First published on CBC Radio, Information Morning, June 2, 2008-09-23
So, someone has calculated that being a stay-at-home parent is worth roughly $160,000 dollars per year? Well, that’s great! After 13 years at home raising my three children, I guess somebody owes me just over two million dollars. Who is it? My husband? He doesn’t have it. Trust me, I know. The government…? I’m sure the taxpayers can’t wait to cough that up.
This trend of affixing dollar values to homemaking actually makes me feel a little patronised, as if somebody is patting me on the head. Staying at home involves looking after the chores that exist whether you work outside the home or not! More than a decade ago, I traded a salary and office clothes for baking bread and building castles out of wood blocks with preschoolers, but life just seemed to hum along more smoothly that way, for everybody involved.
How can you put a price on the luxury of your mom or dad sending you off to school in the morning with your lunch and a peck on the forehead and still being there to greet you when you get home with a plate of cookies? My mom did it for me, and you can’t buy memories like that…or comfort…or the sense of security that comes with it.
I admit that I feel very unsuccessful among my peers. Thirteen years is a long time to be out of the job market. It’s difficult to break in again, as I have been trying to do lately. I am faced with the necessity of reinventing myself. How many women have said to me, “Oh, it’s so great that you stay home with your kids…I could never do that, but good for you!” Was that a compliment…? I’m not sure.
The fact is, keeping the home fires burning is a thankless job, full of necessary, repetitive tasks, plain and simple. We only notice the waitress at our restaurant table when she doesn’t show up, when she’s late, when she makes a mistake. While she’s doing her job, we take her for granted. (If you’re a polite guest, you’ll thank her when you leave.)
Stay-at-home parents must be prepared for the personal and financial sacrifice. While your friends are going on vacations to Florida and Cuba, you’re going camping at Fundy. The two-income childless couple down the street drives an SUV and just renovated their home, while you drive a ten-year-old minivan and hope that your leaky bathtub doesn’t come crashing into the kitchen below until you save enough money to fix it!
So why did I give up a career in public relations for a solitary existence of dirty dishes and laundry? Because my kids were only going to be young once, and I didn’t want to miss a minute. I wanted to greet them at the door with a plate of cookies, like my mom did for me. Nobody pays you to do that…you pay for the privilege of doing it.