Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Mother's Worth

Over at, an article about a Stay-at-Home-Mom's pay receives scorn from Fox News commentator and editor at Wendy McElroy. She fumes:

But the main offense is that doesn't 'get it.' Women who stay home are lucky enough to be able to choose personal benefits over economic ones; stay at home mothers have refused to value their time in dollar signs. When refers to sitting up with a sick child as 'over time', it commercializes and cheapens that act of love for both stay at home and working moms.

It is similar to placing a dollar value on intimate marital relations because, after all, those 'services' are available elsewhere for a fee.

When you define the value of family meals in terms of cold cash, then you've lost the importance of what's really going on. When you convert acts of love into acts for profit, you've lost at life itself.

Well, Wendy, I agree with a point. It is impossible to quantify a mother who loves her child, who is in tune with that child's needs, who puts that child's desires above making money.

But there are mothers who would like to quantify their duties for a couple reasons:
  1. They used to work outside the home and like to feel that they "contribute" to the home in more than intangibles.
  2. Their spouse comes home and asks (or, the smarter among them looks around skeptically but keeps his yapper shut), "What have you been doing all day?" They would like to receive renumeration for the thankless task.
  3. They don't have a boss breathing down their neck (well, that's if you don't count the six month old throwing up down your neck or the three year old staring at you expectantly for a book to read), but they also don't have any positive reinforcement, or pay raises, or kudos, or attaboys--I mean girls, either.
  4. It can feel like a long, hard fall from wearing power suits to wearing shorts and T-shirts with juice stains.
  5. The work never ends. It is 11 p.m. It's 3 a.m. It's teething time. Tough nuts, Mom! Get your sorry butt outta bed NOW!
For goal-oriented, task-finishing, ladies, staying at home can be soul-satisfying and mind-bending at the same time. There was a time when women never worked outside the home and would sympathize with their poor, over-worked, mopey husband about his arduous day. Now, stay-at-home moms KNOW that their husband at least got to eat lunch with people who have conversations about something other than Barney. And, on his most suck-bag day, he at least got monitary renumeration for his efforts. A mom's worst day is usually followed by a worst night, too.

Of course, it is impossible to quantify motherhood. Good mothers, like any other professionals, are priceless. Bad ones, well, they cause more problems long-term than just about any doofus in the workplace.

But let's assume, for a moment, to try to quantify an average mom's "contribution".

I'm average. I'm a mom. I work part-time around my kid's schedule. If, instead of staying home, my choice was to work full-time as a Doctor....hmmmm. That's a big chunk of salary lost.

Nevermind that for a moment. At home, to have my son Nanny'd per week would be at least $300. That's $1200/month. Minimum. I could put him in Daycare for around $150/week, but that's not really apples to apples because right now he gets one-on-one, 24/7, around the clock care.

Now, for apples to apples comparison, I'd have to hire someone with a commisurate education. That would be a Doctorate level with at least 145 I.Q. (I won't tell you my I.Q.--145 is the average I.Q. of holders of a Master's Degree in Business.) I'm guessing that a really smart childcare worker charges a lot more. What do you think? I know that play therapists charge anywhere from $60 to $100/hour and that's going to their facility--not coming to your home.

And then there is the whole clean up thing. I'm forever picking up dishes, loading the dishwasher, and rinsing stuff. The dishwasher is loaded and unloaded at least once a day. My husband helps with unloading sometimes, so I'd have to subtract that effort a couple times/week.

Don't even get me started on laundry. The third kid put us over the edge. I used to have a "laundry day". Ha! Laundry goes non-stop now. Wash-dry-fold. Wait, pick up-wash-dry-fold-put away. It's insane. Those little goobers go through clothes like crazy! There is the wet beds every once in a while, too.

Add to this general pick up and throw away duties. You know when I'm totally tapped out here because there is detrious everywhere in the house. The kids teachers kill more trees sending home paperwork and that paperwork ends up here and there and everywhere. Oy vey. And shoes! Here a shoe, there a shoe, everywhere a shoe! Shoe!

How do you value that? I spend at least two hours a day putting shit away. The days I don't, man the next day is just killer.

This, of course, doesn't include actually cleaning the house, stripping the beds, doing the floors. To have someone come in once/week is about $90. A daily person would charge significantly more. A friend who has seven kids has a live-in who does laundry, pick up and clean up--no cooking, no childcare. She gets like $400/week.

Add cooking. I'm a good cook. I just don't cook. This causes consternation on the part of my husband. The reasons are multifold: 1) I'm lazy 2) He's never home for dinner 3)Kid food is not adult food and since the DH isn't home, I don't like cooking something just for me. I know. I know. I should be a tougher broad and cook and make my kids choke it down like my mother did to me. I should, but I don't. So they get Tuna and Mac and Cheese and Cheese and Yogurt and Fruit and Carrots (all organic except the tuna) and Fast Food (Tuesdays and Thursdays when we get home at nearly 7 p.m. from activities). So I shouldn't get paid so much for cooking.

Grocery shopping--that I do. How much would a personal shopper cost? A lot.

Driver. A personal driver would be divine. A couple days per week I spend three, almost four, hours driving hither and thither taking the kids to their activities. CEO's and other top executives get drivers. Why not children? Oh right, they already do.

Nursing a child. For organic formula (which is what I would buy if I wasn't nursing) the cost would be upward of $200/month just to feed the kid. For the first eight months, I exclusively breast feed (one year for the first one). That's a couple thousand dollars, right there. Then, I nurse the kids until between 18 and 24 months. That keeps me landlocked. Nursing takes between two and six hours/day (six at the beginning and dwindling down). Only I can do it. Actually renting a wetnurse is just not a viable thing in America anymore--at least not that I'm aware of anyway.

