Despite being a stay-at-home mom, I tend to roll my eyes whenever I see an article purporting to show how much a stay-at-home mom is “really worth.” The posts detail the various duties a mom takes on, highlighting how much we should value them.
Take this one from Salary.com:
Daycare Teacher, 13.7 hours per week: $9,213 Chief Executive Officer, 3.2 hours per week: $9,163 Psychologist, 7.6 hours per week: $14,573 Cook, 13.9 hours per week: $9,487 Housekeeper, 14.8 hours per week: $7,511 Laundry Operator, 6.3 hours per week: $3,229 Computer Operator, 8.9 hours per week: $7,142 Facilities Manager, 10.7 hours per week: $17,735 Janitor, 7.7 hours per week: $3,908 Van Driver, 7.9 hours per week: $5,688
All told, in one year, the average stay-at-home mom is worth $112,962.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate these generous appraisals of my work – I certainly find it sweet that someone takes the time to detail all the different types of work mothers do. But, despite the gross underestimate in the amount of childcare provided (13.7 hours a week? Shouldn’t that be closer to 40?), I feel that these appraisals tend to overestimate my contributions in other areas.
Psychologist? I do spend several hours per week providing my children with emotional support, but I know I'm not trained in any capacity to evaluate their mental health.
Personal chef? With every other meal being reheated leftovers or frozen dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets, I’m pretty sure my culinary skills would not merit the salary of a personal chef.
CEO? I have no doubt that I am one, but I'm also fairly certain I would have been forced out by the board for a consistent lack of organizational skills by this point.
Luckily, that’s not how parenthood works.
After my second son was born, I decided to stay at home. Daycare for an infant and a toddler would eat up the vast majority of my salary and the small paycheck didn’t seem worth it. I didn’t want to spend my evenings frantically rushing around, and my weekends playing catch up. It was the right move for us, but definitely an adjustment.
After the first year of staying at home (Bookkeeper, 1 hour per week, $736), I sat down to do our taxes and found it unsettling to enter $0 in the box beside my name. I hadn’t earned a single penny over the past year.
My husband never made me feel that the money in our bank account was only his, or that I required his permission to spend it. But, nevertheless, no longer earning a salary made me question my contribution to the family. Hallmark cards and viral blog posts reassuring me that my role as a mother was priceless felt like little more than condescending pats on the back.
When it was time for us to take out life insurance, my opinion shifted slightly.
After the kids had gone to bed, we spread the piles of paper out on the table (administrative assistant, 2 hours per week, $1,406). I joked to my husband that it would look pretty suspicious if he took out a million dollar insurance policy on me and I got hit by a bus the next day (comedian, 3 hours per week, offered an undisclosed amount to stop cracking bad jokes).
After rolling his eyes, my husband mentioned that we probably should look into an insurance policy for me. I protested, pointing out that I wasn’t earning anything, and paying for a policy at this point would be a waste of money.
But then I took a minute to really consider it. What would happen, God forbid, if I did get hit by a bus the next day? Life would churn on, and my husband would need to put the kids in daycare so that he could return to work. He'd probably have to hire a housekeeper and, while I don’t think there are any personal chefs for hire in our small town, he would doubtlessly spend more money on take-out. For those nights that he worked late, and weekends when last-minute projects came up, he'd need a sitter. He'd probably have to hire someone to help with the yard work, too.
The scenario was certainly morbid to consider, but it helped me realize that, despite not earning anything, I was making a concrete financial contribution to the family. Regardless, I still hated reporting zero income income on my taxes.
This year, my former boss called me up to ask if I could work on a project for them for a few hours a week. I immediately agreed. The paycheck was small, but it made me feel as though I was contributing. The difference was only psychological. My unpaid offerings to the family were still far more valuable than the few extra dollars I was earning each week.
It shouldn’t take putting a dollar amount on the work parents do to make it feel valuable. But that’s the way society operates, with its tendency to put more value on paid employment than unpaid contributions like childcare or volunteering. And glib analyses of how much I should be earning as a stay-at-home mom don't help me feel as though I've contributed as much as actually earning a paycheck.
But I wish it wasn’t so. We should recognize and honor all the unpaid work parents provide, without having to couch it in terms of paid employment. And it shouldn’t take a paycheck to make me feel like a provider for our family.
I don’t need to call myself a CEO, Daycare Teacher, Financial Manager, or Chef. Being a mom is work enough.