If you were to ask me what I do, I would tell you that I'm a stay-at-home Mom (SAHM). I *do* a lot of things. I'm a volunteer for several non-profit organizations and work about 600 hours per year for those groups. I have published two books. I work as a resource teacher for the homeschooling community. Oh, and I homeschool my daughters, too, and teach classes to other homeschoolers. I am a Notary Public. I write fiction. I blog.
But when people ask that question, what they typically want to know is what is my job. My job is being a stay-at-home Mom, and having done a lot of other kinds of jobs, I can honestly say that it's the best job I've ever had - certainly the one of which I am the most proud.
I wasn't always a SAHM. From 1985 until 1990, I was a married-with-children college student (both as an undergrad and a graduate student) and had a job outside the home. From 1991 until 1997, I was a full-time working Mom. From 1998 until April 2016, I was a work-at-home Mom (WAHM). I've done most of the possible combinations of working and parenting.
Because I've had so many varied experiences, it surprises me when I'm criticized for my current life choices. Having been there and done that, I know what works best for me, and while I don't ever tell other people they should do it my way, I do share stories about my amazing life, and it IS an amazing life.
Unfortunately, not everyone wants to hear about it, apparently. A few weeks ago, I posted three articles about being a SAHM on Facebook. The first was a Facebook memory from last year that was a link to an article written by someone else who asserted that having one full-time parent at home was a luxury, for the other parent. Having been a full-time at-home parent for two decades, and having (personally) experienced the social prejudices against parents who don't earn an income outside the home, I posted the article, because it was all true, and it is a very rare occurrence that someone writes a piece that supports the notion that SAH parents are not only *not* a financial drain on our economy, but also an asset to their families.
The other two posts were links to my personal blog discussing my personal experiences as a SAHM.
None of the things I posted, in any way, criticized working parents. None of what I (or the other author) wrote implied that parents were bad for choosing working over staying home, nor that staying home was an inherently better choice. The point was to ask that society stop vilifying SAH parents as being lazy and worthless, and to consider that there might be some really positive benefits to having a stay-at-home parent.
Because I am a SAHM, and because I chose to share that fact on my Facebook wall, a twenty-something year old woman, whom I know through some of my volunteer work, who does not have children and who was raised by two working parents, unfriended me, after we had a brief disagreement regarding the issue.
She said that it was her opinion that society discourages women from working. I told her that my thirty-plus years of experience both as a working mother and a stay-at-home mother said differently and asked her to give me an example of how mothers are encouraged not to work by our society.
She said that mothers (especially low-income parents) are told how bad daycare is, and then, because they need to work to support their families, are made to feel like horrible parents when they send their children to these awful daycare environments.
Um ... okay? And that is demeaning working parents exactly how?
First, no one is forcing parents to use day care. I agree that day care gets a (perhaps, well-deserved) bad rap. Kids get sick too much, because daycare centers are breeding grounds for disease. There is, often, too high a child to teacher ratio. In too many cases (with one being too many), predatory people end up being care providers. Day care workers are often paid low wages, and there is a lot of turnover, which means that there is rarely a consistent care provider for children at an age when they are developing trust bonds and need to know that someone will take care of them.
However, being discouraged to use a daycare center is not equal to discouraging mothers not to work.
In fact, parents have options. When I was a poor college student with children, I couldn't afford to send my kids to a full-time daycare center. I only needed a few hours of childcare per week, and so I thought a private care provider would be my best option. I went through a series of terrible babysitters (one who ignored my children, and left my son in a shitty, wet diaper all day, because he "wouldn't let her change him"; one who stole from me; one who neglected my daughter's diaper which resulted in a very painful and very serious yeast infection).
So, we did what I call "tag-team parenting." That is, we parents worked our schedules so that someone was always home. It's actually a lot easier than one would imagine, especially when one works the kinds of jobs that the typical low-income person works (fast-food, retail), which have multiple options for work hours. With two-parent families, it is possible to have two jobs and not need daycare. As such, to assert that our society discourages parents from working based on the argument that day care is bad is, well, wrong.
And, second, the real problem with her argument is the assumption that one needs a job in the first place. I will admit that some amount of steady income is necessary in our money-centric culture, but there is a very strong propensity in our society to believe that one needs a good deal more money than is absolutely necessary.
Between 1998 and 2005, I spent a lot of time researching and writing about being a work-at-home parent. With the rise of the Internet age, parents found a golden opportunity to leave the workforce and imagine life as a telecommuter or home-based entrepreneur. Dozens of websites and half a dozen books were written on the topic prior to the dot.com bubble bursting, but even after the dot.com bust, there were still plenty of opportunities for people who wished to combine the work/home life. Websites like Guru.com were developed during that era and are still being used today by freelance workers. There are also brick-and-mortar companies who allow some employees to telecommute, because the Internet allows remote workers for many positions, and research during those early years proved that companies who employ telecommuting employees can save a great deal of money on infrastructure alone (i.e. cubicle/office space, desks, computers, etc.). When I first started my home-based secretarial service, my motto was "I can do anything from my remote location that I could do in your office ... except file!"
The articles I posted and to which my former FB friend reacted were not about working from home. They were about being a SAH parent, but I mention all of that stuff about working from home, because during those early years, one of exercises I encouraged working parents to do when they began contemplating quitting their 9-to-5 and going home was to calculate the cost of them having a job. It's an important first step toward understanding how much (or little, as the case may be) that we are actually bringing home when we work outside the home.
If a parent works 40 hours a week at $10/hour, s/he earns $360 after taxes, which works out to about $18,000 per year. The average cost for daycare, in Maine, is around $10,000/year, which leaves a working parent around $8,000 for living expenses.
Most jobs require job-appropriate clothing - some of which is supplied by the employer, but most of the time the employee must provide some or all of his/her work-uniform. If we use the US Army clothing allowance as a guideline for what we might spend on work clothes, the total for our wardrobe is $350 per year, leaving our working parent $7,650 of take-home pay.
With the exception of people who are lucky enough to live in a walkable community, getting to and from work requires some form of transportation. For the average person, this means a car of some sort. As a collective, Americans owe billions in automobile loans, the average payment is $479/month, but we'll assume that our $10/hour parent is paying only half that.
Of course, a car payment is only part of the cost of owning a car. In addition, there are just the basic costs, including: regular maintenance, like oil changes and tire rotations; gasoline, which is absolutely necessary if one wishes to use the car; car insurance (which is required now in all 50 states) and registration (also required annually in all 50 states). Even if we just assume the very basic needs of our cars (gasoline, insurance, and registration), the cost will be around $1600 annually ($500 for gasoline, assuming 24 mpg with a 12 mile per day commute, which is average for Maine; $900 for auto insurance; and $100 for car registration), plus the $2874 for the car payment. Our working parent is bringing home $3176 of income for the entire year.
"But wait! There's more."
Working parents work hard and long, and it is very easy in our culture to succumb to the temptation of convenience. Convenience is costly. The average working American spends $2746 on lunch.
Which, at the end of the year, leaves our working parent a whopping $430 to live on - or about $35/month to pay for everything else - you know, rent, food, heat ....
When I did this exercise with working parents, the point was to show them that, sometimes, their job is actually costing them MORE than not working would. If all I needed to earn was the $35 month, I could be an Amazon.com Marketplace seller, or better, I could collect and return soda bottles.
The point of doing this cost analysis early in my SAH parent career was to illustrate that having two incomes isn't, necessarily, better, and that, sometimes, the job costs more than not working.
These are the thoughts that were spinning around in my head when this young woman attacked me for my comments about the value of having a stay-at-home parent, and her insistence my lifestyle is a privilege most Americans can not enjoy.
I thought about that. Most?? And then, I did some looking up of numbers. According to this calculator, the middle-class income range in southern Maine, where I (and this woman) live is between $36,000 to $110,000. The average income in Maine is $51,000, which means MOST of us are middle class. Her assertion that most people here can't have my lifestyle was wrong. A few, perhaps, but not most.
The problem is not how much (or little) that we make, but rather that we are constantly bombarded with the message of MORE. It doesn't matter how much we make. It's never enough - if we believe what our society tells us.
Deus Ex Machina is an electrical engineer. Many years ago, he worked for a company that developed automation equipment, specifically for the CD manufacturing industry. This was back when CDs were still kind of new, and DVDs were just starting to enter the market. It was cutting-edge stuff and was very exciting.
He'd invited us to the facility on a few occasions, and with great pride, showed us the machines, which were, in fact, pretty nifty.
One day, after we'd been to his facility a couple of times, he asked our, then, four year old daughter, "What does Daddy make at work?"
She replied, without hesitation, "Money."
Out of the mouths of babes.
I know a few folks who find their jobs incredibly fulfilling and life-affirming. These people are the exception, rather than the rule, however, because most of us work to make money, and how very sad that is.
My goal in posting the articles about being a stay-at-home mom was just to share the fact that I am not less of a person just because I don't "make money." My "job" is to be a mother to my children and to create a comfortable, warm, safe home for my family. No one pays me, in dollars, to do this job, but it is the most life-affirming and fulfilling work I have ever done. I posted those articles in the hopes that, as a culture, maybe we could stop placing value on people based solely on how much money they make.
That I was criticized for that stance was deeply troubling.
But for that woman, I hope that, if she ever does become a parent and chooses to continue working, she does so because she loves her job, and that it is fulfilling and life-affirming, rather than a necessary evil so that she can "make money."