14 February 2012

What's My Worth?

I wrote this post for the Bettyverse, and it is published there today. I printed it here as well, because today is Valentine's Day and I think it's worth examining how we love and value ourselves. Plus it saved me from having to write something else.

I got a job. One that pays me money. Two weeks ago I started watching Four's friend, Ethan, in the afternoon. He and Four go to school together, and they ride the same van home. His mom was looking for someone reliable to watch him for a few hours, so I applied for the job. As in, "Well, I'm here anyway, so why doesn't he just stay with us?" I really know how to talk up my skill set, don't I?

So far, it seems to be working. When the boys get home, they come to the kitchen for a snack and homework. Ethan is not my child, so he listens to me. His behavior has a beneficial trickle-down effect on Four (unlike Reaganomics), who protests but works anyway. Somehow, despite the chatty distractedness, the homework gets done and we go get Five at his bus stop. Then they all play together, often with no video game involvement whatsoever! Wonders never cease.

Today, the Captain cheerfully reminded me it is my payday. My salary is modest, because my work hours are few. But when I converted my wages to a monthly paycheck, I realized I can now pay my van loan, as well as put gas in the tank! I felt like Thomas the Tank Engine: very useful, indeed.

My reaction got me thinking about how I value myself. Oh sure, intellectually I know that being a stay-at-home mom is one of the most demanding and labor intensive jobs on the market. It requires the stamina of a spawning salmon, coupled with the nerves and speed of a gunslinger. One has to really want to do it, with no fear of the potential body count.

So why do I hesitate when people ask what I do?

This isn't a post about feminism, but it bears mentioning that our society today expects women to have careers. This is an awesome paradigm shift from only one generation ago, when no one would have looked sideways at my mother for being a "housewife." Three and I were in the doctor’s office, and I was reading the opening paragraph of an article in New York Magazine about the genesis of Ms. Magazine:

In the years leading up to the birth of Ms., women had trouble getting a credit card without a man’s signature, had few legal rights when it came to divorce or reproduction, and were expected to aspire solely to marriage and motherhood. Job listings were segregated (“Help wanted, male”). There was no Title IX (banning sex discrimination in federally funded athletic programs); no battered-women’s shelters, rape-crisis centers, and no terms such as sexual harassment and domestic violence.

I shared it with him, because he has never known that world. So, maybe this discussion is about feminism. Or at least equal rights. I believe feminism allows for women to make their own life choices, but sometimes I don’t think I’m modeling equal opportunity in my home. If my sons see me solely as a homemaker, will that be how they define the role of women? Probably not, because they see so many other women in their lives“working.”

Or, maybe this is about self-image. I’m smart. I have a college degree. And some days I think I’ve wasted it. Mind you, I don’t think I’m bad at my mother job; I just think I should have put my brain to use out in the world. Which is why writing makes me happy. Well, not always, because writing is hard, but in a way that challenges me, without the back talk of motherhood. Of course, when I tell people I’m a writer I feel like an impostor because I’m not published. Jesus, I’m tired.

Last week the Captain told me he'd read that a stay-at-home mom is worth $96,000 a year. This morning I went on Salary.com and punched in the particulars of my job description (not many hours as a chef, but lots as a psychologist!) and was pleased to discover that my yearly wages would amount to $133,389.

It made me feel better. Even though I know it shouldn't matter.

How do you value yourself?


  1. I, too, think feminism is about the choice. What make me sad are people who seem to need the choices of others to validate their own. I don't believe the fact that two people make different choices de-values either choice. I don't believe our value is in the job title, but in how you do your job--the effort, the commitment, the passion.

    I think that Corrie ten Boom and Teddy Roosevelt, respectively, said it best.
    "The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration, but its donation."
    "Do what you can with what you have where you are."

    1. I wonder if the next generation will still be having this discussion twenty years from now. I hope not. Heck, I'm frustrated every time I go through one of these doubting phases! But I suppose evaluation is part of evolution, and I do hope to change and grow all my life.

      I love the quotes.

