The value of MOTHER.

It's started to happen already. The question whispered on people's lips or straight up asked right to my face. Next year both of my children will be in school full-time and some people are wondering...

"What are you going to do then?"

"What is your plan?"

This full-time school thing is a time of transition for everyone in the family. It is a time of letting go, of lunches packed with love, of good-bye kisses on cheeks, and wishes of having a good day, one that, for the first time, is going to be primarily without each other. I won't deny that it is a time that I am simultaneously dreading and dreaming of; dreading because I won't be the central person safeguarding my babies throughout their days anymore, and dreaming of because it has been seven years since I've had more than 3-4 hours all to myself on a regular basis to do whatever the hell I want!

And I get it. I get why the questions are asked of many, many mothers, who like me, are in stay-at-home roles. The kids are good now, right? They don't need you as much. They can DO all the things for themselves now and for 6-7 hours of the day they will be in the care of other people and learning about their worlds.

School siblings

The problem I am having with this "the kids don't need me anymore" logic, is that it feels like some kind of default assumption that, as a mother, what I have been doing for the past 7 years is nothing more than providing childcare for my children. That while it is true that I have given them all the basics to function on their own and they truly do not need me for said basics anymore (bum wipes, snotty noses, help with eating, zipping up jackets, etc...), I can now be relieved of my childcare duties. Now that they are school-aged, I can send them off for someone else to watch over for the day and then I can finally get back to being a regular, contributing member of society. You know, one with a 'real' job, and a purpose, and some kind of economic -and therefore societal- VALUE.

In her 2001 bestseller, The Price of Motherhood, Anne Crittenden discusses this concept in depth and shows us that although women may be liberated and on the path to economic equality, mothers are decidedly not.  

"The idea that time spent with one's child is time wasted is embedded in traditional economic thinking. People who are not formally employed may create human capital, but they themselves are said to suffer a deterioration of the stuff, as if they were so many pieces of equipment left out to rust."  

Don't get me wrong. Motherhood is not all sunshine and beautiful moments and crafting until your fingers bleed, but it is MUCH more than glorified babysitting.  It is a long-term commitment to building human character and developing the beings who will be the future of our world. It is about maintaining a healthy sense of attachment with our children so that they can confidently venture out into the world on their own and be caring human beings. Yet for reasons we still can't fully understand or correct, there is no dollar value that society can attach to this 'human capital' development and therefore no value in the people, primarily mothers, doing this work.

I am no fool. I know that if I decided to try to go back to work full-time, it would be a challenge for me from the get go. I'd have to explain my 8 year absence from the workforce. I'd have to somehow bump up my resume with my volunteer work , my writing and the various new skills acquired as a stay-at-home parent (and there are plenty!). Then I would somehow have to make the math add up, fitting an 8 hour work day into a 6 hour school day. This of course leads me to the search for before/after school childcare and the cost of this for two children, which, upon a quick perusal of various programs, would be a minimum of about $800/month. In the few hours between school and bedtime and interspersed with any extra-curricular activities, is where time spent with the children occurs and then after bedtime is when household care occurs. Yeesh! I am exhausted just thinking about this!

Yes, I know that for a lot of families, the choice to work or not is not one that they can make and the scenario above is their reality. I am fully aware of the level of privilege that I have in my life. Single or married, many, many people figure this all out and make it work for their families, and for that they have my utmost respect and admiration. I grew up with a single working mother and three younger siblings and she did make it work. How exactly she did this, I still don't know, but growing up, I was always in awe of her strength and character and how much she sacrificed for us and for the people and institutions that she worked for. Yet as I got older and then had children myself, I wondered just how much of her own self and happiness she sacrificed for us.