Okay, now here we enter some intangible territory. My husband, also a doctor, owns a business. He comes home and we discuss difficult cases. (Consultation fee right there.) I hire and fire for the office. Purchasing (most of it), marketing (most of it), procedures (most of it), etc. are taken care of by me. When bad things happen, I go to the office and try to fix it. Office meetings sometimes, not always, include me. I'm not paid for this contribution. It could, very easily, be valued.

Conversely, my husband does things at home that his dad or other dad's of that generation rarely did: he helps get the kids dressed in the morning and makes their lunches. He helps them with their breakfast. He does not clean up. (Just thought I'd mention that as an aside.) Since he is home after bedtime three school nights/week, the morning interaction helps connect them.

He helps with laundry. He takes out the trash (about 95% of the time). He unloads the dishwasher. He helps put the kids to bed. He helps give baths at least once a week. He watches the kids one afternoon a week so I can see clients.

Bottom line, I'm not a mother in the purely June Cleaver sense. And my husband isn't a father in the purely Ward Cleaver sense.

More intangibles: A driver wouldn't stay and watch the kids activities, encouraging them. Someone else doing the cooking and cleaning is another presence in our lives--someone not a mom. In some families, that can be a benefit because the mom "ain't the motherin' type" as Ms. St. Germain says in the musical Annie.

I'll concede that there are areas where someone else would be way better than me and deserves more pay. I don't iron. Period. There are housekeepers who put me to shame. Not enough German in my blood--too much aristocratic Scot. I'm descended from Royal lineage and find servants appealing. The American in me doesn't cotton to the personal space invasion, though. I hate double binds.

Add it all up, I venture my yearly wage should be north of $100,000. Closer to Three Million some days... Perhaps, I exaggerate my worth just a little bit.

Okay. Wendy's right. You can't quantify motherhood. You just can't. A mother is worth more than money. Love isn't a commodity. Time--the moments captured in memory--transcends finances. You can earn money back. Time is gone and only memories remain. What is a memory worth? What is that child's memories worth?

I think there is a desire to quantify motherhood because women and men want, subconsciously, to minimize a mothers contribution. With so many women in the workforce, away from their babies and children, acknowledging that motherhood is pricess and matters and matters more than money and prestige can suck some of the joy out of the Day Job. Not that motherhood and career are mutually exclusive. They aren't. But there are trade-offs. The least important one, in my opinion, is compensation.


vj said...

Well Melissa, it's been a while since you've made me really laugh. Today you did! Oh boy, how I relate to some of these things. Only you can describe it so colorful. And so right, how in the world could you put a price tag on a "Mother". (I'm worth more then three million! :)

Wishing you a very Happy Mothers Day!

Christy're said...

I always got the impression that they quantified the value of a house-mom's work because of the overtime involved...husbands often sitting around while their wives, who have already worked a full day, continue to do chores. My parents were like that (except my dad always, always brought work home to do while Mom did housework). I think a lot of women feel the amount of overtime without appreciation that is expected is ridiculous. I'm not a stay at home anything but when I take the time to do extra chores on my day off, and then my husband does said chore once in awhile, I get really frustrated when he's completely flippant about it. "Sure, I'll do the dishes tonight-tomorrow morning-tomorrow night" becomes a way of his saying, "I'll wait until you do them, but I want to make sure you know that I meant to do it and you're the nag for not letting me do it on my schedule." My husband is a devoted husband who generally does his half of the housework but every so often he reverts back to traditional malespeak and it drives me batty. It's like he and his flippant attitude don't even SEE how much work I've put into keeping the house nice. So I like to imagine whoever did this study did it to prove women really DO work insane hours when they are housewives or homemakers.

vj said...

Chrity're, glad your posted on this. I was not going to mention how it works at my house but here it goes. My husband works insane long hours. Not always, all year long but during very busy times he works long hours. Even when he is home by 7:00pm or a little sooner, he seems totally, mentally exhausted. So, I've just never expected very much from him. One of my closest girlfriends has told me that I've spoiled him way too much. I iron all his shirts and she thinks I've lost my mind. I put the kids to bed every night, bath them, read to them, etc... Except for the yard, I pretty much do everything else. It does piss me off sometimes when he does'nt even notice what all I do. By the way, I also teach 4 days a week. For me it's been difficult finding a balance of what to expect. He makes way more money then I do and does work long hours. I work two jobs...teaching, and being a Mommy and everything that goes with making a home. I generally don't stop working till about 10:00pm doing laundry, dishes, etc, etc. So, I too get very tired. Since I did not have a mother as a role model, I go by what I observe. I am not comfortable with either extreems..."bless God, I'm not his mate", or "being 100% devoted and loose myself in the process". So, I'm still searching for the right balance for me.

Web2earn said...


I tried to put together a list of some of the most profitable WAHBs you can try as a work at home parent. You can see the list of work at home business ideas on my website, It’s still an open list, so if you have any new ideas or suggestions, I’d be more than happy to hear them.

I also plan to review each business opportunity in greater detail, when my time permits it, and turn my website in a prime location for WAHB information.

Warm regards,


Melanie said...

Hey Dr. Melissa! I found you by accident looking for chiropractors in The Woodlands. Small world! I read a similar article a few years ago. It rated what I was "worth" in my area. It was $125K. And let me tell you, I am worth far more than that, like you. $3M sounds about right! ;)

I'm adding you to my blogroll!


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