Holy trinity: English triplet babies are held by their grandmother, vicar and mother following their christening, 1942. Photo: Getty
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The World’s Toughest Job may or may not be being a mother

Being a mother is hard – but we don’t need a greetings card company to tell us that.

What do you think is the world’s toughest job? Nay, the #WorldsToughestJob? Perhaps the post can be claimed by whoever had to count out all one million of Ai Wei Wei’s sunflower seeds. Or by my friend Darren who worked 14-hour days on a rose farm, tagging roses, with a work “buddy” who was widely known to have had sex with his goat. Or maybe it belongs to my other friend (I have two!) who works in a paper factory, where duties include having to shovel pulp that smells like rotting flesh, emptying the roof tank of dead birds, cleaning out the lift shaft with “the lift itself dangling precariously above”, and inhaling so much dust that your snot is black and you suffer random nose bleeds for days afterwards.

Think any of those jobs sound tough? Well then you’re wrong. But fear not, just in time for an artificial national holiday (in the US) celebrating all occupiers of this hashtaggable post, an American greeting’s card company has generously provided us with the answer, and said answer will blow your mind.

Mullen, an American advertising agency, advertised online and in newspapers for the role of “Director of Operations”. Included in the job criteria was:

Must be able to work 135+ hours a week

Willingness to forgo any breaks

Must be able to lift up to 75 lbs. on a regular basis

Unlimited patience

Salary: unpaid

Spoiler alert: it’s motherhood.

They then interviewed the few presumably desperate but also inconceivably good-natured jobseekers (or, y’know, out of work actors) who applied for this unappealing position, shocked them all with this revelation, and compiled the encounters in to one heart-warming reminder that YOU ARE A BAD DAUGHTER BECAUSE WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU MADE YOUR MUM A MOTHER’S DAY CARD YOU SELF-ABSORBED LOUT?

Bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you?

Here are some possible reasons why you might not have twigged the profound message being sold to you by Mullen:

  1. Sometimes, fathers are involved in childcare. Admittedly this probably only happens in weird hippie communes in Scandinavia where no one pays for healthcare and everyone is flying high on drugs and misandry, but hey, they might want a greeting’s card too.
  2. It has also been known in some rare cases (Louis Theroux documentary pending) for Women Who Are Mothers to have other jobs too. Like, maybe they work in accounting. Or write books. Or fly planes. Or perhaps, even, work for Mullen and are so weighed down by their feelings of perpetual guilt at not being a Full Time Mum that they thought they’d make a video showcasing all their failings.
  3. Maybe you didn’t see it coming because you are very much aware that raising children is a hard job, and that some women and men do choose to devote their lives to it at the expense of other careers, but the fact that you have a mum has made you realise this before. You didn’t think an advertising agency would really try and tell you this, as it’s a bit like saying “giving birth is painful”, or “Kate Middleton has nice hair”, but hey, I guess we all have our moments of stupidity.
  4. Maybe you thought we in the developed world had moved past tired stereotypes about the holy grail of womanhood being motherhood. Lol.
  5. You realise that mothers are often underappreciated in our society. There are number of ways to tackle this, you think: improved access to childcare, a supportive system of child benefits, equitable maternity and paternity leave, a change in the way the media presents mothers as one-dimensional caregivers. You didn’t realise that all that Mums needed was a fucking Mother’s Day card! Quick, someone call Germaine Greer, her work here is done.
  6. Some mums are bad mothers. They might be great women in all other respects, or they might even be crap in all other respects, but regarding their children, some mums get it wrong some or all of the time. Like me learning to drive. I’ve had probably approaching 100 hours of lessons, attempted many tests, and I still can’t do it. Luckily, this means I am in fact legally barred from the road, whereas there is no such audit for becoming a mother. But if there was, I’m sure a lot of people would fail.

So, yeah, being a mum is hard. But I think we knew that already.

Amy Hawkins is a freelance journalist based in Beijing. You can follow her on Twitter @DHawkins93.

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Arsène Wenger: how can an intelligent manager preside over such a hollowed-out team?

The Arsenal manager faces a frustrating legacy.

Sport is obviously not all about winning, but it is about justified hope. That ­distinction has provided, until recently, a serious defence of Arsène Wenger’s Act II – the losing part. Arsenal haven’t won anything big for 13 years. But they have been close enough (and this is a personal view) to sustain the experience of investing emotionally in the story. Hope turning to disappointment is fine. It’s when the hope goes, that’s the problem.

