I know a lot of stay at home moms (SAHMs) who feel their work is undervalued by society. Every year around Mother’s Day, Salary.com tries to estimate what our day’s efforts would be worth if we were paid in money, rather than in love and appreciation. It’s always a very high number, and it makes me feel warm and fuzzy to be able to .
See? See? What I do is real work. It’s a great esteem builder.
Right up until the moment that I say it to the wrong person.
For example, my husband. The very person most likely to say “Yup. What you do is enormous and important.”
Without reminding me that he does real work, too.
He works every bit as hard as I do. While I am off volunteering at our daughter’s school, feeling amazed and overwhelmed by more kids than I can keep track of, he is at work, stuck in meetings, solving problems, and missing out on things he’d rather not miss, like science fairs and Halloween parties. And if he does usually come home to the '50s dream of a hot meal and a happy family, he also comes home to an expectation that he will do the dishes from that meal and then be primary parent to his child while I have a break.
Working moms and dads work just as hard as stay at home’s do. They do get “breaks” from being around kids all day long, and we SAHMs sometimes envy that, but it is a loss as often as it is a gain. And it is my husband’s paid work that allows me the luxury of being able to focus on my daughter’s childhood to the vast extent that I get to.
The work looks different, his and mine. But it is all work. And it is all vital to our family’s functioning.
(This concept of equal work does not even account for single parents. I’ve said before and will say again, there should be medals. They do everything that we partnered parents do, plus fill in for the missing side as well. This is a level of work I cannot comprehend. I stand in awe of those who are doing this.)
But there is another person in our family putting in work that is seldom acknowledged—our daughter.
We look at her day with the eyes of adults. Wow, to have recess. To only have to learn basic math and writing. To not have the challenge of real work.
Sure, programming is hard. But how is learning 2+2=4 for the first time any less hard? What my daughter is learning in school is the recapitulation of human knowledge over millennia. She’s expected to learn it all in 12 school years.
How long did it take humans to understand geometry? About 1,400 years between Euclid and Descartes? The second-grade geometry curriculum lasts about a month. That’s serious work, not just for my daughter, but for her classmates and her wonderful teacher as well.
So she’s working. Hard. Not just in school, but also in learning social skills and time management and table manners and everything else at home.
Over spring break, my daughter learned how to babysit. So much for time off from learning.
And her grandparents worked that week. As did her dad. And me. And her teacher.
Everyone involved with raising kids works. Hard. I will try to remember this and not devalue anyone else’s efforts just because they don’t look like my own.
And every time I want a pat on the head, a gold star, and a “good job,” I’ll offer it to someone else working just as hard as me to raise my child.