The Value of the Stay-at-Home Workforce

Cartoon © Phillip Martin

My lifelong career has been a “Stay-at-Home Mom”. This came about for two reasons. The first was that I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. The second was that my spousal unit and I decided that one of us would be home for the children. He had a better idea of what he was going to be, and what the potential was for his earning power. So he got to be the “Go-to-Work Dad”.

Staying at home would have been an easier choice if I had been living in my moms generation. But my generation was convinced that the road to liberation didn’t stop in a bungalow in suburbia. My generation wanted to be in the workforce. Many of them weren’t all that complimentary to the few of us who stayed “behind”. I was often asked by women what my career was. When I told them, their response was usually, “Oh, you don’t work.”

If I didn’t work, then what was I doing all day? Caring, cooking, cleaning, driving, advising, managing… well the list goes on and on. If I had been doing this work for someone else, I would have had  a job and I would have been paid. But because I worked for my family, I didn’t work.

If I wasn’t working, was I playing? By definition, work is a trade, profession, or other means of livelihood. Play is an activity that exists only for its own sake. It is absorbing, voluntary, and pleasurable. It does not have goals or compulsions. No, I wasn’t playing all day long. Perhaps what I was doing was a Hobby. A Hobby is an activity done in spare time for pleasure and relaxation. A hobby can have goals and compulsions. No, I wasn’t doing hobbies all the time either. In reality, it was a combination of all three things, done in small blocks of time, in no predictable order. I didn’t always realize how lucky I was to have had the opportunity to have such a flexible definition of what was work, play and hobby.

My husbands career was a mobile one. We have moved 15 times and lived in 4 countries. I unpacked our belongings all 15 times. Some people hire someone to unpack their stuff, and someone else to put it where it looks best. When I unpacked, it was like a big game of hide and seek. Then it became an interesting exercise to put things where they would work to the best of their abilities in a house that was nothing like the one it had been bought for.  Turning a house into a home… and then a patch of dirt into my yard – it was hard work, but not always work, if you know what I mean.

Apparently someone keeps track of what a stay-at-home mom would earn for her work, if she got paid for it. MSN reports that Salary.com calculated that in 2007, mom would have earned $138,095 for doing the typical tasks that a mom might do in a day:  housekeeper, day care center teacher, cook, computer operator, laundry machine operator, janitor, facilities manager, van driver, CEO and psychologist. (Feel free to substitute stay-at-home dad here, because more and more men are taking on this role.)

I’m glad no one has figured out a way to actually pay stay-at-home moms what they are worth.  The federal government would just figure out a way to tax it…

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2 comments

  1. My mom was stay at home for the first few years of my life and I really appreciated her doing it. However, not all stay at home moms are hard working. I’ve seen some who just ensure that the child has not died and spend the rest of their time trying to stay busy. It’s an important job and requires work but not every mother goes beyond the “stay at home part.” Actually, I wouldn’t call it a job since there is no pay and it doesn’t ever really stop. It’s more like a becoming a monk since it’s all encompassing.

    Anyway, I think we can agree that family is invaluable and whoever stays with the children has probably done them a big developmental favor and, if they are up to it, is about to face one difficult challenge after another.

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    • Being a mom never stops, but the job of raising the kids tapers off considerably when they move out. Which is a tough transition for everone after eighteen years or so being a parent. And then what? What are you when you are still at home, but the kids aren’t?

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