Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In which I sound like a Feminist from the 1970s, and I'm owning it...

I have learned a lot about myself over the last several weeks. I have moved from fear into action, yet...fear still lingers. Will I be able to build a business in this economy? Do people recognize that massage can have a profound affect on both their body and their state of mind? Is it the right time? What if my office sits empty week after week? I hate that. That part of me. The insecure, dark side that rankles, burns, and mocks...

All of this...this... journey, has really been about my quest for a paycheck of my own. I have been a stay-at-home mom for almost six years. It has been both rewarding and challenging. But, perhaps the true "struggle" has been less about dealing with two small, developing, ever fascinating and mercurial children than about my work here at home not having a tactile, monetary value.

Once a year, Salary.Com publishes The Mom Salary Survey, their estimate of what a SAHM's work is worth. This year it was $122,722. If you're a mom working outside the home, you can add an additional $76, 184 to the paycheck that you earn. It sounds great, but really? It's just numbers dangling in the air... We, as women, will never see that money. And, it feels like a slap in the face to me, when I haven't even been earning $8 an hour, the amount we pay our babysitter.

In which I sound like a Feminist from the 1970s, and I'm owning it...

I believe that it is damaging to women, in our current culture, to go for a long period of time without a paycheck. We live in a society that operates on money. If you have to rely on another person to give you money, it places you in a very vulnerable and less than place. Even if you start out with honorable intentions, the bottom line is that you are dependant on another human being. As if...you were a child.

But, you are not! You are an independent woman choosing partnership (a.k.a., dependence), yet do we really know what we are getting into? So, then after a period of time you venture out into the world of earning a paycheck, and it is incredibly intimidating. For those of us who have been out of the work force a few years? Daunting. For those of us who have been home for many years? Imagine being perched on a rocky ledge with no way of getting down. Except...down. And, there is no choice. You must come down. Or die.

Is there a bad guy in this equation? The bad guy is elusive in concept. It is not as simple as men not appreciating all that women do, or mothers who work outside the home not appreciating mothers who stay at home, and vice versa. It is far more complicated. Is there an answer? Not until we, as women, not only start the conversation, but end it with a solution. And, I have no idea what the answer is...

What I do know is that earning a paycheck of one's own is empowering, fosters independence, and builds confidence. I have just begun to feel it, touch it, experience it. And I will take that feeling to the bank...

Photo Credit courtesy of Google Images: Feminists Gloria Steinem & NYC Agency for Child Development founder Dorothy Pitman Hughes. Circa 1970.

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  1. It's a very interesting idea you bring up, but I have never really felt like I was "less than" for being a SAHM.

    I always realized he couldn't do what he could do without me doing what I did. Maybe when I start working full-time (hopefully soon) I'll feel differently.

    I'm glad what you're doing is already giving you satisfaction.

  2. I am so happy for you, J! You seem on the brink of finding that elusive middle ground.

    I miss working less for the idea of making my own money (although that would be nice) and more for the idea of incorporating my mind into the equation. I'm choosing school as my next step.

  3. I've been thinking a lot about that this week as I watch my male co-workers bring in raises and bonuses and I am asked to do more, with no offer of additional money. I don't like that. It doesn't sit well with me. My goal is to button down this week and see what happens. If I improve on my work ethic, will I earn more money even though I'm a woman? Probably not. I've earned the same amount for five years now. Why should it change? Maybe because I need to make it change.

    ANyhow, great post!

  4. I think one of the biggest problems is when SAHMs have to ask their husbands for money, or when their husbands make them feel bad for spending money, because "they don't work". Childcare is expensive, so what SAHMs do is invaluable to the family. The main issue as I see it is appreciation. SAHMs need to appreciate the value of their work, and their husband's need to appreciate it as well.

    I also feel that more companies should create part time positions. It is incredibly difficult to work full time and raise a family.

  5. I have been blessed with an understanding - and appreciative - husband, but even so I nearly wept when my first paycheck in 7 years came from substitute teaching. I'd barely worked a few hours in a month but it was addressed to me, for much of the same kind of work I'd been doing for almost a decade for free.

    Preach it, sister. You can.

  6. I do know the "less than" feeling. Even when there was noone in my house or in my social world who voiced anything connected to my being "less than," I felt it. Not saying it was legitimate. I felt appreciated. But I still felt "less than" inside because I value my independence and ability to contribute.

    It was a creeping-up-behind-me sort of feeling, as if I needed to ask before I purchase anything other than basic necessities. I didn't ask, and I didn't need to ask, but I had this nagging feeling that I didn't deserve to make the financial decisions.

    Currently I spend a lot of time in the therapy room in front of women who feel "less than" but haven't articulated it yet. It takes a lot of energy not to pounce.

    I find it the most unfair when I'm working with or friends with SAHMs going through divorce. In my (un) fair state of Texas, SAHMs aren't guaranteed very much under the law. My understanding is that it wildly fluctuates, depending on the judge who hears the case.

    I find myself imagining some type of legal contract, not unlike a pre-nup, where a SAH parent's willingness to give up a paycheck "out there" would be recognized as her entitled contribution, or due, under the law, in the event of divorce. SAH parents make it possible for the working spouse to achieve greater career climbs, which equals greater income, which doesn't always translate into a satisfactory settlement for the income-less ex-spouse. That is unfair.

    I could go on and on. Can you tell?

    And yes, this psychologist fully appreciates the mental health benefits of a full body massage. Help set those endorphins free, Motherscribe.

    I was in your shoes ten years ago. I remember the fear. Will the office remain empty? We went into the red for a couple years (when childcare cost was factored in). But now? Worth every lost penny.

  7. Interesting discussion.
    In our 13 years of marriage we have never had two incomes. For 6 years it was me earning and him studying, two where I studied, he earned and now he earns and I raise children.
    I think because it has always been a give and take I don't feel as if it is His money that I must ask for, it is our money that we carefully pool together depending on our circumstances.
    He is more excited than I am about me going back to work, he'd like to have a little more money in the pool again:).

  8. I do understand that, although I have two different perspectives. I was unemployed for about 18 months during my first marriage (no kids). I definitely felt less than, but then again, I still felt that even after I got a job. MANY years later, with second hubby, I'm home with our kids. Occasionally I'll make a remark about wishing I could earn my own money, and he'll say something like, "You earn it every day." I've been sort of half-heartedly looking around for work I could do at home, editing or whatnot, but once DeBoy starts kindergarten in two years, I may have to just take whatever part-time work I can get. Even public school is proving to be expensive. Snack money, lunch money, greatly increased travel back and forth.

    Your office will not sit empty.

  9. I have chosen (or life has chosen for me) not to be a SAHM... There are regrets about not spending more/ enough time with my children. But you make me realize that I do revel in a quiet pride about working. My husband has recently the one at home, and I feel that now I have the easier and more immediately rewarding (ie moolah baby) role. I just heard a piece on our local Public Radio station about how more men are becoming stay at home dads as they get laid off.

  10. Now that my child is an adult and out of the house - NOW I want to stay at home! I'm burned out on work, can't stand the 9 - 5, would really rather stay home and be creative. I guess I'm just perverse!

  11. I am thinking great thoughts for you. I am also saying prayers. I'd also like to add the very unpopular opinion that goes against your post that... ahem... your paycheck DOES NOT totally define you if you don't let it. Don't even let your husband do it to you. I completely understand the need to make your own money... I am doing it myself with my column AND I Ebay for that little extra, but.... I'm really standing my ground with my husband and kids and am determined to be adored for who I am sans paycheck.

    Ah, hell, you already know this shit. No go make some cold hard cash, bitch.

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