of any kind of noise he hears, which can be challenging for the hairdresser.
Cattleya Jaruthavee
Rocco squats on the floor beside the mass of hula hoops he’s pulled down.
Rocco taking all the hula hoops off the hangers at a sports store, something that he is doing a bit more frequently now that he’s a toddler.
Cattleya Jaruthavee
Rocco eating crackers in his car seat during a traffic jam.
We get stuck in a lot of traffic jams in Bangkok. Here, I’m passing a rice cracker to Rocco.
Cattleya Jaruthavee
Rocco's stroller covered in shopping bags.
Walking back to our apartment after shopping at the children’s fair. As most parents will know, strollers tip over very easily because parents forget about all the shopping that’s hanging on one end of the stroller and their children suddenly jump off. This time, I remembered to balance the stroller with a heavy bag on the seat.
Cattleya Jaruthavee
Rocco sits behind his father, who’s lying on the floor reading to the child.
I usually read to Rocco before bedtime and my husband reads to him when he can. Here, he insisted that my husband lie on the wooden floor.
Cattleya Jaruthavee