Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Market Value of Motherhood

A friend called with a job lead last week. It should be just perfect for me, he said. I'd be able to work from home, doing interesting work for which I would be paid very well.

Sounds great except for one teeny-tiny thing. I have a job, educating and raising my four children. This job involves a lot of shopping, cooking, and housework. It also involves a lot of time spent with various children, helping them learn all the things they need and want to know.

I don't get paid for this work. No one is interested in seeing this work on a resume. Most people seem to think that an imbecile could do this job with one arm tied behind her back.

And, y'know, a lot of it is just grunt work. It doesn't take a genius to chop vegetables, mop the floor, or remind the kids to practice their piano. If I want to do it well, though, it takes so much more than that. What does each child need, to bring out the best? How do I help this child learn how to handle this difficult personality trait? How do I teach them values like compassion, fairness, and a good work ethic? How do I teach them to balance their lives, take care of their bodies, and create good lives for themselves? What will it take to help them become happy, healthy, productive adults?

When I was new to parenting, I focused on learning to be a good mother. I read parenting books, hung out on parenting mailing lists, attended mothers' groups, and spent time with mothering mentors. In those days, I believed strongly that parenting was important work, worth doing well.

These past several years, I've moved with a different crowd. I've spent time with people whose children are grown and spent seven months working fulltime for a high tech company. During this time, I found that I had devalued mothering once again. Mothering no longer seemed like work that ought to take so much time and thought.

After quitting my job, it's taken me three months to get my household back together. The kids are, if anything, taking a little longer. I'm groping my way blindly back to a place where I believe parenting is important work, a place where I can value the work I'm doing.

My time at work showed clearly how much parenting my kids need, and what it costs them not to get it. The marketplace, however, says that the value of my work is 0.

Women face this question all the time: do the unpaid work that will lead to well-adjusted adults in the next generation or do the job that yields a paycheck and looks good on your resume?

So I'll consider the job, but I'll try to remember the value of the one I'm doing now.


Magpie Ima said...

Thanks for a great post. I just found your blog and am enjoying your writing. Your reminder about the importance of raising children was perfectly timed as I struggle with which *me* needs the most attention. Thank you!

Anton Sherwood said...

It's not that the work has no market value (I think my economist friend would say the market for motherhood is 'thin') but that the skills don't transfer well to other jobs of the kinds that would most interest you.