In that first year of parenting, the reality of what me going back to work would mean to our family didn't quite hit my husband and I until a few months before the end of that year. That in two months time we would be handing our infant son over to a child-care worker to care for him for most of the day, all of a sudden didn't sit quite so well with either of us. That I would have to stop breastfeeding him on demand and either pump or switch to formula for his nutritional needs wasn't something I was prepared to do. And that the logistics of my job would require me to be away for upwards of 3 days to a week's time at least quarterly and the implications of what this would mean for all of us seemed too daunting. When I found out I was pregnant again around the same time I was to return to work, the decision for me to be the stay at home parent seemed to be the option we were most comfortable with and the one that worked the best for our family.  So at the age of 36, and at a point of really starting to climb the proverbial corporate ladder of my career, to use the vernacular of the day, I "opted out".

It is a decision that I do not regret in the least. And of note, it is also a world that I have no desire to "lean {back} in" to either.

Recently I have had two close friends, who are in the same stay-at-home parental boat as me, tell me that they are going back to work later this year. They both have a multitude of reasons for doing so and I completely support these women and understand their reasons for making this decision for themselves and their families.

All except one.

Both have told me that going back to work will allow them to feel like they can finally DO THINGS for themselves without feeling guilty about it.

Here is the thing. I love both of these ladies and have seen them raise their children first hand for the past four years. Like most mothers I know, these are extremely dedicated women, who take care of house, home, children and spouses and all the logistics that go along with that. They have taken on the roles of economist and financial planner for their families, of early childhood educator, of artist/designer/house project manager, of cook/cleaner/chauffeur and mediator of family relations and the list goes on and on. If there were ever two people who deserved to do things for themselves, these two are IT (and yes, they are both probably reading this). They left their careers to be the primary at home caregiver for their families. A 40-hour work week traded in for one that is 24/7, that comes with no pay, no sick days, no health benefits and NO WEEKENDS OFF. Some will argue, "Well, that was their choice, so suck it up ladies!", but that argument falls apart when you take a closer look at the ridiculous expectations and societal parameters that are placed on mothers.

When you have a society that is constantly giving you the mixed messages that what you do as a mother is "the most important job on the planet" and glorifies you to semi-deity status and then simultaneously punishes you economically for leaving the workforce and shames you into sacrificing your very being to the glory that is Mother, it is no surprise that women feel a sense of guilt for wanting something that is just for them. That so many women echo the sentiments of losing themselves in motherhood and not feeling fulfilled in this role, despite all the wonderful praise capital "M" Motherhood elicits, is further testament to how undervalued a role it is, even by those fully entrenched in it. After all of this, the message that does get through is not "you are worth it", it is more often "you didn't earn it"," you don't deserve it", "IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU" and the ever popular "What exactly do you DO all day?".

I fully support all mothers, in all of their choices, and especially my dear friends on their decision to return to the workforce. I am actually quite excited for them both. My only wish for them and for any of you reading this is that whatever you choose to do in your life, be it working, staying at home, learning to paint, taking a yoga class, hiring a cleaning service, having a nanny, using a day care, getting a pedicure, going for a run or taking an hour long shower BY YOURSELF, that you make these choices with your agency intact and with full knowledge that you are worth it, that you should not feel guilty for wanting something just for you and that your work as Mother is not all of WHO YOU ARE. And even if, for a few years, it sorta-kinda is, please know that your work more than entitles you to being your own person, with her own needs and wants and that you can and should take care of yourself, however that may be. Do it for yourself and do it for your children as well. Let them see the value that you place on yourself, and let them take that message of self-care with them into the world that will one day be theirs.

In case anyone is still wondering what my plan is for next year, I plan on continuing to ensure the attachment and belonging that my children are growing up knowing with me as their mother. My "thing" is my writing and perhaps next year is the year of the great novel/screenplay/manifesto. I may even delve into some painting while I'm at it. Throughout it all though, please know that I support you in your choices, even though they may be different than mine, and that we all are deserving of doing the things that feed our souls.

{Psst.... I'll probably be getting a pedicure and a massage on a regular basis too.}


Take CARE of YOU,