Defeat takes many forms. In both 2010 and 2011, Arsenal lost over two legs to Barcelona in the Champions League. Yet these were rich and rewarding sporting experiences. In the two London fixtures of those ties, Arsenal drew 2-2 and won 2-1 against the most dazzling team in the world. Those nights reinvigorated my pride in sport. The Emirates Stadium had the best show in town. Defeat, when it arrived in Barcelona, was softened by gratitude. We’d been entertained, more than entertained.

Arsenal’s 5-1 surrender to Bayern Munich on 15 February was very different. In this capitulation by instalments, the fascination was macabre rather than dramatic. Having long given up on discerning signs of life, we began the post-mortem mid-match. As we pored over the entrails, the curiosity lay in the extent of the malady that had brought down the body. The same question, over and over: how could such an intelligent, deep-thinking manager preside over a hollowed-out team? How could failings so obvious to outsiders, the absence of steel and resilience, evade the judgement of the boss?

There is a saying in rugby union that forwards (the hard men) determine who wins, and the backs (the glamour boys) decide by how much. Here is a footballing equivalent: midfielders define matches, attacking players adorn them and defenders get the blame. Yet Arsenal’s players as good as vacated the midfield. It is hard to judge how well Bayern’s playmakers performed because they were operating in a vacuum; it looked like a morale-boosting training-ground drill, free from the annoying presence of opponents.

I have always been suspicious of the ­default English critique which posits that mentally fragile teams can be turned around by licensed on-field violence – a good kicking, basically. Sporting “character” takes many forms; physical assertiveness is only one dimension.

Still, it remains baffling, Wenger’s blind spot. He indulges artistry, especially the mercurial Mesut Özil, beyond the point where it serves the player. Yet he won’t protect the magicians by surrounding them with effective but down-to-earth talents. It has become a diet of collapsing soufflés.

What held back Wenger from buying the linchpin midfielder he has lacked for many years? Money is only part of the explanation. All added up, Arsenal do spend: their collective wage bill is the fourth-highest in the League. But Wenger has always been reluctant to lavish cash on a single star player, let alone a steely one. Rather two nice players than one great one.

The power of habit has become debilitating. Like a wealthy but conservative shopper who keeps going back to the same clothes shop, Wenger habituates the same strata of the transfer market. When he can’t get what he needs, he’s happy to come back home with something he’s already got, ­usually an elegant midfielder, tidy passer, gets bounced in big games, prone to going missing. Another button-down blue shirt for a drawer that is well stuffed.

It is almost universally accepted that, as a business, Arsenal are England’s leading club. Where their rivals rely on bailouts from oligarchs or highly leveraged debt, Arsenal took tough choices early and now appear financially secure – helped by their manager’s ability to engineer qualification for the Champions League every season while avoiding excessive transfer costs. Does that count for anything?

After the financial crisis, I had a revealing conversation with the owner of a private bank that had sailed through the turmoil. Being cautious and Swiss, he explained, he had always kept more capital reserves than the norm. As a result, the bank had made less money in boom years. “If I’d been a normal chief executive, I’d have been fired by the board,” he said. Instead, when the economic winds turned, he was much better placed than more bullish rivals. As a competitive strategy, his winning hand was only laid bare by the arrival of harder times.

In football, however, the crash never came. We all wrote that football’s insane spending couldn’t go on but the pace has only quickened. Even the Premier League’s bosses confessed to being surprised by the last extravagant round of television deals – the cash that eventually flows into the hands of managers and then the pockets of players and their agents.

By refusing to splash out on the players he needed, whatever the cost, Wenger was hedged for a downturn that never arrived.

What an irony it would be if football’s bust comes after he has departed. Imagine the scenario. The oligarchs move on, finding fresh ways of achieving fame, respectability and the protection achieved by entering the English establishment. The clubs loaded with debt are forced to cut their spending. Arsenal, benefiting from their solid business model, sail into an outright lead, mopping up star talent and trophies all round.

It’s often said that Wenger – early to invest in data analytics and worldwide scouts; a pioneer of player fitness and lifestyle – was overtaken by imitators. There is a second dimension to the question of time and circumstance. He helped to create and build Arsenal’s off-field robustness, even though football’s crazy economics haven’t yet proved its underlying value.

If the wind turns, Arsène Wenger may face a frustrating legacy: yesterday’s man and yet twice ahead of his time. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit