Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sometimes Worth Isn't Defined by Money

I realized the other day that I've been a work-at-home Mom (WAHM) for over fourteen years. January marked the fourteenth anniversary of my home-based business. Incredible. That saying about time flying really is true.

It’s not always been an easy road. As a typical, suburban American, I was taught that those who are doing something worthwhile are also making money, and those who don't make money are, obviously, wasting time. I’ve never made a lot of money as a WAHM, and my primary reason for being home at all was to be a care provider for my children. So, even though I didn't always consciously acknowledge it, the work part has always been secondary to the at home Mom part of my title.

That said, when I first arrived at my own doorstep with the understanding that this is where I’d be, my first obstacle was my own personal prejudices. Like most college-educated, career-oriented women, the idea that I’d ever be a homemaker was so foreign to me as to not even be a consideration. In fact, working anywhere – at all – for any salary – was a better option than not working.

So, I decided I’d start a home-based business. And I did. And I actually managed to land a few clients.

original cartoon by Wendy Brown based on Brandy Chastain’s 1999 Women’s World Cup win

At the same time, I was meeting other women who were staying home with their children. While we always expressed how much we loved being home, there was always the undercurrent of belief that we weren’t really contributing, and so I heard that question how did you get your job? a lot.

In response, I started doing a lot of research into the home-based business industry (which in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s was the fastest growing industry in the US, not just for parents, but for everyone – both men and women – and with more people wanting to work from home being supported by the new Internet technology, the “dot.com” industry was born). As a result, I came in contact with a couple of the more prolific writers of all things related to being a work-at-home parent and/or a home-based entrepreneur, and I even filled out a survey that landed me mention in one of the books written for work-at-home parents (I'm quoted on page 380 in the book The Entrepreneurial Parent: How to Earn Your Living and Still Enjoy Your Family, Your Work and Your Life.

Those early days were terribly exciting, and fun, too. It’s like finding a new religion, and I was so enthusiastic about the whole concept of working from home and helping other Moms find the joy that I’d discovered that I wrote a “work from home” workbook (which never got published) and started an online niche bookstore that sold work-from-home books and provided information and resources for WAH parents, and those who wished to be.

In fact, the original purpose of this blog was to publish articles related to working from home.

Initially, I put a lot of emphasis on the work part of the WAHM title, at least in my mind, but my day-to-day activities really forced me more into the “at-home Mom” part of the title, and while I’ve always enjoyed my “work”, the most important part of what I do is being a Mom.

Back then, I remember reading an article about a study that had been done to show the market value of a homemaker, if her family had to pay someone else to do the jobs she did without pay. Apparently, it’s a pretty hot topic, and the study was done again with the results being discussed in this recent article from the Washington Post.

In an online discussion about the article, those of us who were applauding the study were lambasted for even considering that we should be paid for what we do. The argument was that those who ruminated on the idea of being compensated for taking care of their children either had some undeserved sense of entitlement or were in an unsatisfying relationship.

I said, perhaps, it was neither, but maybe it was relief that someone else, someone outside in the money-centric world, had recognized our worth, and while they chose to assign a dollar value to a job that money can’t really buy, the fact is that we live in a world in which people who make money are valued and those who do not make money have very little worth.

My point was that we, WAHMs/SAHMs, aren’t asking to be paid, but the fact that someone has recognized the value of our contribution is encouraging.

And through the course of the conversation, I realized, too, that the article has it wrong. It’s not what a stay-at-home parent could “earn” if those functions were given a marketplace value, but rather what the stay-at-home parent saves by doing those tasks herself.

In short, it’s not about making money, but rather saving money, and by being home, full-time, with my children, and doing things like cooking our meals, raising chickens, growing a garden, line-drying clothes, mending socks, not commuting, not paying for childcare … my family saves a lot of money.

One of the most important exercises in my work-from-home workbook is the section in which the reader is asked to calculate the cost of working outside the home. I think most people don’t realize that there is a cost to having a job, and for working parents, too often the cost of having the second job exceeds the amount of extra income. With some very minor home economics, they could easily afford to live on one income, but it takes a little thought and a lot of action to pull it off.

The bottom line, though, is the more I do myself for my family, the more independent we become, and the less the fluctuations of a fickle marketplace will negatively affect our lives.

The more I do myself for my family, the less dependent we are on paying others to provide for our daily needs.

The less money we need for our day-to-day expenses, the more money we have to spend on reducing our dependence.

The more independent we become, the less we need an outside job.

And, if all goes well, at some point, both Deus Ex Machina and I will be home full-time, working on our subsistence suburban homestead, maybe, earning a few coins at some part-time endeavors - for fun - and otherwise following the sound wisdom of Henry David Thoreau to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.

I wonder what our “value” will be then.


  1. I am way too often criticized by several family members & even some friends because I choose not to work outside the home. My children are grown so why stay home? They just dont understand. Trying to explain it to them falls on deaf (& materialistic) ears oftentimes. Your post just makes so much sense!

  2. Brilliant post! As a SAHM for 12 years, I can totally relate. I find myself constantly feeling somehow less of a person because I don't have "real" job, or feeling guilty because I'm not financially contributing. But it's true, it's not about making money, but saving money. I have the time to take care of my home, cook healthy meals from scratch, and raise my kids. You truly cannot put a price on that!

  3. Great post
    thanks for sharing

  4. Wonderful post! You hit the nail on the head; working from home is not about the number of zeros on the paycheck, but rather the savings realized and the skills honed. I wish I had realized this while raising my own kids.

    Some of my friends assume (oh boy, there's that word again) that since I work from home now, I sleep until noon and watch soap operas all afternoon. Ha! I sometimes work more hours than if I had a job outside the home! And that's on top of being a homemaker.

  5. Great post! And if you think being a stay-at-home mom raises eyebrows, try being someone without children who likes staying home. That's how it is with my husband and me. I am a homemaker; he works for money. I make bread, I line-dry the laundry, cook from scratch, and do many other things to save money. We can get by with one car. I think I earn my keep ;)