Each year around Mother’s Day, Salary.com releases what a stay at home mom would be paid if she carried out in corporate America all the tasks she is responsible for at home. Those tasks include, but are certainly not limited to, cook, baker, dishwasher, maid, laundress, seamstress, nurse, teacher, chauffeur, administrative professional, bookkeeper, plumber, repair person, gardener, buyer, interior designer…the list could go on. This year, that salary was calculated to be $118,905. This is an average. Some moms would earn more, maybe because they have many children or they homeschool full time, and some would earn less. Still, that’s a lot of money! Of course, while it may be nice to be validated that what you do is actually hard work and a dollar value makes it seem more real, the truth of the matter is, no bank account is ever increased because a mom stays home to raise and care for children and a home.
In the early years of our marriage, I worked outside the home. I worked full time for my dad at his gas station, I worked full time at a maternity store in a shopping mall, and I taught elementary school. (Which I only did because my mom graciously watched my firstborn for very little money) Upon discovering that I was pregnant with our second child, I knew my teaching days would be numbered. I didn’t want to give the majority of my time and energy to someone else’s children only to give my own children what was leftover at the end of the day. I loved teaching but felt that my call as a mom was more important. Financially, this was a very bad decision. My husband had a job that barely paid the bills. Okay. His job didn’t pay the bills, which is why a month before the birth of our daughter, we had to move in with my parents. We struggled financially our entire marriage. The job my husband does now did not exist back when he graduated from college. As a side note to that, he tells me what the new college hires make at his employer and I find myself very jealous. If he could have come out of college and made what those he is responsible for hiring today make, we would be in a MUCH better place than we are. But that didn’t happen.
As a stay at home mom, my days were long. I would find that I would just finish getting the kitchen cleaned up from breakfast and lunchtime was knocking to dirty it again. I would wash clothes nearly every day of the year. I distinctly remember one Christmas Eve evening muttering to myself that I must be the only mom who had to do laundry that night. The years came and went and our bank account never had a deposit put into it because of the work I did. As our children grew, so did the expenses that came along with having children. The expense of diapers and baby food gave way to the expense of sports and music lessons. For many years of our marriage we only had one vehicle. We couldn’t afford two and it was decided that I didn’t really need one anyway without a job to have to go to. But as the kids grew, the need for a vehicle was made apparent. That meant I would have to work. I got a job scoring standardized tests from states throughout the nation. While this enabled us to have a second vehicle, it did nothing for my workload but add to it. I was still responsible for all aspects of the home. Dinner did not make itself while I was at work all day. The dish fairy did not appear after dinner so I could relax some. Looking back, I marvel that I didn’t just drop over in exhaustion on more than one occasion!
Today, my life looks very different. My children are grown and have moved out of the nest. My husband’s field has exploded which, on one hand, has allowed us to have things we never had the opportunity to own before–new vehicles and furniture–and do things we never could before–weekend getaways to the beach for example. I have time on my hands that I dreamed about and longed for twenty years ago. But I can’t help but look at the salary for a stay at home mom and know that I am not worth that much anymore. There was a time that my time was important. If I didn’t cook dinner then there would be hungry kids in our house. If I didn’t drive them to soccer, their team would be a player short. If I didn’t do laundry, they would have nothing clean to wear. Now, none of those things are true. I have no kids to cook for, no one to drive to a soccer game, and while I still have some laundry to do, it doesn’t take me every day of the week anymore to get it done. In fact, even in our small, apartment size washer and dryer, I can all the laundry done in an afternoon. My husband says he still needs me, yet I know my worth isn’t nearly as high as it once was when there were five people who needed me. Throw in some health issues that limit some of what I can do, and I feel like maybe my worth is in the negative range–in other words, I cost more to keep around than I contribute.
Recently, I have really struggled with why I am here. My husband says he needs me, and I suppose in some ways he does, just as I need him. He needs me emotionally just as I need him that way, but I also need him in very tangible ways that he does not need me. He is the income provider and the health insurance subscriber. I am the person who sucks the income up paying healthcare bills for my illnesses. The deposits in the bank account come from a paycheck written to him; there are no deposits attributed to the working of my hands. When I had kids at home, even when I wasn’t working outside the home, I felt like I at least contributed to the household. That is just not the case anymore. Salary.com calculates the worth of a stay at home mom. No one calculates the worth of a stay at home-former-mom-whose-kids-have-all-grown-and-moved-out.
Is there worth to be calculated for me?
I’m not sure.