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We’re Not Stay-at-Home Moms. We’re Home-Based Working Mothers.

Birth2Work Co-Founder, mother, grandmother
Over a video call the other day, my youngest daughter interviewed me and asked about my life and experiences as a young mother. One of the questions on her list was, “What was it like to be a stay-at-home mom when you were raising us?”

I recalled that when I was raising my two daughters in the 1980’s and 1990’s, I was labeled as a stay-at-home mom. I visibly bristled when someone would ask, “Gee, what do you do all day? I would get so bored just staying home.” And it didn’t happen just happen once or twice. The belief that women who didn’t go to an office every day were somehow inherently lazy and lacked ambition was, and still is, patently wrong. We should be called home-based working mothers.

The Economic Value of Motherhood

I remember being particularly irritated one day from what I considered to be an unfair label. I made a quick mental list of what most people thought stay-at-home moms did all day … watch TV, chauffeur the kids to and from activities, babysit, play nurse, cook, and act as a maid. With the exception of the TV watching, I added up what one person doing all of those careers should be earning. Adjusted for inflation and using the soon to be minimum wage of $15/hour, that would be about $130,000 per year!

There have been many studies about what being a stay-at-home mom is worth. They include a much wider array of skill sets and responsibilities from academic advisor, psychologist, tailor, work/life program manager etc … with salary estimates at over $160,000 per year.

It would have been miraculous to be paid that kind of money for my role. I never expected the actual check. But I did expect a higher level of respect from the community at-large. While there has been some change, I’m still generally waiting for that mindset shift for myself, my daughters, and for my grandchildren should either of them decide to be home-based working parents.

While I didn’t make that kind of money as a home-based working mom, the facts were that between my husband’s work (several jobs simultaneously at some points) and my ingenuity, we managed to stay financially stable and even able to provide an incredible range of experiences for our daughters.

We also remained the primary influencers on our daughters, an important family value we still share with our children.

Alternatives to Cash

As a mother I did everything from bartering my time in order for my daughters to attend programs, to running a number of home-based businesses. One of my most valuable secret approaches, that even today my daughters don’t fully comprehend, was to be engaged in both the schools my daughters attended and the community in which we lived.

The relationships I built created endless opportunities to be with my daughters, earning opportunities to support the family, and as they grew order, opened the door for work for me while they were in school.

Both of my daughters attended college, ending up with little or no debt. No question, they worked hard while in college, but economic decisions that were made between my husband and me early on had a huge impact on funding their future. My home-based working decision had a profound impact on who they became as women.

In all of my time “not earning a paycheck,” I made connections in our community, learned about scholarships, hosted learning co-ops with other knowledgeable parents, and became a docent so we could attend a number of museums for free. My focus was to set our girls up with the information, experiences, and knowledge they would need to take advantage of opportunities at the drop of a hat.

I firmly believe that my work in that realm was as valuable as any paycheck I could have brought home from an office. That paycheck being the marker that so much of the rest of society still thinks is the measure of a person’s worth.

I worked extremely hard side-by-side with my husband to give our children as many experiences as we could think of with as much thoughtful engagement as we knew to give. I would gladly argue with anyone who calls that lazy or unambitious.

Pandemic Perspective

Anyone who has dealt with children during the the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders knows that being at home with children, of any age, is not easy. At times it is immensely difficult work that doesn’t stop at 5 or 6 PM each day with weekends off. It is a 24/7 job. It is as emotionally and mentally taxing as any position out there with enormous societal consequences for failure.

What drove me then, and drives me today, is how much I value my role as a mom. I, like so many other mothers have done, took my mothering career seriously. My daughters do as well because I was their model. The on-going bonus has been the wide network of personal and professional relationships that are still strong today because of the work and exchanges we did together so many years ago.

No matter the career-title, the role of a mother is an important one. We may now have online calculators to measure it’s economic impact, but women everywhere have always known that it’s true value to the future of humanity and the sanctity of the home is truly priceless. If semantics will help change the hearts and minds of society then I’m all for it.

May this Mother’s Day open new thoughts and opportunities for you to be that priceless mother to your children while supporting the family economically.

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