  2. I am on the same page with you, Megan. I think the problem comes when people don't recognize full-time motherhood as the 'job' it really is. And I think it's fantastic that you do and you honor it by doing it full-time and doing it well.
    (Of course, that is not meant to cast stones at people who aren't able to, or don't, make the same choice.)
    Now you have a second job that doesn't interfere with the first and adds to the family coffers. Bonus!

    1. Yes; I think the devaluation is both cultural and personal. It's hard to see the forest for the trees when you are a mother, to get bogged down in the minutia and fail to recognize the impact your efforts will make on the world.

      But you know, money is good, too.

  3. Ooooh one of my fave topics since zee extended leave of maternalness.

    Being a stay at home mom to ONE child (much less five, much less five plus an extra every afternoon!) is way more physically and intellectually demanding than teaching school full time, partly because the intensity with which it MATTERS to me in such an elemental fiercew ay. There is not enough money on earth to pay for what you do and what you give those boys of yourself.

    It is THE most important job on the planet. And I believe that the goal of feminism is to pave the way for women to choose the path they find most meaningful and essential to their purpose and that includes the freedom to stay at home and raise a family and to garner as much respect for that as for a woman who chooses to become a chemical engineer.


    1. Booyah!

      I've nothing more eloquent to add.

  4. Anonymous14.2.12

    I am a working mother. If it were not for people like you, who stay at home,and looked after my children, I couldn't have gone to work. I couldn' have afforded organized daycare, to say nothing of the fact that organized daycare didn't stay open for those of us who work shift.

    You are doing a marvelous, very important job. You are dealing with and raising five (OMG!!!) sons and doing a great job. Keep up the good work and never sell yourself short.

    1. I have thought about the difficulty for shift workers. At one point I considered working a "real" job, but the only hours I had to spare were overnight. The Captain overruled me, because it meant we would never see eachother. Mind you, we barely have a moment to speak without someone interrupting, but it was more than we were willing to sacrifice. I considered watching a nurse friend's child, but her shifts were flexible, and my life was not.

      Thanks for the pep talk--I'm sending the same back at you!

  5. Sometimes I think it would be nice to earn a paycheck just because we could use it. Most of the time, though, I'm happy I get to stay home with my kids. I don't think I'd have been happy with my life otherwise. However, it can turn one's brains to tapioca, so I'm with you on the writing=brain exercise aspect of it, too. As for money, well, I determined long ago that I was earning my keep.

    Still, the paycheck would be nice.

    1. I have life insurance so the Captain can buy a bride if I die. We determined long ago that he can't afford to pay someone for all that I do.

      As for future earnings, I like the way "Bestselling Author" sounds for both of us!

  6. My Stay-At-Home time was before the interwebz (yes, I am more ancient than the mountains) and yet I wrote too (and read, and ran fundraisers, and spent gobs of time at the schools). I was busy (NEVER with housework though, never) and challenged and satisfied,
    and hell, I'm STILL home.

    I think part of our worth is also what we've been talking about at my place too, authenticity. We are who we are because we are honest about what is important to us, what we find of value.

    In my own case, because I can only speak for me, it was most important that *I* be the one to spend those hours with my children. And like the Captain, Dan could, not no way - not no how, pay someone to do what I did.

  7. Anonymous16.2.12

    This is a great topic, Megan. And relevant for most people, although the issues are at the extreme for parents working at home. We are all conditioned from our first reports cards in kindergarten to look for confirmation of our worth and success. Grades become paychecks, then raises, bonuses, performance reviews, promotions, perks, awards, etc. As long as those things come on a regular basis - we can tell ourselves we have value to society.

    It takes a good deal of intellect and emotional maturity to make those types of assessments for ourselves and live our lives by our own metrics. Which is why you are not just impressive for being incredibly good at this parenting gig and at your writing, but also for having the self-awareness to recognize that fact.

    Nice post!


  8. The main thing I guess is that I don't value myself (or others) based on a job, or role. That way how I feel about myself won't fluctuate because of things I don't have control over.

    ...Which isn't to say I wouldn't also feel better having a nice dollar value put on my Job as a Mother (if I was one... mother of humans that is.) :-)


Thanks for reading! Unlike other Diaries, this one isn't private. Feel free to share your thoughts. Politely, of course.